Employee retention is absolutely vital for companies hoping to build sustainable success. In the short term, the cost of losing an employee is significant, costing anywhere between 100 to 300 percent of their salary. In the long run, high turnover can weaken succession pipelines, resulting in fewer capable, high-potential leaders who can step into a new position and perform up to expectations.

Fortunately, there are a number of early warning signs that can provide an indication of when an employee is becoming disengaged and ready to seek other opportunities. By identifying these signs early, organizations can take steps to address them and potentially improve their retention rates.

8 Signs an Employee is About to Quit…

Decline in Performance

When an employee who is typically productive, efficient, and punctual shows a noticeable decline in performance, it’s usually a good indication that something is wrong. In most cases, these performance drops result from a decline in commitment and engagement. The employee may have already decided to move on and is actively seeking opportunities elsewhere, or they could be experiencing frustration and dissatisfaction in their current role. In either case, they’re likely to be moving on soon.

Less Engagement During Meetings

If someone who used to provide valuable insights and observations during meetings suddenly becomes quiet or frequently distracted, chances are good that the employee is thinking about leaving. Their behavior may not be negative, but the lack of engagement can be just as detrimental to team performance, especially if they previously played a prominent role in strategy discussion or brainstorming.

Less Interest in Personal Development

An engaged and committed employee is generally focused on opportunities for growth and advancement within an organization. They seek out stretch assignments, training materials, cultivate relationships with mentors, and make an effort to learn as much as they can. When their interest in development wanes, they may no longer see the benefit of trying to improve their skills. Perhaps they were passed over for a promotion or don’t see the same long-term opportunities they once did. If an employee stops trying to grow, they are either resigned to stagnating in their current position or actively looking for another one. In either case, they may not be around much longer.

More Frequent Complaints

Engaged employees who are satisfied in their role may have some things they wish they could change about their jobs or workplace, but they either avoid dwelling on them or propose ideas to make them better. When they become frustrated and disengaged, negative attitudes take hold and lead to frequent complaints about the organization, leadership, and fellow team members. If an employee freely voices these negative opinions without any attempt to help solve the problem, chances are good that they’re already looking to leave for a situation they think will be better for them.


Whether due to frustration or guilt, an employee who is planning on quitting will often stop associating with fellow team members and other coworkers. Putting emotional distance between themselves and others makes it easier for them to depart when the time comes. This is an especially troubling sign if the employee was previously very social. In these cases, they’re probably seeking to avoid unpleasant conversations about their decision to move on.

Avoidance of Long-Term Projects

While an employee’s day-to-day job performance may not decline when they consider quitting, but they may show a marked drop in commitment to long-term goals. Handing off these projects or actively taking steps to avoid getting involved in more strategic initiatives is often a sign that they don’t plan to be around long enough to see them through to the end.

Frequent Absences

A classic indicator of dissatisfaction, frequent absences could be the result of disengagement and frustration or a byproduct of seeking another position elsewhere. If absences are rarely explained and accompanied by other changes in demeanor or appearance, the employee may be attending job interviews or making contacts with recruiters. On the other hand, if their absences come and go without explanation and they show less care for their personal appearance when they do show up for work, their disengagement could be bad enough that they’re ready to walk out the door at a moment’s notice.

Poor Communication and Accessibility

Employees who fail to provide or seek out valuable information necessary for team success usually aren’t planning to stick around for much longer. When they do communicate, they may leave things out or forget to ask about important details, which makes it more difficult for their teammates to do their jobs. They may also be difficult to contact, which can become a serious problem for virtual teams.

…and What You Can Do About It

By identifying these early warning signs an employee is about to quit, organizations can act quickly to address problem areas and reduce turnover. In most cases, finding ways to reengage frustrated employees and provide meaningful development opportunities can go a long way toward improving retention. Collecting feedback is a good place to start because it can identify the root causes driving dissatisfaction. A radical rethinking of assessment and development processes may be necessary as well. In many cases, employees aren’t aware of the learning resources and career opportunities available to them within an organization. Coaching and mentorship programs are also effective tools for cultivating engagement among high-potential employees.

Organizations that take proactive steps to monitor employee engagement tend to do a better job of keeping their top talent, which allows them to build strong succession pipelines. By keeping a sharp eye out for signs of frustration and disengagement, these companies are more likely to quickly identify and resolve problems that could lead to costly turnover in the future.