HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore

6 signs your top talent is about to quit

It is the moment every manager fears; the one when your top performer knocks on your office door and asks if you can talk privately and then hands you their resignation letter. With the economy back on track and Singapore’s labour market the tightest it’s been in ten years, finding replacements for top talent is harder than ever.

As a business leader you have to be on the lookout for signs if your top people want to leave and act before they do. So are there any early warning signs that should make you prick your ears up and be alert that your talent
is thinking of quitting? Yes, and here are some of the top ten.

The first sign is that if your talent takes the same days off each week, they are likely to quit. When people create a regular habit to take off the same time each week and with a higher frequency, it is an indicator that something is wrong. It could be something personal to them but then again, they might be considering to leave your company, and might as well have interviews with other companies. Either way you need to address this by having a conversation.

The second sign that a talent wants to leave your company is when it applies internally for a role.
If you run analytics based on tenure, seniority achieved, pay and reward, you will find it. This is a sign that they are
unhappy with what they are currently doing, and they are looking around.

The third sign is when a behavioral change occurs. It is when somebody who is fully engaged suddenly becomes disinterested. Lack of interest is the number one sign. Pretty soon productivity decreases and they stop delivering - they gossip more and time spent away from their work stations increases.

They are always at the coffee machine or downstairs, and the lunch break increases from an hour to an hour and a half. You will also notice a passive-aggressive response or antagonism when you are asking for input. It’s more like a child crying out. You need to quickly deal with this person and re-engage them or they can, like the proverbial apple, start to rot the rest of the barrel.

The fourth, and perhaps counterintuitive sign is when it asks for a pay raise. This shows they are considering their worth in the market and you have undervalued them. Money represents 5 % of the job when somebody is happy. But otherwise, it represents 95 %.

If people feel they are being fairly paid, they will be looking for respect and recognition. But the minute you unfairly pay them it becomes everything. Asking for a pay raise may indicate there are deeper problems with their attachment to work.

The fifth sign is when your talent is always too busy to talk. People don’t want to engage because it’s face saving. People don’t like confrontation so they will avoid it. So beware the staffer who looks for opportunities to not engage or talk.

The sixth sign is when it is sad. Half of people won’t tell you why they are sad and half will. But either way it has the same outcome - they will leave. Keep communicating. Unless you engage in a conversation with someone, you cannot do anything. Don’t beat yourself up, you can take the horse to the water but you can’t make it drink.

So how do you go about fostering “open dialogue” instead of waiting for the yearly appraisals to know what your talent is thinking? To start, you need an environment where they feel they are free to engage in an open dialogue.
Most companies react to the symptom by yearly appraisals. But you need townhalls and company intranet for sharing of ideas. Facebook shows that people want to have community sharing so if you don’t have an internal company ’facebook,’ you need one.

Do you take time to win hearts and minds? Townhalls, or just a simple ‘hi, how are you’? If you don’t create continuous dialogue with your employees how will you know if they want to quit? Here is a great line to use with someone you feel is displaying one of the signs. Simply ask them:” Do you have something to tell me ?” If someone has something to hide, and you are shooting in the dark, it is amazing how many people respond by divulging a secret.

It’s human nature that people want to tell the truth; very few are truly Machiavellian. And finally, If you are trying to keep someone working with you who has already resigned, you shouldn’t bother. But you should have read the warning signs.

This article has also appeared in the August-September issue of Singapore Business Review.

If you want to know the other four signs email me at and I will be glad to share them with you as well as strategies for recruiting and retaining talent.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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