An employee quitting without notice can feel like a shock. Yet hindsight may reveal they gave clear cues about their unhappiness. That’s because the best indicators of an employee reaching their limit can be subtle, fitting a pattern that experts call “disengagement.”
Learning to spot the signs and knowing how to talk with employees about why they’re disengaged can help you avoid losing them without warning. It can also help them find a better fit on the job.
What does disengagement look like?
- Less productivity When an employee starts delivering work late, turning in work that’s full of errors or simply stops turning in work, it’s often a sign of burnout or stress.
- Fewer contributions in meetings and discussions If an employee who used to make suggestions and offer feedback is silent, there may be a stressor or conflict at work.
- More resistance When an employee who was cooperative and ready to pitch in starts making excuses, dragging their feet or outright refusing assignments, you need to find out why.
- Frequent absences or late arrivals Not showing up on time, or not showing up at all, can indicate a demoralized employee or one facing high levels of personal stress.
- Other negative changes in behavior Any time something changes for the worse, it’s wise to find out why.
The key to assessing what’s behind these behaviors – and minimizing the risk of an employee quitting? Noting when it’s a change from the staff member’s previous conduct.
Of course, these behaviors could also indicate a problem at home or a physical or mental health issue. That’s why it’s vital you talk to the employee about what’s going on.
A show of concern lets the employee know you’ve noticed there’s a problem and you want to try to help – whether the underlying issue is personal or professional.
Concerned about an employee quitting?
Before talking to your employee about your concerns, ask yourself: Has anything changed that might cause a typically good worker to want to jump ship?
- Was the person recently passed over for a promotion or a raise?
- Have there been recent layoffs?
- Are their work friends leaving for other jobs?
- Are they working for a new manager?
- Has your company gone through a merger or acquisition?
- Has there been a culture change, perhaps due to new leadership?
- Have they been in the same position for too long and aren’t challenged anymore?
- Are they going through a new personal or health-related situation?
Yes, you may occasionally come across a perpetually dissatisfied employee, but much of the time a disengaged employee is frustrated, bored or unhappy. If it’s something their manager may be able to address, you may be able to help them get back on track.
Remember: If you don’t take the time, however, to address the issue, you may not only have to deal with an employee quitting but also have to spend time and money to recruit, hire and train a replacement.
Below are some of the most common reasons employees leave.
1. They don’t feel a sense of connection.
With so much of their life spent working, it’s only natural for your employees to want to develop positive relationships with those around them – co-workers and managers alike. Without meaningful social connections, there’s less incentive to stay if another offer comes along, or if there’s a conflict they don’t have the support to resolve.
Pay close attention to how you communicate with your employees. Can you put names to faces? Do you ask them about their hobbies or interests so that you know them as individuals, not only as employees?
Also keep tabs on the interactions among people on your team. If an employee has weak or negative relationships with co-workers, they may feel bullied or isolated. Feuding employees can sap engagement, confidence and commitment.
If your company has pivoted to a virtual environment, it can be more challenging to gauge whether someone feels connected. But look and listen closely. When people on your team are working remotely, how often do they check in and participate in video and text discussions with each other and the entire group?
What you can do about it
A sense of connection starts at the top, so if you find that employees on your team feel disconnected, it’s time to foster employee engagement. Regular, casual check-in conversations with each employee can help you get to know them better and keep you informed of any challenges they may be dealing with.
If there are employees in your group who have a conflict, it’s best to address the issue sooner rather than later. Make sure each person feels heard and understood. Provide ways to resolve the issue. These approaches can help prevent workers from leaving because they feel there’s no alternative.
Again, managing remote employees requires a little extra effort. First, make sure everyone on your team knows how to use technology to stay connected.
Next, ensure that everyone in a meeting has a chance to make contributions and ask questions, even if they’re calling into an in-person gathering. You may need to call on people specifically to make sure they have an opportunity to be heard.
2. They’re bored or frustrated (or both).
Employees want to enjoy their jobs and have sense of accomplishment. They also want to feel connected to the organization’s overall effort, and they may need your help to connect the dots and understand the relevance of their contribution to the big picture.
They also want to know that when they run into a roadblock to doing their best work, they can rely on their manager to help them move past the obstacle. Nothing sours an employee on their workplace like unending frustration. Has this person brought the same problem to you over and over?
Boredom and frustration outside of work can also affect the way employees feel about their work. When remote work is necessary because of public health concerns, a natural disaster or even just a stretch of bad winter weather, many of us can feel cooped up and overwhelmed managing work and domestic life all in one place. That can make it a challenge to be productive on the job.
What you can do about it
Talk to employees who seem bored or frustrated. Helping your employees connect to why their work has meaning for your company can make them feel less bored and more engaged. Finding out what they want to do within your company or what they want to do professionally can also point the way to a solution.
Do they have ideas that could help grow your business? Do they have goals that may translate in an “out of the box” way to reaching your business goals?
Based on this information, you can help them create a development plan so that they have a clear path to success. On the other hand, if the problem is a poor fit between their skills and their responsibilities, it might be time to help them find a new position in the company or even mentor them to find a new position with another employer.
What about frustration and stress caused by factors outside work? As a manager, you may have some options to help these employees find a better work-life balance. For example, if an employee is frustrated because their hours conflict with a caregiving need at home, like taking a parent to doctor appointments, you may be able to arrange flexible work hours that help relieve some of their scheduling stress. If available, an employee assistance program (EAP) can be a useful resource for staff members struggling to balance life and work.
3. They don’t feel valued.
Beware of taking a good staff members (and their contributions) for granted. Feeling undervalued can be a motivating factor for an employee quitting.
Do you recognize your employees’ work or provide the useful feedback they need?
On its own, lack of recognition may not be a top reason an employee wants to leave, but it can be a deciding factor when combined with other reasons, especially feeling disconnected from the group.
What you can do about it
You don’t necessarily have to do something elaborate or expensive to show employees appreciation for a job well done. A simple “way to go,” lunch with the boss, or a gift card to their favorite store can go a long way.
You could also make a habit of pointing out their hard work in a meeting or in front of their peers. Public recognition can go a long way.
If you’re not sure what kind of reward will be most meaningful for your employees, ask them. One might want to have their role in a project highlighted in an all-hands meeting, while another might appreciate a card for dinner delivery at home. Someone else might want an afternoon off.
It’s important to make employee recognition and positive feedback ongoing, not something that you share only when someone makes a “heroic” effort – although above-and-beyond efforts merit recognition, too.
The best way to minimize the risk of an employee quitting is to address their concerns before they start considering whether greener pastures exist. Instead of reacting to disengagement by recruiting and hiring new employees, develop a proactive strategy to retain the employees you already have.
Find more ideas for keeping employees engaged when you download our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to employee retention.