Caught Your Employee Looking For Another Job?  Here’s What Not To Do

by Roxanna Coldiron

Imagine this scenario. On Monday, the department supervisor discovers that an employee has been looking for another job. Perhaps the employee left evidence of their job search on their desk or had not been discreet about their job searching activities on LinkedIn.  Um….Yeah… Not talking about it with the employee can strain the current relationship but approaching it in the wrong way could escalate the departure and reflect badly on the supervisor and the company.

Employers can sometimes be blindsided when they learn that their employees have been looking for other jobs outside of the company; however, as high as 51 percent of employed individuals will be actively job searching, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace (2017) report. Employees might start looking for new jobs because they want to use their strengths, increase their income or change careers. Another reason could be overall lack of job satisfaction.

“If a manager can approach the employee without betraying confidences, it is acceptable to approach the employee about it,” says Jim Strain, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, an HR director for DKS Associates in Portland, Ore. “I would suggest it be done in a non-confrontational way. The desired outcome is to learn what has prompted the employee’s decision so that the manager can improve the situation and either head-off the resignation or avoid more turnover from other team members.”

Valerie P. Keels, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Head of DC Office Services for Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance in Washington, D.C. advises conducting a “stay interview” to learn more about why the employee has been considering other employment.

“Hopefully the manager has a good enough relationship with the team member to be able to speak openly and honestly about their career aspirations,” Keels says. “That’s the purpose of ‘performance management’ — a continuous and open dialogue on how the team member would like to traverse their career and how the employer can help them get there.”

What managers should NOT do when talking with the employee is make promises to get them to stay that the company will not be able to deliver. According to Keels, this can come across as disingenuous to the employee because “the employee may feel that they have been taken advantage of during their tenure and are only now valued because another company is making a better offer.”

Managers should also avoid laying guilt or casting blame or shame on employees who have been job searching. Mel Hennigan, VP, People, at the Symplicity Corporation, suggests that managers be cognizant of their body language to avoid intimidation and that bullying an employee to get them to stay is a major faux pas.

“Regardless of whether the employee continues to work or terminates, the company is generally going to want to have the best employee relations possible for that circumstance,” Hennigan says. “To facilitate that outcome, the manager should lay aside personal feelings or differences and work to achieve reasonable relations through constructive dialog.”

As much as a company might want to convince an employee to stay, in most cases human resources professionals advise against it. Employees might be looking for positions that the company does not offer, a higher salary or merely a change of scenery. Listening to employee concerns about their job and the atmosphere in which they work can also determine if perhaps the company could improve employment and convince the employee to stay — but if they have already decided to leave, then it is best to wish them well and let them go.

“It should not take an employee telling you they are leaving for greener pastures for you to realize you have talent looking at other companies to make their careers with,” says Lisa-Marie Gustafson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, HR manager, core and engineering products at Hexcel in Burlington, Wash.

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