It's a fact of life that employees leave companies, but a trained eye can see the signs that an exit is on the horizon (Pixabay)
It's a fact of life that employees leave companies, but a trained eye can see the signs that an exit is on the horizon (Pixabay)

The resignation of an employee can have serious consequences for any company. That employee’s role now has to be filled by someone else, and, even if the employee’s replacement has the same role, the details are probably different. However, most people telegraph their upcoming departure through changes in behavior, and picking up on these changes can help you avoid being surprised. It can also put you in a position to help the departing employee as well as the people being left behind.

Online Changes

Most of the people you work with have online profiles, and it’s not unusual, after working with people for an extended period of time, to get access to their professional and personal social networks. Changes to these networks can provide insights into how your colleagues feel about work.

If you suddenly see changes to their LinkedIn profiles, this could be a hint that they are updating their professional profile to be more attractive to potential recruiters as well as potential future employers. This is especially true if there’s been a long period of time since you saw changes to their LinkedIn information. Also, even if you’re not connected to them on LinkedIn, a sudden invitation to join their LinkedIn network may suggest that they want a way to stay in touch with you after they are removed from internal communication tools following their exit.

If you work with developers who use GitHub, then a sudden flurry of contributions to public repositories may be an indicator that they’re thinking of changing companies. GitHub can be a useful tool to show the kind of code a developer can produce as well as the open source projects to which they contribute. Suddenly becoming active on GitHub may suggest that they’re buffing their online code portfolio.

If your colleague has a personal website, then sudden updates (e.g., new pages, a different theme, a flurry of blog posts) may be another indicator that they’re trying to make their online presence as positive as possible.

Movement Changes

Working at a company for a long period of time usually results in predictable movements among employees. There’s the morning crowding in the break room while people groggily grab coffee. Then there’s the assembly before noon as people find somewhere to eat lunch.

People who are about to quit often change their movements. Instead of joining the lunch bunch as usual, they camp out in a conference room and speak into their phones using hushed tones. Or, while coming into work, you see them talking on their phone behind the parking garage. They may also start working from home more often when they usually come into the office. These location changes may mean that they are covertly engaged in phone interviews and office visits with other companies.

Schedule Changes

Time is the most precious non-renewable resource, and how people spend their time tells you a lot about them. If a co-worker, who normally goes months without vacation, suddenly starts asking about the vacation policy then that’s a sign they may be about to quit. They are either about to use vacation time to attend interviews, or they want to know how much they will be paid out in unused vacation.

Changes in punctuality is another sign that someone may be leaving your company. Colleagues who are normally punctual in their arrival time to the office and always show up to meetings on time sometimes start running late when they’re looking for other opportunities. It can be tough managing interviews and maintaining the schedule of a company you’re trying to leave.

Furthermore, if co-workers who normally attend the regular happy hour after work or other evening activities suddenly stop showing up, then they may be socially closing off in anticipation of their future severance from your organization.

Workspace Changes

We often make our workspaces a representation of our personalities and interests. When colleagues start taking their personal items from the office, then they could be starting their physical separation from the company. Examples of this are people with a collection of family pictures and swag from conferences on their desk who suddenly have a clean workspace. They start taking their personal items away from the office because they may fear that their job search could be detected resulting in their termination. They don’t want to worry about leaving their prized possessions at their desk in the event they are escorted from the office.

Repository Changes

A lot of the value a team creates is stored in knowledge repostories and code repositories. So, co-workers planning to leave often start making copies of these assets. They will start downloading lots of files from knowledge repositories like SharePoint and Confluence. Or, they will clone code repositories outside of the parts of the codebase in which they normally work. This is hard to see unless you have admin access to these repositories, but it can be one of the most concrete signs that someone is planning their exit.

Responsibility Changes

Co-workers who have spent months asking for more responsibility and suddenly go quiet may be signaling that they are looking for that responsibility elsewhere. This sudden loss of desire and urgency may suggest that they have lost interest in continuing to work for your organization.

Another sign that employees are thinking about moving on is when they begin setting up others to do their role. They may insist that it’s cross-training to add redundancy in case they’re ever hit by a bus, but they may have actually hit the lottery of an offer from another employer.

What Do You Do?

If you notice these changes, the first thing you should do is not panic. Looking for a new employer is normally stressful, and you don’t need to add your own panic to the psychic weight of your colleague.

If you have a strong relationship with the person exhibiting signs of quitting, then you may want to have a candid conversation with them. It’s best to do this away from the workplace. Structure this conversation as a way to understand their concerns instead of convincing them to stay.

If you don’t have a strong relationship with this person, then that’s a more difficult situation. You may want to share your observations with their direct manager and turn the situation over to them.

In any case, you probably should think about a mitigation plan if your read of the situation turns out to be correct. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your company is letting a departing employee leave and focus on preparing the organization for their exit.