Most leaders wouldn’t start their day with the thought “I wonder who’s quitting this week”. If you’re heading up a company or leading a team (big or small), you probably expect that a percentage of your employees will churn each year.
Individuals grow out of roles, relocate, get better offers elsewhere, pivot the type of work they are doing or even take a sabbatical to break from working altogether! Some of these reasons for churn are hard to combat. For example, you might not be able to match the offer of another company or add more fulfilling tasks to a current employee role.
What you can do is recognize the signs within your team or company to help you 1) get a sense of who might potentially churn 2) make adjustments if possible and 3) strategize what to do if the role becomes suddenly unfilled.
Below, we’ve listed several signs to look out for as you interact with your team and employees for identifying who is at risk of churning, and what adjustment you could potentially make to turn things around.
A change in their attitude toward work
The first day at a new job is kinda like the first day of school. You’re putting your best foot forward. You might even have a new planner and fancy pen! You’re making an effort to remember names and roles, and even vow to keep your inbox clean this time. New employees are typically eager to jump in and swim.
Of course, we don’t all keep that same level of enthusiasm as tenure at a company increases, but if you notice a sharp shift in the opposite direction with an employee, it’s a definite sign of dissatisfaction and it’s worth investigating.
The employee may stop providing fresh ideas or even start over-critiquing other colleagues. They may become more argumentative, roll their eyes in meetings, murmur under their breath, and bicker on slack channels.
Be straightforward, and ask the employee what’s going on. Failure to address this warning sign could lead to an unsatisfied worker who speaks negatively about the company.
Decline in active participation
This also includes withdrawing from team bonding, becoming less responsive to emails, and isolating themselves.
If you have an employee who used to be vocal, engaged, and proactive, and then suddenly stops contributing to group discussions or speaking out, it’s a red flag. When an employee has decided they want to leave, they almost immediately become less invested in their job.
Again, being straightforward with this employee is the best approach. Getting to the root cause of the issue will help you formulate an appropriate plan of action if your end goal is to ultimately retain the employee. For example, if they are dissatisfied with the type of work they’ve been assigned or the team they are on, maybe there are some internal shifts you could make that would drastically change their day-to-day experience.
Continuous voicing of grievances or emotional outbursts
We can all get a bit frustrated with a particular task or project. Personally, I used to loathe having to do complex data analytics in Google spreadsheets. I would get a large coffee, put my headphones on, power through it, and keep it moving. No one loves 100% of their job 100% of the time.
If you’re starting to notice an employee being more vocal than usual about their dissatisfaction, that’s a sign of potential churn. Do any of these phrases ring a bell?
“This project is stressing me out”
“I need to take a step back to process”
“This project/task/person is hard to follow”
“The project/task keeps shifting and I can’t keep up.”
“This project sucks.”
Well, maybe not the last one, or perhaps it was said with a frown and an eye roll. Learning to cope with different work circumstances helps workers stay on good terms with their superiors and peers in the workplace (and also remain emotionally balanced). The employee’s demeanor could cause them to struggle at work, or even worse, they may spread that negative energy to others.
Start by letting them know that you’ve heard their frustrations, and inquire what they think could be done differently to make work more enjoyable. There are two sides to this. On the one hand, we want everyone who works for us to do a good job and generally enjoy the work. On the other hand, the role could just not be a good fit for the employee. Sort of a round hole/square peg situation. The last thing you want is one person bringing down the vibe and morale of the rest of the team, so in certain scenarios, parting ways amicably might be better.
Lack of interest in long-term projects, new responsibilities, or business issues
When someone has their mind set on quitting, they might stop putting effort into long-term projects and taking on new responsibilities. They don’t see the need to prove themselves or climb the ladder within their current role. Their motivation to do well declines.
Another reason is they don’t want to start something that they likely won’t be able to finish. They could act disinterested during meetings or hesitant to offer their opinion or feedback.
When workers are mentally out the door, they aren’t really moved or bothered anymore by the struggles of the company. Additionally, if you do bring up these concerns with them, you will not get a helpful response. They could act indifferently, and maybe even shrug their shoulders if asked for input. Don’t expect them to be open to taking on extra work, and they could even hit you with the classic “I don’t have the bandwidth to help out here”.
Again, you know your team best. Only you can determine if it’s worth trying to re-engage the employee or if it’s better to part ways before things get really bad and uncomfortable. If you’re thinking the latter, then you’ll need a game plan for covering the workload and hiring or backfilling the role. This could mean delegating the work to the rest of the team, or adjusting project timelines to better accommodate the change. The most important thing is you don’t want to be caught off guard.
Some other occurrences that could prompt employee churn include:
- employee anniversaries
- drastic changes in clients or type of work
- a pivot in the company’s overall direction
- or even big life changes for the employee themselves (like having children or relocating)
When I was managing a large team, based on historical data, I expected 10% of employees to churn within the first 6 months, and also understood that the life cycle for the role itself was between 1-2 years. Because of this, I would aim to have a pipeline of qualified candidates already queued up.
While we can’t predict the future or read our employees’ minds, we can look for the signs and be prepared with a thoughtful plan of action.