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The phenomenon known as "quiet quitting" is a workplace trend that started in early 2021 and has seen record high numbers of employees voluntarily resigning from their jobs. So far, it doesn't appear to show signs of slowing, and combatting it requires proactive measures, like implementing employee engagement tools.

Thankfully, there are often warning signs an employee is about to quit. In these cases, you may be able to manage the situation to either keep that employee, or at least prepare yourself and your team for their departure (and start recruiting!).

9 Signs an Employee is About to Quit

In my years of management and reflecting on things like pre-quitting behaviour and exit interviews, I’ve identified various signs an employee is about to quit. 

They aren’t foolproof (sadly, some may still catch you by surprise), but being aware of these signs might help you keep that valued employee you care so much about.

1. Unusual behaviour or a new “bad attitude”

A change in someone’s attitude can be subtle or obvious, but a negative attitude will almost always be visible as a change to their normal behaviour.

For example, if your star employee is suddenly complaining constantly about the company or their job, or being rude or dismissive to you or their teammates, this could be a sign they are about to quit. If a normally conservative team member has started to take unnecessary risks, they may be thinking, “What have I got to lose?”

2. Increased LinkedIn or networking activity

In my experience, unless they’re planning on traveling the world or going back to school, most people don’t quit their job without having a new gig already lined up.

If you see your employee active on sites like LinkedIn or Xing, it’s a good indication they’re actively searching for a new job. This activity could include updating their profile, adding more recommendations, connecting with more people than usual, or posting more than normal. 

Similarly, if your employee is attending more conferences or networking events than they have before, it could be a sign they’re about to quit.

3. Taking unusual amounts of time off work

When a team member who typically takes vacation as blocks of time off—multiple days or weeks—suddenly starts taking random single or half days off, this could be an indication they’re interviewing for another job. 

Similarly, if your star employee begins taking longer lunch breaks, or having more “personal appointments” that take them away from work for a few hours in the middle of the day, this could be a sign they’re about to quit.

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4. Avoiding long-term projects or commitments

When I decided to quit my corporate job I purposefully avoided taking on any big projects or commitments. I knew that I would be leaving before they were completed and I didn’t want to leave the team in a lurch. Lead a big strategy meeting to chart the course of our business over the next year? No thank you!

If a great employee who ordinarily jumps at the chance to take on new projects or tasks suddenly doesn't want to, it's possible it’s because they’re about to jump ship.

5. Abnormal work performance

When a high-performing employee suddenly starts missing deadlines or producing poor-quality work, it could be a result of them mentally checking out of their job as they prepare to quit. 

This is even more likely if their role and responsibilities, and your expectations or standards, haven’t changed. If you provide feedback to your team member about their poor performance, and they don’t seem to care or have no real explanation for why performance has dropped, this could also indicate they’re about to walk.

6. Distancing themselves from you and colleagues

In my experience, the best employees are those who are also great team players and get along well with their co-workers. I’ve also found that these employees usually have some sense of duty and loyalty to their manager and team so, if they’re about to quit, they’re likely to feel at least a little bad about it.

If this describes your employee, and they start to cancel your regular 1:1 check-ins, blow off meetings, stop attending team events and celebrations, or avoid you as much as possible, this could be a sign they’re close to leaving.

7. Unusual network drive/file activity

As employees, we invest a lot of ourselves into our work. We put time and effort, often over the course of years, into creating systems, processes, documents, presentations, etc. It can be difficult for some people to just walk away from all of that and leave the fruits of their labor behind, particularly if they think that those fruits might help them in their next job.

If you or your IT department notices that your team member is downloading or copying large numbers of files to a location outside your network, like an external data storage device, this could be a sign they’re about to quit. It could also be a violation of company confidentiality and intellectual property rules, in which case you might need to make their decision to quit for them.

8. Getting their affairs in order

Most great employees also have a great work ethic and consideration for their team mates. Some of these employees may feel the need to “get their affairs in order” before they leave to enable an easy transition for their replacement.

If you see a valued employee taking the initiative and putting in extra time to document their role and responsibilities, create “how-to” manuals, and organize their file systems and work documentation, it could be a sign they’re about to quit.

9. Finding their resume on the shared printer

sign 9 finding their resume on the shared printer graphic
A resume found on the shared work printer is a telltale sign an employee is about to quit.

Ok, this one is obvious, but it happens! Once many years ago I found a colleague’s resume on the printer we shared. I didn’t mention anything to him, and maybe I should have told his manager, but he left the company shortly after.

What can cause an employee to quit?

Having just reviewed the signs an employee is about to quit, it’s worth mentioning some of the most common triggers that can cause someone to want to quit. 

  1. Feeling ignored, unappreciated, taken for granted, or burnt out
  2. Lack of career advancement or career development opportunities
  3. Major life changes, such as divorce, health issues, or a death in the family 
  4. Unhappy with the job’s role, responsibilities, or compensation
  5. Failed to achieve a promotion or salary increase
  6. Challenges with manager, co-workers or other team members
  7. Dissatisfied with the work environment or company culture.

If you can be aware of these types of issues and address them proactively, your team members may never get to the stage of feeling like leaving. That said, some of these (e.g. compensation) may be easier to change than others.

5 “Early warning” mechanisms

Before jumping to conclusions that an employee is about to quit if you've observed some of the signs above, remember this: assume positive intent! 

For example, if they’re distancing themselves from you or colleagues, or taking random days off work, maybe they’re dealing with personal issues. If their work performance is suffering, maybe it’s because a colleague keeps dropping the ball. 

Start with the assumption that there is something else going on, and that their intentions toward you and the organization remain positive. 

1. Implement employee feedback systems

Of all the various employee feedback mechanisms available to management, the most important one in my experience is the 1:1 check-in. Nothing can replace sitting with someone one-on-one, listening to their feedback and concerns, observing their tone and body language, and discussing work performance.

2. Track goals and deliverables

A critical part of monitoring work performance, and being able to see when things start to go off the rails, is by setting and tracking your employee’s goals and deliverables. If you’ve got a good goal-setting system in place, and you review it regularly, this can give you advance warning that something might be wrong.

3. Track vacation and time off work

In general, I don’t recommend requiring employees to track an hour off work here and there for things like dentist appointments. That said, I do highly recommend having a time-tracking system that allows employees to track days off work, whether it’s for vacation or some other type of leave. This system should also allow you to review these days to look for any anomalies.

4. Follow them on social networking sites

There’s nothing wrong with connecting with your employees on social networking sites, as long as the intention isn’t to analyze their every post and activity. There’s a difference between following someone because you’re interested in their content and stalking someone with negative intent.

5. Track network file activity

There software solutions that enable you to monitor file activity on things like shared network drives. For example, Google’s G Suite Business edition provides the ability to audit drives and check download activity. Custom software might be required for your particular network storage system, but it could be worth it not only to protect your data, but to get insight into employees prepping to quit.

What can cause an employee to stay?

what can cause an employee to stay graphic
Thankfully, there are ways to help your employees love their job, too!

We’ve covered why people quit and the signs they’re about to, so it only seems fair to touch on how you can make great employees stay. 

In my experience, things like compensation, benefits, and work environment are important, but people become truly loyal when they’re driven by the purpose of the company, they love the culture, and they’re highly motivated and engaged

While there's no magic recipe for how to retain high performing employees, your best bet is keeping up with the latest developments in culture and talent management by signing up for our newsletter!

By Mike Gibbons

Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing, and product strategy; organizational and team development; and business growth and operations. He's held various senior leadership positions in the technology industry, and in 2016 participated as a lead member of the deal team responsible for the sale of Point Grey Research to FLIR Systems for USD$256M. Mike is guided by his deeply-held beliefs in connection, curiosity, humour, empathy, and honesty. Since leaving the corporate world in 2018, he's provide fractional executive and growth and strategic planning advisory services that have helped several early stage companies mature, grow responsibly, and live true to their values.