11 signs your star coworker is about to quit

All the indicators were there when a former coworker of mine was on the brink of quitting.

It started with her normally prompt self showing up late to meetings, often unprepared. Then, it seemed like every Friday she was out. Not soon after her Friday sabbaticals, she shared something in a presentation that was a bit controversial for the company.

At that moment, I recognized that a key player on our team was on the way out. Perhaps the telltale signs were there all along, but it became obvious during the end of her tenure that she had one foot out the door. Sure enough, a week later, we got the email that she had accepted a new position elsewhere and wished us all the best of luck.

The signs below are ones that may indicate that a colleague will be leaving soon.H

  1. A noticeable decrease in productivity
  2. Missing work or using vacation time liberally
  3. Not meeting timelines 
  4. Clearly distracted and disengaged 
  5. An obvious communication dip
  6. Taking a backseat on projects
  7. Leaving work early, showing up late, or both
  8. Distancing themselves from others
  9. Seeming more agreeable and yet apathetic
  10. Dressing down more often
  11. Not being a team player like they used to be

While some of these signs may cross over into what would be considered a possibly unmotivated employee, there is always a connection between lack of motivation and quitting.

Oftentimes, there are multiple signs of quitting mentioned. Someone who dresses down for a few days might not be quitting, but if they dress down, take off every Friday, and have a noticeable dip in productivity, well, there’s a problem.

How to retain someone who might quit

First, try to understand where the person is in their career. Communication isn’t always fluffy and fun, but directly asking someone is essential to resolving the matter. Consider using these strong questioning techniques found in The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier:

  • “Hey, what is on your mind?” (Listen for their answer.)
  • Oftentimes, the answer won’t be given, so ask the KEY follow-up question, “Is there anything else?” Once again, listen. 
  • Next, ask about the issues or problems at hand. Inadvertently, you’re letting them know you care but that you’re also committed. 
  • Finally, reassure them that you’re committed to keeping them on board and be prepared to describe how and why. Make sure you do not make promises you can’t keep, as this is a surefire way to break their trust.

Proper communication could help you talk someone off the quitting ledge, so to speak, but you must recognize a few things first, regardless of the result.

  1. If they quit, assess if there is something you could have done better to retain this employee.
  2. If they quit, was it simply a better opportunity for them? If so, don’t overanalyze the situation.
  3. Could you have created a better buy-in from them? A win-win opportunity? 
  4. Was the breakup mutually beneficial? In some cases, someone who leaves isn’t always a bad thing!

The pandemic’s silver lining

A silver lining brought about during the COVID-19 pandemic was the fact that many people realized that they could work from home and be just as productive, if not more so.

Similarly, many people realized that the forced pivot to focus on their time instead of always pressing forward at work was actually way more enjoyable. As the “Return to Normal” began, many realized that perhaps grinding for the company wasn’t as glamorous as it once was. Working on side projects and spending time with family replaced the once busy work week; many people did not want to go back to their old ways.

Bottom line: If you’re upper management or a hiring manager, the new company culture may need to place employees first. Hopefully, you can recognize the signs of a possible resignation soon enough to prevent it.