How to Spot an Employee with One Foot Out the Door

photo_39601_20150724Whether you are a Fortune 500 executive, business owner, front line manager, or human resources professional, you know this much is true. You can’t run a thriving company without top notch employees. The fact is, success resides in the hard work, creativity and dedication of your workforce—those bright, enthusiastic, engaged employees who work every day to achieve the company’s goals and advance its vision.

What, then, are you to do with an employee who is less than fully on board, not carrying her weight and potentially poisoning the waters across your organization?

Do you ignore the problem and hope it will go away? Do you spend precious time, energy and effort as you attempt to bring the individual back into the fold? Or do you simply cross your fingers and hope she isn’t talking poorly about you—and the company —to coworkers, potential new hires, customers and clients alike?

If you’d like to know how to quickly recognize when your employee is truly disgruntled—and at least halfway out the door—read on. Here are some warning signs you won’t want to miss.

First, the relatively overt signals. The employee begins to show up late for work or calls in sick more frequently than before. He starts to skip meetings. He is less responsive, enthusiastic or optimistic about the work. He misses important deadlines and fails to contribute as he has in days gone by.

Then there are the less obvious indicators. The employee comes across as somehow less harried, rushed or overwhelmed than in the past. She appears less frustrated, less agitated. Perhaps she has emotionally “checked out” or maybe she’s comforted by the very prospect of leaving. She may begin to smile more often. And if there’s a new job waiting in the wings, she may come across as downright elated.

If some of the above indicators are at play, you’ve got a decision to make and some legwork to do. Don’t assume you have the answers—because any of the above behaviors can have multiple causes. Rather than jumping to conclusions, you’ll need to have an honest, direct, non-judgmental conversation with your employee to relay what you’ve noticed and figure out what’s up. Ask if everything’s ok. Learn about any professional or personal issues that may be troubling the employee. Find out if you can help.

If it turns out that you truly have trouble on your hands, don’t go overboard trying to fix it. The truth is, if your employee is indeed ready to leave, you should wish him well and work together to ensure a smooth transition. Begin the search for a replacement—whether through an external search or by moving someone from another spot in the department or company. You may want to create some overlap time in order to get the new hire up to speed.

But be cautious. If your outgoing employee has a chip on his shoulder, he will create a negative environment for his replacement. Make no bones about it, if someone has become toxic to the workplace, you should exit him quickly to avoid collateral damage. Just be sure you’ve done this in a respectful and appropriate manner, to prevent ill will, negative PR, or unintended legal consequences.

The best companies succeed because they create a climate in which smart, enthusiastic people can do their best work. So go ahead, create that environment. Hire terrific people. But don’t get complacent. If you’ve got an employee with one foot out the door, let her go freely. Set your focus on the engaged and dedicated folks who are doing what it takes daily to move your business forward.