“Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing anyone can learn,” goes the old song. But how do you know when it’s time to pack up and move on? By John Burfitt
Sometimes, all the signs are there, but it’s a matter of looking out for them. Other times, the signs are impossible to miss. As a practice owner, it’s about noticing when something has changed within your staff.
For example, it might be a staff member who was once on top of their game but now appears disinterested, lacks commitment, arrives late and leaves first, and uses any excuse to take a day off work. For both the employer and the employee, it’s a matter of deciding when is the right time to go. Some employees know when they have reached that point, perhaps because their job no longer aligns with their long-term goals. The employer usually knows as well, having observed a dramatic change in both the professional attitude and performance of that person who was once a key member of the team.
How both parties react to this situation can have a major impact on what happens next.
“Once you have noticed this—either as an employer or employee—it is time to sit down and have an honest discussion about what is going on and what can be done about it, rather than ignoring the situation and hoping it will rectify itself,” says Michael Grasso, workplace relations advisor at Wentworth Advantage, a company providing human resources consulting to the Australian Veterinary Association.
“This is not a time for performance counselling or to read the riot act. It’s a time just to be honest about what is going on, and what is needed from here to help [the employee] achieve their former level of performance and hopefully remain if you would like them to,” continues Grasso.
“It could be as simple as the employee is going through a bad patch, and the employer can look at the ways that can be remedied.”—Michael Grasso, workplace relations advisor, Wentworth Advantage
“But I believe you always need to attempt to resolve things early on. It could be as simple as the employee is going through a bad patch, and the employer can look at the ways that can be remedied. This is a time to discuss where you are both at, and importantly, to listen to what is being said.”
The content of such discussions can be confronting for both parties to hear. Employees give all kinds of reasons for wanting to resign—they have no passion left for the job, they have little faith in the company, they feel miserable about coming to work, they believe they don’t fit in with the workplace culture, they dislike the people they work with.
“When I hear people say either they hate their job, or they hate the people they work with, and I hear them say that more than a few times, I believe they need to seriously consider finding another role and moving on,” says Jacky Morgan, executive coach at Eternal Sunshine Solutions.
“If that is the case, then a good manager will help them, not force them, to move on. This is why these conversations between people need to be completely honest.”
Hearing why employees want to leave gives employers valuable insight into how their business is being run. “As the leader within your business, you need to take an honest look at yourself and your business if your staff show signs of being disengaged or want to move on,” Morgan says. “It may be tough to discover that your behaviour is having an impact on your organisation or team culture that you had no idea about.”
Many recruitment professionals agree that a main reason why good employees move on is simply boredom—when their role, previously a challenge and good fit, no longer inspires them.
Which is not to say that a stay-or-go ultimatum should be delivered. Saxon Marsden-Huggins is managing director of small business specialist Recruit Shop. Instead of concluding that leaving is the only solution, he suggests that this should be the time to explore ways to develop the existing role.
“If you want to keep a great employee, then check in regularly to see how they are feeling in the role.”
Saxon Marsden-Huggins, managing director, Recruit Shop
“Recruitment is a costly and time-consuming process, so it is mutually-beneficial to be having conversations to decide on a future where everyone is happy within the workplace. If both parties can agree on a way to continue the employee’s tenure by offering a suitable alternative to simply quitting, then that is ideal. It’s far better to have concrete goals and measurements set so both the employer and employee can constantly check on how they’re tracking within the role.”
Performance should be the measure of whether a change within the company is the solution, or if an exit is the key.
Marsden-Huggins says, “If you want to keep a great employee, check in regularly to see how they are feeling in the role; it is up to the employee who feels like they have become stagnant to speak up early. But it’s also the time to be transparent. If there really is no more room for them to grow or develop within the business, then probably it is time for them to look elsewhere for other opportunities.”
Dr Karen Davies of Direct Vet Services has had to face this situation within her own team in recent years. She adopted a three-step approach to deal with it.
“First, you need to have a chat, explain what you have noticed and talk about the ways you both think this can be resolved,” she says. “Then a further meeting should be set as follow-up to discuss the outcomes of that conversation. Where improvement has been noticed, that staff member should be commended. When there has been no improvement, then a formal warning should be given with a time frame of set expectations for improvement. After that, a decision to move on might be agreed upon, but at least other avenues were explored first.”
Of course, there are also cases when the time for talking is over, and a path to the exit door needs to be set. Wentworth Advantage’s Michael Grasso says, “If you have a staff member who is constantly under-performing and causing trouble, and you don’t mind if they announce they are considering leaving, you could respond by simply saying that if they have made up their mind to leave, they need to formalise their intentions to resign in writing. In this way they are free to explore new opportunities.
“You can get to a point when it is time to bite the bullet and let them head off, and be clear that it is better to let them look at other avenues so they can leave on a good note, and that’s what everyone should be aiming for in the long run.”