How to Predict Employees Leaving (And 15 Strong Signs That an Employee is About to Quit)

Today’s knowledge workers have more options that ever. Learn to spot the top signs that your best performers are thinking about quitting.

Your Talent Acquisition Specialist catches you in the elevator and shares some great news.

The CTO’s top choice for the Senior Software Engineer role just accepted their offer, and they’re scheduled to start on Monday.

Recruiting for that role was a pain, so you smile at a job well done.

But before you can cherish your big win, the problems start rolling in.

Within an hour, you learn that two Account Managers have submitted their two weeks’ notice.

The Director of Product Management, who generously gave a month’s notice, is leaving at the end of the week and there’s still no replacement.

And just as you take a deep breath and reach for your coffee, your computer pings with a terse email from the VP of Marketing.

It’s been a couple of weeks since he’s received any viable candidates for the still vacant Director of Marketing role. Any progress?

Employee turnover statistics: 25% of the workforce switches jobs each year.

In the race for talent, it’s often “one step forward, two steps back” for HR leaders

If it feels like you’re losing talent faster than you can find it, you’re not alone.

According to Deloitte, voluntary turnover (aka “the quit rate”) shot up to 2.4% per month , which is the highest it’s been in almost 20 years.

In other words, a breathtaking 25% of the workforce switches jobs each year.

When you’re a tech company or management consulting firm, your bread and butter are providing knowledge or bringing together the best minds to come up with innovative solutions.

Knowledge-based organizations are totally dependent on the commitment and ideas of their employees .

— W. Chan Kim, professor of strategy and management at INSEAD

Great employees are not easily replaced, so holding on to your intellectual capital is a matter of business life or death.

And as you’ve probably already noticed from crunching the numbers, it’s cheaper to keep the talent you have.

On average, it costs roughly $3,500 to hire a new employee – and the cost goes up depending on the role’s seniority and level of specialization.

In addition, the cost of replacement is anywhere from 150% to 300% of an employee’s base salary.

A talent strategy focused on keeping the star players you have is a smarter long-term bet.

People analytics is how leading companies hang on to their top talent

People analytics is a huge priority for companies.

According to Mercer, over 77% of surveyed companies have plans to increase their analytics capabilities.

But what exactly is it?

People analytics is a type of predictive analytics that’s tied to talent management.

It applies statistics and machine learning to large amounts of data to produce helpful insights.

It also enables business leaders to focus on the right areas and make smarter decisions.

Attrition has become a C-level priority, and senior management want access to tools that show real-time data on a company’s talent management.

As a company’s competitiveness becomes increasingly tied to its intellectual capital, retaining top talent has evolved into a mission-critical objective that requires meaningful, real-time data.

If reading that makes you a little exasperated, we understand.

Your team can’t be everywhere at once. It’s impossible to touch base with every single employee in a meaningful way.

Moreover, building the trust necessary to get employees to be candid and truthful about their experience in the workplace takes months, if not years.

The good news?

Thanks to people analytics, it’s now possible for HR leaders to predict an employee’s likelihood of quitting within a defined timeframe.

People analytics allows HR leaders to focus on top performers with the highest attrition risk

HR departments can understand how different factors lead employees to quit by collecting data from a variety of sources, and through technology, use statistical analysis to notice patterns.

Consider the story of a financial services call center that used data to understand its turnover .

It found that their most impressive new hires – those who scored 10 out of 10 on a simulation – were leaving the organization twice as fast as the employees who scored 9 out of 10 or lower.

One can only imagine the positive return on investment of focusing retention efforts on this segment of employees.

In other words, you can focus your efforts on top performers with the highest flight risk, thanks to machine learning.

Descriptive vs predictive analytics: which should you use?

If you’ve already incorporated analytics into your HR strategy, now’s the time to ask yourself: are you using descriptive or predictive analytics?

For many HR leaders, it’s descriptive.

These departments collect historical data about employee satisfaction and turnover, draw conclusions from that data, and then use it to develop future HR policies.

While descriptive analytics helps at the macro level, it falls short when it comes to predicting individual employee outcomes.

What’s more, descriptive analytics often puts HR teams in a bind:

If your data only tells you that retention rates are low – but there’s nothing to tell you why that is – it’s easy for a manager to insist on implementing their solution (e.g. higher pay for their team).

Even if you know that raising salaries isn’t the solution, it’ll be hard to make your case when the only data you have is the fact that you’re losing employees.

That’s not to say descriptive analytics isn’t important. Data derived from these initiatives offer data sources for your predictive analytics efforts.

Note: be mindful about using general warning signs as a catch-all solution:

While there are fairly accurate indications that an employee wants to leave, the significance of these indicators varies among organizations, so it’s important to gather your data and draw insights based on your unique company culture.

You want to find relationships between different variables, rather than analyzing factors in isolation.

Looking to predict and prevent turnover?

Sparkbay detects segments at risk of leaving and reveals the issues leading to turnover. This will enable you to act in time to prevent top performers leaving.

Take sick days for example.

If an employee takes a lot of sick days, it’s not necessarily a big deal. The simple answer is often the right one: They’re not feeling well.

But if your data shows that a sudden uptick in sick days combined with a recent performance review increases an employee’s chances of quitting, then it’s worth taking a closer look.

Meaningful insights come from evaluating the relationship between multiple variables.

In the meantime, it’s still valuable to keep the following red flags on your radar while refining your people analytics strategy.

Employee engagement statistics: 70% of business leaders believe that employee engagement is vital.

RED FLAG: Your employee’s level of engagement is low

Today, companies consider employee engagement initiatives a top business priority – and for good reason. 70% of business leaders believe that employee engagement is vital for producing business results.

There’s a demonstrated link between employee performance and employee engagement. In turn, employee engagement impacts employee retention.

But how do you measure employee engagement?

Qualitatively, you can work with managers to measure this through observation. These are some of the signs that you and managers should look out for that show an employee is not engaged and may want to leave:

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What

Why

They stop committing to long-term projects.

If a team member used to jump at the chance to take on a big initiative, but they no longer volunteer, it may mean that they’re planning an exit in the next month or two and are trying to tie up loose ends.

They stop contributing to team meetings or offering their feedback.

Employees who care about the trajectory of the company contribute during meetings. They want to work at a place where they’re doing meaningful work. If a member of your team suddenly stops offering their input, it may be a sign they’re no longer planning to stick with your organization long term.

They arrive and leave exactly on time.

Some employees love their work. They show up early and leave late because they’re passionate about what they do. If an employee like this suddenly starts watching the clock – showing up at their exact start time and leaving right at 5 – it may be because their days at your company are numbered.

They aren’t interested in career progression and advancement.

If an employee isn’t as enthusiastic about their advancement opportunities., it may be because they now see their career progression as something that will take place outside your company.

They start coming to work “checked-out”.

An employee that is “checked-out” contractually does what they’re obligated to: they arrive on time, don’t take more than an hour for lunch, and only leave at 5. But when they’re at work, they’re much less productive and engaged than they once were, which is a sign that they’re just going through the motions until they make their move.

They’re no longer eager to please their supervisor or manager.

Engaged employees want to go above and beyond, and they’ll often stay late or take work home in order to accelerate their output. If they no longer go the extra mile, it may mean that they’ve decided it isn’t worth investing so much into an organization they won’t be with for much longer.

Their manager has a low retention rate.

Ever heard of the maxim, “People leave managers, not companies.”? If you’ve noticed that a manager’s retention rate is much lower than the company average, then it’s a sign that employees on their team may leave the company soon.

How do you assess employee engagement quantitatively?

Warning signs are helpful for an engaged, proactive manager. But if a manager is overworked, these signs can be overlooked.

So, how can you measure employee engagement at scale while obtaining individualized results?

Pulse employee feedback surveys are one option. There’s been a lot of ink spilled about surveys recently.

Are they a dinosaur in the age of machine learning and big data, or are they valuable ways of gauging employee engagement?

Well, that ultimately depends on how your company uses them. Issuing a survey once a year may not obtain the best results for the following reasons:

On the other hand, frequent, but shorter “pulse” surveys prove that the leadership team wants to know what’s happening and has an interest in continuous improvement rather than cosmetic changes on an annual basis.

They also supply your organization with up-to-date data on where your employees stand to spot employees who are about to quit.

Yearly data is not enough when it comes to gathering intelligence for your strategic retention efforts.

Moreover, pulse surveys are more convenient for your employees to take since they’re shorter, improving completion levels across the organization.

It also allows you to gather data on specific scenarios and areas of company culture and employee morale, rather than subjecting your employees to information overload through a long, complex survey.

RED FLAG: Your employee elevates their professional brand

Today’s talents seek development opportunities.

In the past, employees stuck with a company for their entire career – this isn’t the norm anymore.

People want to work on different projects, apply their expertise to new challenges, and develop their skills.

They also want to advance in their careers, whether that means taking on more responsibility or earning a better title.

Investing in meaningful training and advancement opportunities isn’t just about placating ambitious employees. It’s important to your bottom line as well.

As Bloomberg reports, recruiting skilled workers is expensive, so you’re better off making your talent instead of buying it.

In some cases, career progression is just as, if not more, important than salary.

According to a survey, 30% of twenty-something employees were willing to take a pay cut of 6% to 12% to work at a company with great mentorship opportunities.

What’s more, for every 10 additional months an employee stagnates in their role, there’s a 1% increase in their chances of leaving the company.

There are a few signs that your employee may be feeling unfulfilled in their role and actively seeking new opportunities:

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What

Why

Their social media activity skyrockets.

If your employee suddenly updates their LinkedIn profile, engages with their connections, and posts more industry articles, they’re likely raising their profile and sprucing up their professional brand for potential new employers.

They suddenly start dressing better for work.

If your employee wasn’t super concerned about their attire before (e.g. they did the bare minimum by following dress code), but they’ve suddenly elevated their wardrobe, it may be a sign that they’re going for interviews.

They’ve been passed over for promotions and raises.

If an employee has been passed over for a promotion or a raise, but they’re a good employee, they may start questioning their future at your company and looking for other opportunities.

They earn a new degree or credential.

This sign ties into the previous one. If an employee’s been passed over for a raise or promotion, and they start taking courses to earn a new credential, it may be because they want to make themselves more attractive to other employers. It doesn’t make much sense for them to invest in additional education to earn the same money at the same level at their current job.

They start volunteering to attend industry conferences and events.

You likely send a few representatives to industry conferences and events several times a year. If an employee who used to balk at the thought of attending these functions suddenly starts volunteering, they may be scoping out potential employers in their field.

RED FLAG: Your employee’s environment changes considerably

Organizations possess a lot of data about their employees, including their sick days, vacation days, marital status, and more.

These data points can help employers understand warning signs that an employee plans to leave.

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What

Why

They’ve recently married or had children.

This isn’t a warning sign at every company, but it could be a dramatic signal at some companies. For instance, if you’ve noticed employees suddenly quit after getting married or starting a family, it may be a sign that they’re looking for a job with greater flexibility (e.g. hours or remote working). Employees sometimes assume that these changes aren’t an option and look for a new job altogether.

They’re suddenly taking a lot of sick days or random vacation days.

If you have sophisticated analytics tools, your team can identify whether employees are taking more one-off vacation days than they have in years past. This could be a sign that they’re going to interviews. If your system flags this on a high performing employee, it may be worth a check-in to see if they’re satisfied in their role.

Their team members recently quit.

Work friends play an important role in employee happiness and career success. Having a work friend helps employees get through stressful periods or tension with managers or other teams. When an employee’s team members quit, there’s a chance their friends will try to recruit them away. After a mass exodus, it’s important to check in with the remaining employees to identify any dissatisfaction since they no longer have the same support system.

Develop a framework that helps you differentiate between good and bad turnover

Not all turnover is bad.

If your low performers are leaving, but your top performers are staying, your company culture is moving in a good direction.

However, if you’re losing great people ⁠— who were expensive to recruit (!) ⁠— at a high rate, it’s a sign of bad turnover that you need to address – and fast.

There are a few ways to determine whether you’re experiencing good or bad turnover.

If your aggregate data shows that employees with a shorter tenure are dropping off at a faster rate, this is a possible sign of bad turnover.

You hired these individuals for a reason, and they’re likely quite talented. This may point to an onboarding process that needs improvement.

If your aggregate data shows that there’s a disproportionately higher turnover rate for a specific demographic (e.g. female employees), this is another sign of bad turnover.

It may signify the need to look at your company culture and how it impacts certain groups.

If your data shows that a consistently underperforming department is experiencing higher rates of turnover, it may be a sign that there’s self-correction happening.

This allows your organization to bring in stronger people.

When you’re using people analytics to identify warning signs, it’s important to create a framework within which you can effectively assess these insights.

Look at the data to determine whether a high turnover rate is happening for reasons you can prevent – like ineffective onboarding procedures or toxic workplace culture.

Final thoughts: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in the talent management world

An up-front investment in predictive analytics is a surefire way to keep your business competitive.

The current talent shortage presents a phenomenal opportunity for HR leaders to demonstrate their worth and generate value for the business.

Forward-thinking, creative HR leaders will use the tools at their disposal to provide meaningful, predictive insights to hang on to their company’s biggest investment: its people.

Want to take your organization’s people analytics to the next level? Learn more about our people analytics and employee engagement software here.

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