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Signs an employee may quit and what managers can do to prevent it

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN Business

Survey after survey suggests many employees are thinking about leaving their jobs.

Whether or not the so-called “great resignation” comes to pass, turnover and the war for talent is always a concern for employers.

Which is why smart managers and senior leaders should be aware when valued employees are contemplating leaving.

But how do you know? And what should you do about it?

“More often than not there are signs that deliberate and thoughtful employers can look for,” said Tami Simon, a corporate consulting leader at employee benefits firm Segal.

Those who are close to quitting often exhibit more than one.

The warning signs

Behaving differently than in the past. When you work with someone, you learn their habits, their preferences and their work ethic. When any of those change, pay attention.

If someone used to be a very hard worker but is now just doing the minimum and sometimes misses deadlines, that’s a big sign that something is off, said Heather Young, founder and CEO of human resources consulting firm Employee Fanatix.

Also, are they taking more days off than usual? Coming in later or leaving earlier?

Do they speak up less in meetings or offer fewer opinions on new strategies or team plans?

Are they less likely to volunteer for new projects or are they showing less enthusiasm for the company brand?

Becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction. Sometimes those looking elsewhere will more frequently express dissatisfaction with their current jobs and the workplace culture to colleagues, to their manager or to the team’s HR partner.

And if they have gone so far as to file a complaint with HR about anyone in management? “Obviously something is going on,” Simon said.

Pleasing company leaders matters less to them. When someone used to do whatever it took to satisfy a direct boss or more senior leader but now seems less concerned about doing so, they may be eyeing greener pastures.

They are less available to colleagues. Being a team player often means being willing to spend serious time with team colleagues during and after work.

Do they all of sudden seem less social or less engaged with group activities?

How to keep them

Pay is critical for everyone, but often it is not the sole or even the top reason someone wants to leave.

The big exception is if they simply can’t make ends meet on their current salary.

In that case, try to make the numbers work if you want to keep them. Otherwise, Young said, “If it’s a survival issue you’ll probably lose that person.”

If someone has a host of reasons for wanting to quit — e.g., wanting more flexibility, a promotion and a raise — be transparent about who you’re going to confer with to see what the company can do for them and then present what you can offer even if it’s not everything they asked for, she suggests.

“It’s a shot at keeping them and may delay them from leaving for a few months at a minimum if they see your commitment.”

Very often people will leave a job if they feel they’re being taken for granted, or that their concerns are not being heard, which could include having an unmanageable workload, added Young, author of “The Art of Caring Leadership.”

“No one is helping them prioritize and not burn out. Employers have to say, ‘What can I offer to help you?'” Then follow through.

Young also recommends managers have weekly one-on-ones with direct reports whenever feasible to stay abreast of employee concerns and to learn about any obstacles standing in the way of their doing their jobs well, before they become reasons to leave. “You can ask ‘What can we do to help things get back on track?'”

Finding patterns in why some quit … and some stay

Companies need to be intentional about collecting and analyzing data on who quits and why, to have a better shot at minimizing turnover.

“Arm yourself with analytics. Find relationships between different variables,” Simon said.

For example, she suggested, many people don’t leave a job, they leave a manager. “So look for managers who have a history of low retention. Some may work in the toughest areas, but you may notice there is a pattern with particular managers.”

Also, are there patterns in terms of geography, pay level and frequency of promotion among those who leave? How long is the typical tenure for employees who quit? What are the most common reasons cited for leaving?

In addition, Simon suggests, beyond conducting exit interviews with employees who leave, consider having an external party conduct “stay” interviews with current employees to learn more about what they like about their jobs and what they might change to make the company an even more attractive place to work.

“It’s so important to gather data in an organized way and draw insights based on [your company’s] culture,” Simon said.

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