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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

7 Signs Your Best Employee's About to Walk Out the Door

man frustrated at work

The other day, a fast-growth CEO contacted me to chat about an employee problem that was becoming a big issue (employee engagement is what I do for a living, after all).

Without warning, key employees were leaving the company.

So the CEO was not only questioning how to stop these regrettable departures, but also wondering if other key employees were at risk of leaving.

Everyone is replaceable, except at certain points in a company’s history.

There are certain times when departures of key employees are costly and downright detrimental.

If my view is accurate—and I’d love to hear if you think I’m wrong—a savvy CEO should always be on the lookout for signs that key employees are fidgety.

To do otherwise would be irresponsible.

That’s because these signs warn a CEO not only about potential employee departures but also about areas that are not right in the organization.

Let me reiterate: Key employees don’t just leave without any warning signs. Here are seven red flags:

1. Grumbling About Their Boss

David Almeda (@AlmedaDC), SVP and Chief People Officer for Kronos—someone I admire for his human capital successes—calls it this way: “If an employee is grumbling about their manager, chances are they already have one foot out the door. That’s especially true for top talent.”

2. Late to Work, Late to Meetings, Early to Leave

Employees have time patterns.

Pick any employee, and you can set your clock around when he or she arrives at work, leaves for lunch, and calls it a day.

And when these patterns change—abruptly and for no apparent reason—you can be assured something is up, and the employee is most likely feeling defeated.

3. Late or Incomplete Assignments

Employees also have work patterns.

He’s early. She’s thorough. He rushes. She’s disorganized.

Whatever the case, if this changes suddenly or unexpectedly—especially from bad to worse—the spark is fading a lot quicker than you realize.

4. A Sudden Change in Wardrobe

Unless you’re Harvey Specter from Suits on the USA Network, you probably have a wardrobe pattern as well.

It’s a cliché, but when a key employee shows up to work with a little more shine than usual, chances are good there’s an imminent interview.

An even bigger sign? Half-complete outfits, such as a pantsuit obviously missing a jacket, or suit pants and a dress shirt without the coat and tie.

5. Odd Lunch Hours

If you haven’t sensed it yet, changes in time patterns are your biggest signs that key employees are getting antsy.

A new and sudden string of solo lunches—taken early or late—should be a tip-off to any observant CEO.

6. Funerals and Other Odd Absences

Admit it—you’ve known employees who had a “distant relative” pass away whom you had never heard mentioned before.

That’s what they do when they need to hop a plane for an interview. I mean, who questions the validity of a death in the family? Is it even ethical?

But it’s not just funerals. Any out-of-the-ordinary time away from the office is usually a sign that the employee is traveling for an interview.

7. LinkedIn Updates and Social Gushing

It used to be a no-fail sign an employee was floating his or her résumé when, for no apparent reason, LinkedIn endorsements and recruiter connections started pouring in.

Then LinkedIn got smart and started allowing users to hide their profile edits. So instead, you’ll want to pay attention to social gushing.

What’s social gushing?

Likes, comments, and general “gushy” behavior toward key execs at firms for no apparent or logical reason. I guarantee if this is happening, employees are trying to land an interview.

The point is this: If your key employees are antsy and fidgety—don’t hold it against them. Don’t retaliate or hold them in contempt.

But do something.


Isn’t it worth it to figure out what’s going on with them and fix it?

Or you could always do nothing and let your competitors steal them away.

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