Employees who may be about to leave their jobs give very clear cues that they’re not happy. But the best indicators aren’t always the most obvious ones – like taking more vacation time or leaving at 5 p.m. every day.
It’s what the experts call disengagement and the clues are more subtle than you may imagine.
What does disengagement look like?
A study by Utah State University found that most employees display some combination of the following behavioral changes about one to two months before they quit a job:
- Less active during meetings
- Offer fewer new ideas or suggestions
- Reluctant to commit to long-term projects
- More reserved and quiet
- Avoid social interactions with management
- Less productive
- More argumentative or complain more
- Seem less interested in pleasing their boss
- Show less interest in advancing the organization
- Give little effort beyond minimum requirements
- Show less interest in training and development
The key to any of these behaviors is that it’s a change from the employee’s previous conduct. These behaviors could also indicate a problem at home or a 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 it’s personal or professional.
Questions to ask
Before talking to your employee about your concerns, consider this: 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?
Yes, you may occasionally come across a perpetually dissatisfied employee, but it’s more likely that a disengaged employee is frustrated, bored or unhappy about something their manager can address.
Here are some of the most common reasons employees leave.
1. They don’t feel a sense of rapport
With so much of their life spent at the office, it’s only natural for your employees to want to develop positive relationships with those around them. 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?
While it may seem trivial to you, to them it shows that you recognize they’re more than just a body filling a chair. It shows that you care. Your employees will be more willing to go the extra mile for you if you do the same for them.
Similarly, when your employees have sour relationships or no relationships with coworkers, they may feel bullied or isolated. Feuding employees can be distracting to everyone in the office. It undermines employee engagement, confidence and commitment.
Pay attention to your employees’ relationships with one another, and intervene if you see problems. Can you separate adversaries or help employees find a common goal to work toward together?
It’s all about the fit
If your corporate culture doesn’t jibe with an employee’s personality, it will be difficult for them to be productive and engaged. While job skills are usually trainable, changing a person’s character isn’t.
Before you hire, you should understand: What are your company’s core values? What kind of work environment do you maintain? What do most of your employees like about working for the company?
The answers to these questions will help you hire for cultural fit and make it more likely an employee will stay longer.
During interviews, ask cultural fit questions such as, “Tell me what your ideal environment feels like.” or “Of your past work experiences, which was your favorite position, and why?”
And, if your culture changes due to new leadership, a merger or acquisition, or other seismic company shift, you’ll need to be aware of its impact on your employees.
Cultural fit is vital for a solid workforce. It ensures that your employees collaborate and use their skills in a way that supports others.
2. They’re bored
Employees want to enjoy their jobs and have a chance to contribute. They want to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work, so help them develop and grow their skills.
Help your employees connect to why their work has meaning for your company. If they’re bored or unchallenged, help them find a new position in the company or change some of their responsibilities within their current position. Employees who are excited to come to work will be more engaged.
Employees also want to feel connected to the organization’s overall effort. They want to be part of something larger than themselves, and they may need your help to connect the dots and understand the relevance of their contribution.
Talk to them; find out what they want to do within your company. Do they have ideas that could help grow your business? Based on this information, you can help them create a development plan so that they have a clear path to success.
3. They’re frustrated
Nothing sours an employee on their workplace like unending frustration. Has this person brought a recurring problem to you over and over?
Be honest here: Is it a problem you and your employee can fix? Or, is this person a poor fit for the job they’re in? Not every employee frustration can be addressed, but if it’s something within your power to correct, just do it. You’ll gain a more productive workplace for your efforts.
4. They’re don’t feel valued
Beware of taking a good employee for granted. Do you recognize their work or provide the 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 the other causes.
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” or a small gesture, such as 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.
Genuine appreciation and recognition are often the “cherry on top” for many employees.
Nip it in the bud before it’s too late
Don’t wait until an employee has disengaged from your company to ask what’s up.
The best way to retain your employees is to stay in touch with them and 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. Download our free e-book, How to determine if your new employee will stay or bail.