Can You Keep a Good Employee from Quitting?

Did you know that the cost of a hiring and training a new employee can be anywhere from 25-200% of his or her annual compensation? Well, that’s the case according to the American Management Association. “Costs include customer service disruption, emotional costs, loss of morale, burnout/absenteeism among remaining employees, loss of experience, continuity, and ‘corporate memory.’”

Replacing even low-level employees can be a tremendous burden.  The Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council discovered that replacing a supermarket cashier (making just $6.50 per hour) cost the average business $3,637.  In fact, the Sasha Corp, an HR consulting firm based out of Cincinnati, OH, says that the average cost of replacing an $8-per-hour employee varies between $5,000 and $9,000!

As you can see, it’s in your best interest financially to keep the employees you have. You should even think of keeping your current employees as a cost-savings measure that directly affects your profit margin. But when some employees are unhappy, it can be no small task to keep them around.

Below are some of the signs given off by unhappy employees about to quit their jobs. Clue in, and do what you can to help them to change their minds.

They Stop Complaining

Believe it or not, Bloomberg Businessweek says that the number one sign an employee is about to quit is that they stop complaining about the daily gripes you’ve heard so much about in the past.  As Liz Ryan says: “People stop complaining when they realize their energy is best invested elsewhere—and they’ve started sending out résumés”

The obvious first step is talk to these people.  Ask them outright if they plan on leaving the company.  Next, if they’re willing to talk, listen to them and—whenever possible—address their concerns in a real and frank manner.

Your employees are smart: they know that policies don’t just change at the drop of hat, so don’t try and make promises you can’t keep.  Instead, get them to understand that the company does really value them and wants to keep them around. Then you may actually stand a chance of retaining the employee until you’ve proven your commitment.

They Pose for the Camera

If you catch your employees constantly trying to look good for outside sources—vendors, customers, and even your competition—chances are they’re at least contemplating jumping ship.  This age-old primping action is designed to make them an attractive new hire. And it spells bad news for you.

Again, the first step is talking to these employees.  Chances are they’re looking elsewhere because their current position doesn’t fulfill some basic need.  But that need may not be money.  In fact, The Keep Good Going Report from the New York Life Insurance Company shows that employees often put personal lives above and beyond raises.

This is a dramatic change from five or even ten years ago when people were willing to work extreme hours for the dollar bill.  Money isn’t always the most important factor nowadays.  Better schedules, more free time, less stress, and according to some real life examples, the welfare of fellow employees, are more important to your staff than bigger paychecks.

Decreased Performance/Increased Absences

Both of these symptoms are a sure sign that your employee has given up on their job and doesn’t care much about the future of your business.  This is doubly bad, because unhappy employees leads to unhappy customers—and that means your profits may be taking a hit because of an employee’s bad attitude.

This attitude change is likely the product of a disconnect between the company and the employee.  While it may already be too late to salvage the relationship, you can learn a lesson and ensure the rest of your staff isn’t infected with apathy.

Reinvest in your staff, engage with them on real and personal levels, and create team-building activities, in or out of the office, that ensure your people know just how much they mean to you.  Most important of all:  treat them well.


If an employee suddenly withdraws from the company culture, you may be facing a crisis of morale.  Organizational psychologist Dr. Michelle Pizer says that if you notice an employees no longer engaging with other coworkers, talking behind people’s backs, or not participating in company activities—even a simple birthday party—you’re likely witnessing selfish behavior indicative of an imminent departure.

This type of behavior is linked with a shift in priorities.  Instead of caring about how they can do their job to the fullest, these employees have shifted their motivation to, “What’s in it for me?”

In some cases, these kinds of employees should be dropped from the organization, though some just need extra incentive to get back on the right track.  Contests, prizes—monetary or otherwise—and opportunities for advancement may be what these employees need to get back in gear.

Personal Crises

If an employee experiences a personal crisis, like the death of a loved one or a car wreck, they may very well reach a personal epiphany that their life means more to them than their job.

While this may be true, you need to keep these employees engaged.  How do you do that?  Give them time to breath.  Talk with them and show them that you understand their loss. Then, give them the space they need to heal.  That may mean time off, reduced workloads, a lighter schedule, etc.  The trick is to find out exactly what that individual employee wants or needs, and do what you can to accommodate.

Some employees just won’t stick around no matter what you do, and some you shouldn’t bother to keep.  While the desire to do whatever you can to keep a valued employee should be a part of every manager’s tool kit, you shouldn’t put the health of the company behind the needs of an individual.

You need to balance a personal connection to individual employees with a professional connection to profit and understand when it’s time to let employees go. It’s a cliché, but go with your heart: if you feel an employee can be turned around, then you should make the effort.  But if you hold out the olive branch and it’s swatted away, it may be best to cut your losses and start up the hiring machine.

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