Why do people leave jobs? Some say that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Others argue that people will tolerate a bad salary if the culture is good, but not vice versa. Another view focuses on learning: that stagnation and a lack of development are the true catalysts for starting an employee down the process of leaving.
Research does suggests that certain signs are more indicative than others of a desire to move on. However, it’s important to note that everyone is an individual and leaves jobs for different reasons. Organisations – and line managers – must be clued up about reading the signs so that they can, where necessary, take action to avoid regrettable turnover.
With that said, here are nine signs an employee may be thinking of leaving your organisation:
- They have significant change in their personal lives. A new baby, which brings with it financial pressures, may make an employee less tolerant of a salary that is below the market rate. They may also rethink their priorities and be less happy with a job that requires evening and weekend working.
- There’s a pattern of day or half-day annual leave requests. They may be taking time off for interviews, assessment days or to fill in job applications.
- They express dissatisfaction with work or supervisors more often. People committed to their jobs tend to moderate how much they complain to avoid being seen as negative and damaging their career prospects. These factors are less likely to moderate their behaviour if they are thinking of leaving.
- The organisation’s purpose is less meaningful to them. This can be a sign of compassion fatigue, burnout, or driven by feelings that the employee’s contribution is not meaningful, all of which can lead to a desire to move on. It may also signify an organisational failure to develop shared purpose and values.
- Difficulty or discomfort committing to longer-term goals. Employees thinking about moving on may feel uncomfortable when managers or colleagues talk to them about longer-term timeframes. Why? Because they will be discussing future responsibilities and expectations they may not be able to meet.
- They’re less interested in interpersonal relationships and interpersonal success. Social pressures and a desire for belonging generally push employees to act prosocially in investing in key relationships at work, such as with local team members and line managers. When the future of these relationships is in doubt because the person is thinking of leaving, they may be less likely to invest time and effort in nurturing them.
- They show less enthusiasm for working with customers. Job crafting to ensure your job adds value to customers is a common behaviour, because it helps the employee cultivate meaning in their work. People thinking of leaving may be less bothered about the contribution their work is making to customers’ lives.
- A general sense of apathy or of having ‘checked out.’ A person thinking of leaving may be generally apathetic to their job or may be less passionate and more blasé about things they previously cared about. They may be more distant in meetings and less likely to make their voice heard.
- Discretionary effort is kept to a minimum. Employees in their jobs for the foreseeable future feel pressure to be good organisational citizens and so take part in activities that require discretionary effort, such as attending non-mandatory meetings or taking part in extracurricular activities. Those about to leave may not feel this pressure and so are more likely to do the minimum to meet the basic demands of their role.
Organisations must be careful when looking for signs of employees thinking about leaving. These signs are not necessarily indicative of a desire to leave and may point to other things, such as depression or stress.
Good organisations should always seek to discover the root cause of behavioural change and not make assumptions as to the employee’s intentions. Effective line manager skills can help build trusting relationships in which negative feelings can be tackled before they become a reason for leaving the organisation.