Pre-Quitting Behaviours: 13 Signs that your Employee Might Quit

Attrition (Workforce Reduction)
Knowledge Center

Best Practices
A Kahnesky
Manager, Denmark

Pre-Quitting Behaviours: 13 Signs that your Employee Might Quit

Dissatisfaction at work, a search for better career prospects (i.e., role or salary or company or industry), or a yearning for higher education are some of the main reasons why employees choose to leave their current organization. Employee attrition impacts both the employee and the employer. After all, the company now faces a load of tasks to 'replace' the outgoing employee ensuring knowledge transfer, hiring or searching for a replacement, new employee onboarding & training, etc.

Research shows that employees often display (or "leak") certain behavioural signs before they quit the organization. What are some of the most prominently displayed signs of potential attrition? Can managers and co-workers (the people closest to the employee in the organization) detect these signs on time, and help stop the employee from "putting in the papers"?

What are the Major Pre-Quitting Behaviors (PQBs)?

Gardner, Iddekinge and Hom (2016) conducted a study that shed light on the Pre-Quitting Behaviours or PQBs subtle signs displayed by employees unknowingly before they show intentions to quit. They found that there are a set of 13 PBQs that employees typically display before they leave an organization. The greater the number of signs displayed, the higher the likelihood of voluntary attrition by the employee. The study found that an employee displaying one or more of the following behaviours is likely to quit within a year:
  1. Putting in lesser efforts and displaying lower levels of motivation.
  2. Doing just the minimum amount of work required, more frequently.
  3. Showing lower work productivity than usual.
  4. Lesser inclination towards being a team player.
  5. Displaying a negative change in their attitude.
  6. Have expressed dissatisfaction with their manager more frequently.
  7. Less motivated to please their manager than earlier.
  8. Express dissatisfaction towards their current role more frequently.
  9. Showing less willingness to commit towards long-term goals and objectives.
  10. Display less interest in working with customers.
  11. Tend to leave for home early more often.
  12. Seem to have lost the enthusiasm of working towards the mission of the organization.
  13. More frequently display a reduced focus on job-related issues.

Applications of these PBQs for Employee Retention

  • Managers and co-workers who work closely with any employee are more likely to detect pre-quitting behaviours and may help in retaining the employee.
  • In spite of the organization's efforts to retain employees, there will always be some amount of attrition. Organizations can focus their efforts by trying to identify employees at higher risk of quitting. Further, based on the employee's job performance, the firm may want to retain good performing employees while allowing some of the poor performers to leave.
  • In cases where firms choose to allow employees to quit, the firm can ensure proper knowledge transfer and handover of responsibilities from the outgoing employee. This would ensure that the new replacement would be able to quickly "fill in the shoes".
  • Employee retention strategies and measures enforced by the organization, at the central or departmental level, often take effect slowly. Hence managers should focus on short-term retention for star performers (e.g., offering a retention bonus or allowing greater autonomy at work).
  • Instead of relying solely on Exit interviews to understand why employees quit, managers can frequently conduct interactions with the team to check for pre-quitting behaviours. The interactions should be targeted at understanding why employees may think of leaving, and how the firm could retain the employees for longer.
While organizations of course can not avoid employee attrition completely, they can take steps to minimize it. An important aspect of retaining employees is understanding when someone is likely to quit (using the Pre-quitting Behaviours) and promptly taking actions. Although PQBs might not always point at 'intentions to quit', they can definitely act as red warning flags which managers should look out for!

⇒ Apart from these 13 signs, which other signs have you prominently seen before someone quits? How can managers quickly detect and act on these signs?

Gardner, T. M. and Hom, P. W. (2016) "13 Signs That Someone Is About to Quit, According to Research", Harvard Business Review
Gardner, T. M., Iddekinge, C. H. and Hom, P. W. (2016) "If You've Got Leavin' on Your Mind: The Identification and Validation of Pre-Quitting Behaviours", Journal of Management, pp. 1-27

  Akintunde Olusegun
Consultant, Nigeria

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I agree employee/staff members who feel they have built a warm relationship with their employer (and do not have the cou...

  Lawrenzo van Hamond
Student (University), Australia

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This entire topic is based on the situation of an employee leaving and the manager trying to identify the cause. But no...

  Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

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@Lawrenzo van Hamond: Thank you for your very valuable observation. Strictly speaking, we are not discussing the REASONS...

  Olena Skrynnyk
Student (University), Ukraine

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  Francois Aye
Management Consultant, Switzerland

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  Sheetal Sharma

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The pandemic has created a choice; a wide difference in our life choices. Normal before was just getting done what all t...

  Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

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Picking up on the comments of Lawrenzo & Jaap. Accepting that we are looking at the signals that a person might be abou...


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