A Disturbance In The Force: How To Tell When Someone Is Quitting

by Mark Ellwood

Wearing a suit today? Top tell-tale signs

In my last post, we looked at the most common reasons people give for leaving their jobs and some of the ways employers can mitigate these.  Here we move on to spotting the give-away behaviours that someone is considering, or actively planning to leave.


Here’s our top  five tell-tale signs to look out for:


1. Enthusiasm (lack of)

When that motivation for the job is replaced by indifference, apathy or even negativity. This can manifest itself through a lack of commitment or discomfort in discussing longer term projects, or through becoming less of a team player more generally. The colleague may be less interested in pleasing superiors and/or offer fewer, less innovative ideas when discussing projects


2. Participation (reduction in)

This can be as seemingly innocuous as contributing less to meetings, or more glaringly obvious such as absence from work (coming in late, long lunches, going home earlier or exactly on time, increase in sick leave). The flip side of this is greater participation in off-site workshops and with social media, especially LinkedIn, perhaps accompanied in an uptick in ‘personal’ phone calls


3. Productivity (reduced)

The extra sick leave and lateness can eat into productivity of course, but you may find that someone thinking of leaving also become less productive in other ways.  They may start to do the minimum amount of work required each day, or start to produce lower quality work, becoming less conscientious and perhaps delegating more


4. Communication (changes in)

We communicate through a variety of ways – visual and verbal.  The cues to look out for here can sometimes be at opposite ends of the spectrum. For example, someone may communicate less, become more insular, quiet and withdrawn and less responsive to emails; or they may start communicating more in the form of office gossip, expressing negative sentiments about the company and individuals. Body language may change – less eye contact for example. Or it could be attire. Again, this could be less effort (they care less about looking the part), or more effort (wearing smart clothes, suits), an indication they are actively interviewing


5. Life changes vs no changes

This one is perhaps the most obvious. Changes in personal circumstances, such as the arrival of a baby, often necessitate a re-assessment of the work situation.  This is often less about internalised feelings and instead more open and practical, giving the firm more time to manage the situation.  Weddings, funerals and receiving degrees or MBAs are other examples. The change could also be to do with the team itself; if one or two other team members have recently left, that often makes the remaining team shakier.  And then there’s the opposite side of the coin – no change. If a person has been stagnating in a role, or feels they have, that makes them much more likely to leave. There’s a chicken and egg situation here: Are they stagnating because they’ve been trying to leave? or are they leaving due to their stagnation?  However, this is the type of indicator that should flag itself within the firm’s regular appraisal structure and therefore can be managed appropriately


Having that sense of something being off earlier, rather than being caught out suddenly, can allow firms to make an intervention by engaging with the employee and finding out what went wrong, and to make preparations to manage the talent pool appropriately if/when the person leaves.  After all, losing valuable team members can be frustrating, time consuming and very expensive.


Of course, the other way to read the above, if you are trying to move jobs, is to see this as a checklist for your own give-away behaviours!