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Employee Engagement | 5 minute read

4 Red Flags Your Best Employees Are Job Hunting

November 3, 2016

Losing your best employees can be detrimental to your organization. Some studies indicate that losing a salaried employee can cost as much as 2x their annual salary – which can be even higher for executive level employees. Not only will employee turnover cost your organization time and money, but it can also cost you valuable relationships and skills. Let's face it, employees job hunt for a variety of reasons – some of these may be out of your control. However, there are a number of red flags managers and HR leaders should be aware of in order to address and prevent high turnover rates. We're sharing four signs your employee is going to quit, or at least is job-hunting.


One of the most obvious signs that you have an employee who is job hunting is a shift in their behavior. You might notice that they are complaining more or approach conflicts differently. Being unhappy for a long period of time can create built up tension and frustration, causing irritable reactions – which can be detrimental to team morale. You also want to beware of the emotional checkout. This can manifest itself when an employee ceases to be passionate about projects (particularly those taking place in the future or over a long period of time), seems distant, or begins to isolate themselves in the workplace. Sometimes these behavior changes can be as subtle as simple body language. Think about how your best employees typically behave and the quality of work they produce to properly gauge the severity of the situation. Try to understand what is at the root of the employee's behavioral changes by engaging with them during on-going 1:1 discussions. This can help you both determine a path forward. 

2. Drop in Productivity

Chances are, if you're already noticing behavioral changes in an individual, you're also likely seeing a drop in productivity. When an employee checks out emotionally, reaching goals and meeting deadlines isn't a major priority. This is particularly noticeable in individuals who once exhibited a strong desire to exceed expectations, shared innovative ideas, and actively participated in collaborative projects. Behavioral changes are manageable, but when they start to negatively affect productivity, your top employees are no longer benefiting your organization.

At this point, it’s smart to confront the situation. There might be targeted issues that can be addressed one-off. However, in the event that there are ongoing drops in productivity and engagement, a quick and timely resolution is needed – don't wait to address in an annual review. It's also worth considering that the employee in question may have external factors playing into their lack of performance. Consequently, it's important to create an environment where there can be an open dialog about performance without judgment or bias. This may reignite engagement and prevent one of your best employees from seeking employment elsewhere.  

3. Changes in Hierarchy

One of the best ways to keep employees from jumping ship is to make sure they feel engaged and connected to your organization. In the event that a certain individual was passed up for a promotion or, more severely, demoted, how are you ensuring they still feel valued? These scenarios can be incredibly tough on an employee's morale, so it's particularly critical to take the necessary steps to make sure they feel appreciated. 

One way to do this would be through transparent communication. If an employee was passed up for a promotion, make sure the reasons why are clearly communicated. Additionally, provide feedback on how that individual can improve and what the necessary steps are, to be considered for career advancement in the future. This also might be a great time to address their concerns, long-term goals, and reasons why they're feeling less engaged with your organization. Your company culture might need a pulse check that could ultimately improve employee engagement and morale overall.

4. Rumor Has it

If you're a manager who has a good pulse on your team, then a final red flag that an employee is thinking about leaving, is through word of mouth. While gossip is never encouraged, pay close attention to what your team members are saying. Chances are, an individual thinking about different job opportunities has spoken openly about recruiters reaching out to them or even that they have been interviewing. You might notice an employee dressing more professionally – a good sign that they are in fact interviewing. More importantly, trust your instincts. If you have a gut feeling that an employee is looking for employment elsewhere, you might be right.

If this individual is a valued member of your organization, set up a meeting to try your best to re-engage them. Don’t write-off someone simply because they’re considering other opportunities – doing so could cost your organization a considerable amount of time and money.

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About Gillisa Pope

Gillisa Pope is a senior member of WilsonHCG’s innovation team. As director of sourcing strategy, she melds creative ideas, analytics and best practices to design and action impactful sourcing solutions. An expert in employment branding, Gillisa is also part of the team that produces WilsonHCG’s award-winning annual Fortune 500 employment brand report. She has over 15 years of experience in designing and building talent attraction strategies for some of the world’s most admired brands.