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How Can You Tell If Your Star Employee Is Unhappy?

Posted by Insightlink on 04/11/16

Keeping secrets is hard work because most of us are not very good at it; our actions often give us away despite our best efforts. 


There are clues even before an employee resigns that something is not right. You may notice some detachment as the person subconsciously begins to separate themselves from their work and the people they work with. If their work has always been outstanding you may begin to see slight changes in quality. If they are typically involved with other team members they may begin to distance themselves and turn down invitations when they would have never missed out in the past. Perhaps they seem more secretive, they share less about themselves or are away from their desks more often, (which could signal they are making personal calls from another location and need privacy). Other signs include coming in later, increased dental and medical appointments to make use of company benefits, you might even notice they are dressing better and more professionally than usual.

Your doubts can also be confirmed by taking into account if the person was overlooked for promotion or if there was there a disruption in the company that might have made the person feel insecure i.e. Mergers and Acquisitions or Reduction in Force perhaps. Or did a good friend recently leave the company?

Don’t go!

There are steps you can take immediately to keep your employee from leaving. First, it is important to be upfront and honest. Communicate positively with the employee and try to explore the reasons they are leaving to better understand if there is anything the organization can offer to change or provide that might meet the employee’s goals or needs. If you discover they are looking elsewhere and you want to fight to keep them, don’t let money be your first offer. Increasing wages may seem at first to be a solution however research shows most people think they ought to be paid more but pay is not a key driver for job satisfaction.

Initially, paying someone more may have short term effects but long term, if nothing else changes the employee will circle back to their original place of discontent. This could even backfire and have a negative effect on other employees. Once employee perceptions shift and they begin to think there is an unfair wage gap the consequences of increasing one employees pay will have negative consequences on other staff.

There are non-monetary rewards or incentives like telecommuting or flex-time that could persuade an employee to stay but be careful you are not guessing what those should be. Instead openly discuss these with your employee and ask them what is important to them; guessing what employees want is a waste of time. Employee feedback is vital to understanding and takes the guesswork out so that your solutions match the circumstances.

What is so attractive about this approach is it validates the employee and gives them an opportunity to express themselves.

The key is not to wait too long to reach out to the employee. Once you have a sense they are considering leaving, don’t wait for them to come to you. Be pro-active and be aware. All of us crave feeling valued and important. A gentle inquiry may be refused but it conveys awareness and thoughtfulness to your employees that their well-being matters. This can open the door for the employee to re-visit the question at a later time and may encourage them to feel more comfortable about talking openly. If you wait for them to come to you it will be too late since by that time they will have made irrevocable decisions that may prevent them from changing their mind at that point.

At Insightlink we have conducted our own independent employee research and have found that job dissatisfaction is a serious problem. We found that almost 40% of U.S. employees are dissatisfied and unhappy with their jobs and of those, 17% have either found or are looking for another, better opportunity and are planning to leave fairly soon.
This is why we strongly and sincerely encourage you to find out what is happening in your workplace by conducting an employee survey. An employee survey is the only true and accurate measure about what is really going on and the best way to diagnose problems so that your star employees fight to stay and aren’t going behind your back planning their way out.


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Insightlink Communications are experts in employee survey design, data collection and analysis. Since 2001 we've helped companies of all sizes measure and improve their employee satisfaction and engagement.

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