By the time a leader identifies that an employee is unhappy, it is usually too late to ‘save them’ and any attempt to do so is like putting a band-aid on a large wound. When some leaders realise they are about to lose a team member they may over compensate by promising higher wages, more training and any other ‘carrot’ to keep the employee from walking. However, when an employee has reached the point of seeking alternative employment, a pay rise will only give them more money whilst they continue to look for another job.
Replacing team members is a costly exercise and this is magnified when the employee is considered to be a High Performing, High Potential (HIPO) employee. Sometimes, employees are just having a bad day or they may be experiencing some personal challenges, so it is important to train leaders to look for the red flags that may indicate that one of the team is looking to jump ship.
When an employee drops their performance or there is a spike in absenteeism, it could be a sign that disengagement is settling in. Sometimes, these are systemic of an issue in the employee’s personal world, however, when the leader sees these signs on more than one occasion it is worth investigating.
Employees that pull back on projects, have less participation in meetings, and are less vocal or passionate about workplace issues may be becoming restless in their role or the organisation. The key here is observing if there is a reduction for that employee as every worker has a different starting point.
An early sign of disengagement is when your naturally extraverted team members become more introverted in their actions and behaviours. They become quieter in team meetings and fade into the background in forward-planning discussions. An employee that has gone quiet but would normally be a part of morning discussions or sharing of weekend plans, may be a sign of withdrawing from the social connections to make the exit easier. Disengagement from co-workers as well as work activities is a clear red flag that something is wrong.
If an employee that otherwise would be considered a good to strong performer, starts only completing the bare minimum – it is a red flag that they are ‘checking out’. These employees are smart enough to know that they need to keep the wheels turning to avoid a performance discussion, but their appetite to contribute more than the minimum has disappeared as they prepare for their next career move.
Sometimes leaders will take a while to work out that an employee has disengaged from their position, but the person that works alongside them or relies on their output will definitely notice a lot quicker. It is common for co-workers to become disgruntled with a teammate which is reducing their effort as there is a direct impact. This team unrest is a red flag to the leader that there may be a deeper issue.
It is a natural part of any workplace team to have employees that are thriving and ones that are not. Some employees will be completely hooked on their position, others will be satisfied and then there will be workers that have simply lost their connection to the position or organisation.
Most leaders will want to ‘save’ all employees that become restless as they see it as a reflection of them, however, sometimes workers simply outgrow the position, no longer align with the company’s vision, or are 'pulled' to another business that has a stronger Employee Value Proposition (EVP).
It is important to acknowledge that some turnover is healthy in the business as it brings a diversity of thought and experience that is integral to success, but it is key that leaders make sure that there are no obvious ‘holes in their employment bucket’ where they are unnecessarily losing great contributors.
Here are five actions to minimise the risk of red flags in your team.
It is important to baseline employee engagement and better understand the key hooks and employee drivers. When this is conducted over time, important themes and opportunities will emerge.
Employees that don’t feel that they have the appropriate opportunity to share their concerns with leadership will start venting their frustrations in a less desirable manner. Consider ensuring senior leaders have time for open questions after ‘town hall’ meetings and encourage all leaders to be open and consultative in style.
It is clearly important to have check-ins about workflow, but it is just as important to check in with the employee about how their world is going. Asking questions like, “Is there anything that is currently not working for you?”; “Are there any frustrations that I can help remove for you?” or “Talk to me about what I can do to make your work day better” can go a long way to discovering the bumps early.
Every employee has a unique EVP, and it is critical that the employer understands what this is. If it is money, then the remuneration review discussion could be a deal breaker or if it is the opportunity to work on interesting projects, then don’t leave the worker on the same monotonous tasks. Unlocking each team member’s hooks and drivers will enable the employee experience to be tailored.
Employees that feel that they are in ‘partnership’ with their leader will not only display more discretionary effort, but much more importantly will have authentic discussions when it matters. When employees feel like their leader is ‘on their team’ and not just ‘in charge’, open dialogue is more likely to flow when the proposition starts to go south.
A disengaged employee is costly to the business and it can be the first step on the path out. There is no question that for some workers, there will be a natural expiry date, however, it is important that the business is taking reasonable steps to understand and minimise employee concerns. It can be tempting to label the red flags as poor behaviour; however, it might just be the warning sign the business needs to stop others who are also heading for the exit.
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Georgina is Senior HR Content Editor – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 25 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.