If you have been around long enough as a leader, chances are you have been blindsided by a resignation. Perhaps you were so busy improving low-performing employees, that you dropped the ball investing the same energy into your talent.

Low performers or disengaged employees are expected to actively search the job market; so when the white envelope is slid across our desk, we are more relieved than surprised. Conversely, when the star of the team casually asks for a catch up; we mistakenly expect the conversation to be a project update and are sent into panic mode when they tell us they are moving on.

At this time, leaders rack their brains on how they could have been blindsided by the resignation. The thought process then quickly moves to reflect on the missed red flags that the employee was restless, unfulfilled, and looking for greener pastures.

Six signs your employee is preparing to resign

Every employee has different elements that ‘push’ or ‘pull’ them to and from an organisation. Many leaders will admit that a resignation caught them by surprise, but when they look back and reflect; there were usually some signs that the employee was becoming restless. In a world of passive recruitment and social media talent poaching, it has never been more important to actively look for signs of disengagement. Below are six warning signs your employee may be weighing up their options.

1. A rise in absenteeism

Sometimes restless employees may start to use their sick or carer’s leave as a way to attend interviews, seek alternative employment or simply take a mental break from a job that they are not enjoying. Watch specifically for a rise in single-day ‘occurrences’ and uncertified leave. Look at their leave history and try to spot new patterns that are emerging. Sometimes a sign can also be calling in sick to team days or strategic planning sessions to avoid committing to future work.

2. Withdrawing from key work commitments

An employee with itchy feet is going to stay silent when there is a call for a new project lead even when they are the obvious choice. They may opt out of being the social club chair and will no longer volunteer for the annual charity event. It may not be obvious at first, but it is worth taking notice of a lack of commitment to future activities; whatever they may be. An employee that is engaged and committed to the business is looking for ways to progress; not ways to hide.

3. Discretionary effort disappears

Engaged employees looking to add value to the business are continually seeking ways to improve their performance. This is particularly true for high performers, so when you notice a talented employee walk out on time instead of helping the team finish the monthly report; it may be a clear sign that they are no longer seeing a future in your team. You may also notice subtle changes such as arriving late or starting to clock watch during the day.

4. Productivity drops

When your strong salesperson starts to slip down the results ladder, it could be for many reasons. One of these worth investigating is if the drop in productivity is linked to their motivation for their current role. Is there something ‘pulling’ them to another opportunity? Or could there be something ‘pushing’ them? When you are there in body, but your heart is somewhere else, it is difficult to still keep kicking the same goals. Look closely at drops in productivity and use it as an opportunity to have an open ‘check in’ discussion.

5. The lines between work and personal become blurred

Everyone deals with personal things from time to time, but when you notice your employee has become more interested in social media than the new customer software; perhaps it is a sign that they are becoming disengaged in their position. If you notice your team member stepping outside to take more personal calls or are moving away from normal lunch break patterns with peers; it is worth checking in.

6. They stop looking for development

When your employee that is always hot on requesting training no longer knocks on your door for development opportunities, it could be a sign that they have bigger plans elsewhere. Many training policies have a clawback clause if employees do not remain in employment for a certain period, so employees looking to jump ship will become hesitant to use more training dollars. Keep active in each employee’s development plan and open the conversation if you notice a decline in training opportunities.

Open the conversation

This may seem surprising, but sometimes a leader will have an armful of warning signs and still choose to wait for the employee’s lead. This is usually because they are concerned that asking the question may push them out the door before they were ready to jump. Consider the following:

  • Gather your evidence on what has changed; e.g. drop in performance, withdrawal from team activities.
  • Consider the elements or hurdles that may be in the way of the employee’s success. Reflect on the employee's current role. How could it be enhanced to better meet the needs of the employee? What is missing and what can reasonably be done?
  • Set up a time to have an open and transparent conversation. Ask the tough questions and be ready to work together to find some solutions.
  • Recognise that not all employees are worth ‘saving’ as sometimes they have just outgrown what the business can offer. Workers that seek progression elsewhere are not bad people; they are just looking for the next career pit stop.
  • Reflect on what you and the business can do better to meet the growing needs of employees.

Consider if it is worth the fight

There is no point pouring extra resources into a bucket that has a hole or giving an unhappy employee a pay rise. If you catch the warning signs early enough, there may just be time to bring the ship back into the harbour; but sometimes you need to recognise when it is time to amicably end the employment relationship and wish them well on their journey.

Further information

Ai Group has experienced HR consultants who can partner with your business to devise an engagement strategy to harness the talent in your business. For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

A commitment to an appropriate exit interview process can enhance an employer’s brand and reputation. Turnover is a natural part of the employee lifecycle, and it is not necessarily reflective of a disgruntled employee. Further information can be found in our Sample Exit Interview Policy, Exit interview articleSample Exit Interview Questions and Ten Insights into Exit Interview Questions. Members should seek advice from Ai Group’s Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 before customising this policy.

Join Ai Group today!

Take advantage of more than 150 years of experience actively solving Members’ workplace issues and representing their interests at the highest levels of national and state government. Being a Member of Ai Group makes good business sense. 

Call us on 1300 55 66 77 or visit our Why join page to sign up for a consultation with one of our member representatives.


Georgina Pacor

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.