Replacing an employee costs an organization roughly 33% of that person’s annual salary, according to a 2017 report based on a survey of 34,000 responses. The report also found that 75% of the causes of worker turnover are preventable.
To identify and intervene with disengaged employees, managers can look for 13 common pre-quitting behaviors, according to a 2016 study by Timothy Gardner, associate professor of management at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and Peter Hom, professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
To conduct the study, researchers first asked 100 managers about behavior exhibited by employees shortly before they left for another job. Then, they condensed the 900 behaviors identified by respondents into a 116-question survey, which they administered to three other sets of managers.
Using this second round of feedback, the researchers narrowed down the list to 13 of the most common pre-quitting behaviors:
- Decreased productivity;
- Decreased collaboration;
- No longer going above and beyond on projects;
- No longer trying to please his or her manager;
- Avoiding projects with long-term deadlines;
- A sudden, more negative attitude;
- Decreased motivation and initiative;
- Less focus on day-to-day responsibilities;
- Expressing dislike of the job more often;
- Expressing dislike of his or her manager more often;
- Leaving early more often;
- Decreased enthusiasm for the organization’s mission; and
- Less interest in working with clients or customers.
In a follow-up study, Gardner and Hom asked managers to rate the degree to which each of their employees exhibited the 13 behaviors, on a scale of one to five. Then, they checked back 12 months later to see which employees had voluntarily quit in that time. After controlling for certain external factors, Gardner and Hom found that employees with an average score of 4.2 or higher were two times more likely to quit than the average employee.
To reduce turnover, managers should focus on short-term interventions, rather than large-scale, long-term changes, Gardner and Hom write. They suggest taking simple steps that have an immediate effect, such as small merit increases in pay, promotions, or special projects.
One strategy they particularly recommend is “stay interviews.” Stay interviews are similar to exit interviews, except instead of probing why an employee has decided to leave, managers seek to learn what has kept high-performing employees at the organization so far and what could prevent them from leaving in the future.
Managers should conduct these interviews 30 days after new employees start and then every six to nine months after their first year, suggests Barbara DeMatteo, director of HR consulting at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates, a labor relations consulting firm.
The Society for Human Resources Management notes that stay interviews don’t need to take more than half an hour. The organization recommends coming to the interview with a list of open-ended questions ready, but suggests that it’s more important to listen and gather ideas from your employee than to ask every question on your list. Questions to consider asking include:
- What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
- What do you like most/least about working here?
- How do you like to be recognized?
- What would you like to learn here?
- What can I do more/less of as your manager?