Workforce Perspective: Know the signs of an employee who is about to quit

Workforce Perspective: Know the signs of an employee who is about to quit


Everybody has a tell. Whether in poker or in a romantic relationship, human beings almost without exception give off clues to our internal states. As a manager, sometimes we are tasked with decoding those clues.

“I’m turning in my resignation.”

Most bosses are caught off guard when a key employee gives notice. For many bosses, their star performer is the one they rely on and when that person leaves, chaos ensues. There’s projects and clients to be shuffled and time to hire and train new employees. So getting more lead time on a possible departure can turn a resignation from an emergency situation into instead a shift into Plan B.

Here are some of the signs that someone’s notice may be coming your way.

Noticeable productivity change

Someone who is pushing to wrap up projects or a person whose productivity suddenly drops is highly likely to be disengaged and thinking of exiting.

“Whatever”/ lack of commitment

Just like in a relationship, employees who suddenly stop contributing suggestions or input or no longer feel like part of the team are giving you a warning sign that there is a problem that must be addressed.


There’s a change of attitude, and it has not been for the best. Whether it is the cause or a symptom, an employee who is unhappy with his work, his boss or his peers is at risk of leaving.


When people no longer enjoy their jobs, they will do anything to keep from coming in. Late arrival, leaving early, increased sick and vacation time or a noticeable increase in medical appointments are signs that either an employee is struggling or that they are unhappy.

Your gut

If you are wondering if someone is thinking of leaving, she is. If you suddenly feel tense around an employee you used to count on, there’s something that needs to be addressed.

So what can you do when you see the signs?


Be direct. Ask your employee if he is thinking of quitting. Ask if she is happy and whether there is something on her mind. And if you repeatedly get the “Everything’s fine” response, that response itself is an answer when the words and the actions do not match up.

Get prepared

Start recruiting, cross training and lining up a Plan B, C and D. Planning now could make life a whole lot easier on you, your team and your clients in the future.

Protect the company

Unhappy employees may take customer or proprietary information with them. Check with HR and/or your legal department to do what you can to help the company’s information stay that way.

And remember, it’s not a single sign that points to a disengaged employee. What you as a manager should look for is a change of pattern.

Want to avoid all this as much as possible? Address problems sooner rather than later. Don’t put off performance reviews or uncomfortable conversations, allowing the unsaid to fester. Conduct “stay interviews” to find out what your team members need to stay happy, engaged and productive, rather than waiting for that information from a bitter exit interview.

And if you have someone on your team who, no matter what you try, is still miserable, then bite the bullet and end the relationship as soon as possible. You may be doing a favor for them, yourself and your team in the long run.

While life would be easier if it was different, given enough time, everyone leaves. The key is to take action to keep your top performers and to be ready when that notice comes.

Because sometimes there comes a point where, in the words of Dolly Parton, “Though you haven’t left me yet, I know you’re just as good as gone.”

Dixie Agostino is founder and CEO of Switchgear Recruiting.