how to know when your employee is about to quit.

Frustration (was: threesixtyfive | day 244)

Image by Sybren A. Stüvel via Flickr

Working at and managing a department in a major retail store has it’s lessons.  One of those lessons is keeping an eye out for the folks who might be on the verge of quitting.  While turnover is high in occupations like ‘retail sales’ it doesn’t necessarily have to be.  In fact, I’m convinced that if you watch out for these ‘conversational’ red flags you might head off a potential break down on the sales floor or in the office.

Flag #1 – “No one cares but me”  When you hear someone say this, what they mean is “I feel alone.”  I know this may sound too Freudian but it’s true.  Most of the time a salesperson doesn’t care entirely too much about one specific product or aspect of the job.  What they thrive on is the sense of community that comes from others caring at the same time.  This flag usually shows up in random and unsolicited conversation.

Respond by asking why they feel that way and then just listen.  While this will always be an appropriate response, in this case, most people just want to be heard.  By giving them space to vent, they may realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them or what they are doing.  It’s always good to be reminded that we’re on a team, each person needing the other.

Flag #2 – “I won’t be here forever” This is often said by that high school student bagging groceries.  It’s justified and worthy of saying at this stage.  However, the 26-year-old with a degree should hopefully be saying, “I could see myself here a long time.”  This certainly isn’t the case always.  I’m not advocating that someone stick it out when a truly horrible work environment exists.  What I am saying is that one bad day won’t justify quitting.

Whenever you hear this on the sales floor or by the water cooler, ask the person, “Where do you see yourself in the next few years?”  It’s amazing how much intrinsic insight we have when we verbalize our thoughts.  Stepping stones to another job are not necessarily wrong.  Lagging performance due to frustration is.  Help the person find a niche in the company or help them find another company.

Flag #3 – “I hate my boss” No brainer, right?  Unfortunately, people stick it out in these situations despite having psychotic dreams of violence toward their superiors.  While not every relationship with a manager or leader is going to be peachy keen, it should be professional.  The number one reason most people leave their job positively is for higher pay somewhere else.  The number one reason most people leave their job negatively is because they couldn’t get along with their boss.

This is probably the trickiest red flag to navigate.  While “hating my boss” might not be the exact words, some derivation of it betrays a big problem.  A potential rescue does exist:  If the employee/volunteer is a tremendously talented asset to your organization AND they haven’t shared this with others, try negotiating new terms for work and communication.  Find out where the break down is.

Unfortunately though, if this venom is being spewed by the employee lockers and you’re getting it third hand, it’s time to cut the cord and move on no matter how talented the person is.

Flag #4 – “I don’t care”  This flag is at the opposite end of Flag #1.  When someone is truly invested in a company, an idea or a vision they usually have some form of opinion on almost everything.  Whether that’s what color the walls will be, what product will go up for sale next or who wins the “employee of the month” plaque.  Sure, it’s not normal to have an opinion on literally everything…you just don’t have time for it.  However, when not caring about anything becomes a motif, it’s time for change.

While you can never make someone care about something, you can always show care for someone.  A simple thank you card, some time off or a  new project are all ways to show that you care about someone.  Hopefully, that caring will be contagious.

These flags are just some things to listen out for but the real key is to always have your ear to the ground.  To be a good leader, you have to be a good listener.  The best is yet to come for most people, we just have to know how to look for it.  If you are thinking about quitting, quit well.  It’s not that a good leader doesn’t quit, it’s just that they know how and when to.


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it’s not you, it’s me.

The first time I got dumped was in the second grade.  Back in those days, relationships often began with the phrase, “I like you.  Do you like me?”  On the flip side of that, when someone declares they don’t like you anymore, there isn’t a question to follow.  It is more or less a statement of fact.  A crushing and painful statement of fact.  Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t the type to get real choosy either.  If I even caught a hint of the phrase “Do you like me” drifting from a girl’s mouth, whether it was intended for me or not, the word “Yes!” came gushing from my lips.  This first time I was “let go” came from wearing glasses to school one day (or at least that’s what I think).  She liked me before the ocular handicap, why not after?  Anyways, when I heard she hit up a New Kids on the Block concert with the new beau, I was done.  All this before the 3rd grade.  Who’s bitter anyways, right?  Definitely, not me.

Rejection has been and will continue to play a role in our lives.  It’s part of being human.  Recently, I’ve ended up courting these strange emotions once again in trying to rent out our home.  Since Amy wants to go back to school, we’ve negotiated several ways to be fiscally tighter, deciding to reap the rewards down the road instead.  This has led to putting our home up for rent.  It seems like a good idea in this market and if all plays out well, we’ll eventually move into a place that’s much less expensive while retaining a good financial asset.  The thing is, when you put your home out there for rent or for sale, you really kind of put yourself out there.  Your home represents a lot about yourself: how it’s decorated can speak volumes about subconscious desires of comfort and hope.  The work we do to afford that home is another testament.  How we spend money speaks to our values, beliefs and priorities.  Our home is our kingdom and opening that kingdom up to complete strangers can be intimidating.

So when I let this young interested couple enter that kingdom, I was initially hesitant.  Their good looks and convincing back-story was appealing but I knew from all the internet literature I had just started reading that this was business, and business means business, you know what I mean?  How then did this risk of rejection come in?  Why wasn’t I more stone-faced?  Honestly, I didn’t see it sneak up on me.  I was supposed to be the one doing the rejecting, writing the denial letters (not that I derive some joy from that) but there was a sense of power in having that choice to make.  Having bought their story, we crossed the emotional border and went out on a limb to declare our intent to rent to this couple.  I had crossed that sacred line where my emotions painted a picture of financial utopia.  Why didn’t I see it coming…the back and forth via e-mails, the quick calls from references, the urgency to make a decision.  Then, the hammer dropped: “We’ve decided to go with the other home.”

I thought I had prepared myself for this moment…I hadn’t.  I knew these people for all of 48 hours and yet they had affected me!  I was angry at myself for allowing the power of the moment to sweep me up.  Here was that familiar feeling, that old bitter enemy of ‘rejection’ dictating how I’m supposed to feel or not feel.  You know what I mean, right?  Where you retrace your steps and ask, “What did I do wrong” or “What could I have said differently?”  We’ve all been there.  In fact, the more you lead and the more you open up to others, the more you deal with rejection.  It comes in all shapes and sizes and for as many reasons as there are stars in the sky.  So how do I deal with it?  By not stopping!  Stopping would be too easy.  I still want to rent this house and that means rejection is a possible but potential risk.  In my calling, I still want to lead people and that means rejection is an imminent but necessary risk.  It’s because the goals are worth it…you are worth it.  What I’m learning is that rejection doesn’t necessarily lead to the second choice, it can lead to the better choice.

Some folks won’t like your product.  Some folks won’t like your message.  Maybe they shouldn’t like it.  Then again, maybe they should.  We all have the power to walk away from something.  It’s how we walk away that counts.  The temptation is to detach yourself, to minimize the risk of rejection.  Instead, try the opposite: put yourself out there because if no one else likes your product, you still do.  If no one else believes your message, you still do.

Just for the sake of perspective, here is the story of the One who knew rejection for you and I.  His is the most compelling of all:

Isaiah 53:2-6 The Message

 The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.