Looking for the Exit Signs

Looking for signs some of your top talent is about to head out the door for good?

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Utah State University that recently crossed my desk, the signals are often more subtle than 77870591blatant. Generally speaking, says Utah State Associate Professor Tim Gardner (one of the study’s authors), the one thing most employees had in common before they left was that they began to “disengage” in the workplace. How so? Gardner’s research found those who were about to leave …

  • Offered fewer constructive contributions in meetings;
  • Were more reluctant to commit to long-term projects;
  • Became more reserved and quiet;
  • Became less interested in advancing in the organization;
  • Were less interested in pleasing their boss than before;
  • Avoided social interactions with their boss and other members of management; and
  • Began doing the minimum amount of work needed and no longer went beyond the call of duty.

In other words, their lack of engagement began to show up in here and there in their performance a few months before they actually quit. (Gardner, who did the study with Utah State Professor Steve Hanks and Florida State University Professor Chad H. Van Iddekinge, says the statistical formula they used could predict with 80 percent accuracy that employees demonstrating at least six of these behaviors were about to leave.)

It’s no surprise, of course, that signs like those listed above would make the researchers’ list. Those looking to exit are inevitably going to mentally check out some time before they actually give their notice. But what was somewhat surprising about the findings, Gardner points out, is that things like taking more vacation time, punching out at 5 p.m. every day and looking at outside openings on company time were not on the list.

“You might think that someone who starts showing up to work late, failing to return phone calls and emails, and taking lots of sick days might be about to leave, but those weren’t unique behaviors that applied only to the quitters,” he says.

Plus, just maybe, these latter individuals are savvy enough to avoid the obvious.