How to tell your employees are about to resign

While a resignation can mean exciting new opportunities for employees, it can cause anxiety for employers.
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While a resignation can mean exciting new opportunities for employees, it can cause anxiety for employers.

One of the worst things about a resignation isn't just the inconvenience of finding a replacement, the cost involved, the hassle of training someone new, or the mourning period that follows the loss of an employee you prized.

It's the surprise of it all. The shock. One minute you have a seemingly happy team member. The next, they're even asking for their notice period to be cut short.

Except they weren't really that happy. The signs were there all along that something wasn't quite right. Oblivious to these subtle alarm bells, their leaders carried on as if everything was OK, unaware that if they had just paid closer attention, they may have been able to save a valued employee from jumping ship.

Which is why a study just published in the Journal of Management is so useful. The researchers were inspired to conduct the study after becoming aware of prior psychological research that demonstrated humans, when lying, give off subtle cues that signify they're being untruthful, such as when they're unfaithful to their partner.

READ MORE: Which is the best way to offer your resignation?

This insight can similarly be extended to the workplace. The researchers identified more than 900 behaviours that indicate an employee is about to quit and, via a series of extensive analyses and surveys, whittled them down to 13 of the most common.

Here is what made the list, in no particular order:

1. The employees' work productivity has decreased.

2. They have acted less like a team player.

3. They have been doing the minimum amount of work more frequently.

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4. They have been less interested in pleasing their manager.

5. They have been less willing to commit to long-term timelines.

6. They have exhibited a negative change in attitude.

7. They have exhibited less effort and work motivation.

8. They have exhibited less focus on job-related matters.

9. They have expressed dissatisfaction with their current job more frequently.

10. They have expressed dissatisfaction with their supervisor more frequently.

11. They have left early from work more frequently.

12. They have lost enthusiasm for the mission of the organisation.

13. They have shown less interest in working with customers.

On reading that list, your first thought might be that much of it is stating the obvious. But therein lies the problem. Often, what we're on the lookout for, in regards to potential staff turnover, is the more conspicuous behavioural changes; the ones that seem a little dodgy. But really, it's the stuff that's ordinarily attributable to other performance issues that ends up fooling us.

For instance, when an employee's productivity drops, we might be inclined to assume they're bored or need training. When an employee suddenly has a negative attitude, we might think it's related to personal dramas at home. When someone's not being a team player, we might tackle it as though it required a conflict resolution process of some sort.

Really, what's actually required is a simple conversation that begins with a question: What can we do to keep you?

Assuming, of course, they're worth keeping.

James Adonis is the author of Employee Enragement.

 - SMH

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