Employee churn is a persistent challenge which organizations have to manage, all year round. When star employees leave, managers are left saying, “I wish I had known before!” The desire – to intervene at the right time, with the right opportunity or solutions, and positively impact the employees’ state of mind. But how do we know when?

Researchers Timothy Gardner and Peter Wom explored this theme, by conducting a series of interviews with over 200 managers and employees. They asked: Think for a moment of your colleagues who have voluntarily quit in the last two years. How was their behavior different in the months prior to quitting?

They found a list of 900 behaviors, which through analysis and ratings, was distilled to a cluster of 13 correlated behaviors that represent employees’ tendency toward voluntary turnover. They are:

  1. Decrease in work productivity, more than usual.
  2. A decline in observable team work or team player attitude.
  3. Doing the minimum amount of work more frequently than usual.
  4. Reduced interest in maintaining a healthy relationship with managers.
  5. Less willingness, than usual, to commit to long-term timelines.
  6. Exhibiting a negative change in attitude.
  7. Less effort and work motivation, more than usual.
  8. Reduced focus on job-related matters, more than usual.
  9. Consistent verbal expression of dissatisfaction with current job.
  10. Steady increase in friction or disagreement with supervisors.
  11. Absenteeism, or clocking of fewer work hours.
  12. Loss of enthusiasm for the organization’s mission.
  13. Declining interest in working with customers, more than usual.

Gardner and Wom’s research shows that if employees exhibit these behaviors consistently over three to four months, it is an indicator of voluntary turnover within the next year. The operative word – consistently. Hence, their prime recommendations to manage such employees are:

  • Conduct stay interviews. Instead of conducting exit interviews to learn what caused employees to quit, hold regular interviews with current high-performing employees to learn what keeps them working in your organization and what could be changed to keep them from leaving.
  • Practice energizing your team. It is all about the energy you invest in relationships with your employees. By giving your full attention and presence in conversations; by being joyful, encouraging and curious; by contributing positively to conversations through ideas, hope, a vision etc. Empirical studies show that such relational energy motivates people to perform better.
  • Design engagement initiatives. Be in one-on-one coaching/ mentoring sessions or larger team get-togethers. Think of what you could do at the team, department or organizational level, that could increase job satisfaction, employee happiness, relieve stress, and build commitment.

Remember the old adage, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’? Proactively using the information from this research can help you save your organization a lot of angst and churn. Go for it, now!

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