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Small Business Owners Speak Out about Employee Turnover

Human Resources

Virtually all small businesses are haunted by the specter of employee turnover. Business owners fear the loss of productivity and knowledge that accompanies departing employees out the door. They also dread the time, cost, and resources involved in hiring replacement employees.

To some extent, of course, employee turnover is inevitable. People's ambitions and needs change over time and what once worked for them in a particular position no longer applies. Other employees are easily dissatisfied, or restless or unhappy with their present work conditions.

Unless the employer is aware of how his or her employees are feeling, each departing worker can come as a huge (and unpleasant) surprise. That's why it's so essential to recognize the telltale signs that can mean an employee intends to leave your business. We recently described five red flags to watch for, including:

  • Formerly high-achieving employees who now contribute the bare minimum to their jobs
  • A change in "normal" behavior (less outgoing, more preoccupied, etc.)
  • Messy desks that suddenly become cleared and tidy
  • The occasion of a major life event (marriage, baby, a death in the family, etc.)
  • Increased activity on LinkedIn (looking for job openings, making new professional contacts, etc.)

Building on this theme, we recently reached out to small business owners and staff across the U.S. regarding the topic of employee departure. Take a look at their experiences regarding warning signs that an employee intends to leave, and actions they have taken to address the problem:

Warning signs

Sheri Smallwood of Sheri Smallwood, Chartered points to these red flags: "Coming in late, an upswing in personal phone calls, or a lack of interest in or enthusiasm for work."

Employees about to exit "start coming to work dressed better than usual and then need to leave for a 'doctor appointment' or something," says Vicky Graham of Microchip Identification Systems, Inc.

For Brooke Shatles of Ring Savvy Inc, warning signs include "showing up late to work or missing shifts." Also, "work productivity starts to decrease," the employee exhibits a "poor attitude with colleagues," and "complains about non-issues."

Jane Mount of Libran Research & Consulting LLC, says departing employees "stop looking you in the eye" and "seem disconnected personally from the job."

How to approach an employee who might intend to leave

Heather Brainard of Quantex Laboratories Inc., advises being up-front and direct with these employees. "The why is the most important question to see if it's something you can either change or prevent, so it doesn't dissuade future employees from leaving. Ask why they've decided to leave without being aggressive or negative about it."

"Communication is key!" says Cyndi L. Kastoll of Eduardo Ainza, DDS. "Have a meeting with the employee to discuss his or her concerns and complaints. Some problems can be addressed and even solved if a genuinely open discussion takes place."

"Bring up the topic first, before you're left with no employees and it's too late," says Tayler Hurckman of Columbus West Travel Center LLC. "Sometimes the employee is too reserved or scared to talk first, fearing they'll lose their job anyway or step on someone else's toes."

Brooke Shatles advocates conducting performance reviews and maintaining steady contact with employees. "We are always getting feedback on how to make the environment better."

Jane Mount says she has twice convinced an employee not to leave by offering more money. "However, I ended up not trusting that employee again, and found that I managed him in a way that protected me for when he did eventually leave. I would rather let the person go, find out the reasons for their leaving, and then shift gears for the remaining employees and preventing them from getting to that point."

"Be supportive," says Sheri Smallwood. "Ask the employee what's going on in their life and what they need or want. Ask whether there's something in particular at work that makes them dissatisfied. Be respectful of their career and desire for advancement. Maintain the relationship and contact for the future."

Learn more about the many proactive steps you can take to stem an exodus of employees from your workforce.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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