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How to tell when a good employee is job hunting.

How to tell when a good employee is job hunting

If you know what clues to look for, you can spot a planned departure and get a head start on trying to retain the employee.

By Ed Roseman, Ph.D.

"She was one of the best technologists I ever had. I was really surprised and upset when she told me she was leaving. If I had only known, I would have tried to keep her."

If you are surprised when a valued employee leaves, you missed the telltale clues that would have given you warning. It is hard for employees to cover their tracks so nobody knows they are job hunting.

Early recognition of these clues helps in two important ways. First, you may be able to change the mind of an employee who has decided to leave. Second, you can make sure the laboratory doesn't suffer from reduced productivity as the employee "turns off" after making the decision to leave.

Here are things to watch for:

Change in dress. Most employees don't come to work in a laboratory in their Sunday best. If someone arrives dressed to kill, with a fancy haircut or beauty-shop coiffure, and an attache case or leather portfolio in hand that day, a job interview may be scheduled.

Unfortunately, many employees who have job interviews call in sick, so clues concerning dress or appearance are not available. Watch instead for a number of one-day absences or late arrivals or early departures. All may signal appointments with prospective employers.

Increase in clerical activities. Have you noticed an employee mailing a number of envelopes or preoccupied with clerical activities that are not regular duties? These activities may relate to a job search.

Some employees may make use of an office typewriter and some of the plain white bond paper for their own purposes. They may go to the office copier to duplicate letters and documentation for prospective employers.

Turnoff. Watch for an employee who is on the job physically but not psychologically. As commitment to the job goes, so does energy and initiative. Boredom and indifference take over. The employee goes through the motions, trying to spend as little time as possible on work assignments. Lunch hours are extended and coffee breaks prolonged. The employee chats frequently with others in the laboratory.

Increased telephone messages. The employee may have an inordinate number of telephone messages and be on the phone repeatedly. Even if the telephone calls are not related to a job search, they may indicate a loss of job interest and commitment.

Secretive private conversations. Quite often, long before an Quite often, long before an employee departs, many individuals within the laboratory are aware of the situation. Co-workers are used as a sounding board to help evaluate job opportunities.

You may be able to confirm your suspicions in a casual conversation with one of the employee's closer co-workers. Just say: "You know the way Ann has been on the phone so much lately, you would think there's something special happening in her life." Or: "I can't figure out why Ann has been mailing so many letters lately, can you?"

You probably will not get a straight answer, but the reaction of the co-worker could be revealing. He or she may look guilty, as if involved in a conspiracy.

Other behavioral clues. Minor changes in behavior may indicate someone is thinking about quitting. For example, the employee may try to squeeze maximum value from the benefit program prior to departure, overusing medical or dental benefits, taking more sick and personal days than usual, and asking how much vacation time has been accrued.

Whenever you suspect a valued employee is contemplating a job change, you must see what you can do to change the person's mind. You can start by asking directly, "Are you planning to leave?" or by probing indirectly, asking, "How are things going?"

Ideally, one of these approaches will get the employee to open up and discuss the job search. In response, be careful not to discount other job opportunities. Try instead to get the employee to evaluate the opportunities objectively. The worksheet shown in Figure I can facilitate comparisons between a current job and any new jobs under consideration. Suggest that the employee fill out the form at home, and offer to review it when it is done.

Often the employee will deny plans to leave, for fear of jeopardizing the current job. That's all right. You don't need confirmation before taking action.

One of the first things you must learn is how much time you have to change the employee's mind. If you are fortunate enough to recognize the early clues, you may have months. Otherwise, it may be only a matter of weeks or days.

Also determine what trading stock you have. Define your negotiating limits in writing so you know in advance what enticements you might offer to retain the employee (compensation, special assignments, training, benefits, and so on).

Another important determination is whether temporary retention would be acceptable. Over the long run, a restless employee will probably leave. Nevertheless, in the interest of the laboratory and the employee, it may make sense to try to prolong the stay for three to six months. Perhaps by then a suitable replacement can be found and trained, or arrangements can be made for a redistribution of workload.

Five commonsense steps can help you develop an effective strategy for retaining employees.

1. Pay attention. Once you recognize that a departure is planned, schedule an interview to explore the employee's wants and needs. Listen closely, and hear the individual out. At this point, don't offer premature advice or try to resolve any problems that are mentioned.

2. Identify the source of problems. Are there problems at work, or at home? Is something wrong with current duties or with the overall work assignments? Is the employee having difficulty with anyone in the laboratory? The purpose of identifying the source of dissatisfaction is to determine whether the problem is within your control. If it is, you can bring about changes directly. If the problem is outside your control, you may be able to help the employee explore alternative courses of action.

3. Pick a retention strategy. Remember, any retention strategy starts with a recognition of the employee's wants and needs and gives full attention to the employee's feelings. The strategy should either change conditions that trouble the employee or help the employee work through those feelings and live better with conditions as they are. The changes should be arrived at through mutual problem solving.

4. Follow through. After you agree on the conditions under which the employee would be willing to stay, follow through to make sure things happen as promised.

5. Get feedback. Meet regularly with the employee to make certain the original sources of dissatisfaction have been resolved and that other problems have not developed. Old wounds don't fully heal. Sometimes, minor events can reopen them.

Behave well whether or not you succeed. The departing employee will at one time or another relate his or her experience at your laboratory to co-workers and friends. Even if there were several months of rough going for any particular reason, if the parting is amicable, the employee will be more inclined to speak favorably about the lab. This will help you the next time somebody is considering a job change.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Apr 1, 1988
Words:1232
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