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How to respond when an employee threatens to quit

April 29, 2022

employee walking away from desk

The Great Resignation has had a different impact on many companies, and it’s especially varied in different industries. For some organizations it’s meant a boost on the available talent that they can hire, but for others it has meant losing employees by the handful. In this article we want to cover a more difficult conversation companies face—how to respond when an employee threatens to quit.  

Workers quit, and threaten to quit, for many reasons. They may be working under a manager that they don’t click with, upset about pay or promotion opportunities, or they want to retire and try something new. It’s important to launch employee experience surveys so you can identify trends and problems that workers are facing. Through surveys you’ll hopefully have a heads up that workers could be leaving your company long before they actually do. 

But once you’re past the window of time for surveying and a worker is threatening to leave, you’re faced with a different situation that surveying can’t help with. Here’s how to approach it.  

Identify why workers want to leave and understand all of the details 

Knowing how to respond when an employee threatens to quit starts by understanding what circumstances have led to them wanting to leave. Getting to the root of this question will likely mean having a difficult conversation. It’s important to be as open and engaged as possible, even if it means being uncomfortable and holding back the urge to be frustrated or defensive. 

In order to properly understand where your employee is coming from, you have to give them the room to feel like they can express their concerns, problems, and feelings without any repercussions. If this is easier said than done, it may be best to loop in someone from a different team or an HR rep that will be able to maintain objectivity and composure during the tough conversations. 

When you’re uncovering details from your employees that want to leave, make sure to ask follow up questions to see if their circumstances could be changed or how serious they are about a possible exit. We’ll get more to solutions later, but part of understanding circumstances in full includes getting a sense of what fixes and changes would help resolve the issues that are causing the worker to want to leave

What are some common causes to look out for?

Each worker has a different personality type and different needs. Their circumstances will vary by industry and type of work, but there are common factors to look out for and expect as possible causes of attrition. Some of them are: 

  • Low compensation 
  • Mismatch with company culture
  • Burnout or feeling overworked 
  • Clashes with a manager
  • Feeling undervalued
  • Lacking growth opportunities 
  • Poor work-life balance 
  • A desire for flexibility or autonomy 
  • Looking to change industries or careers 
  • Retirement or leave of absence

How to respond when an employee threatens to quit 

After you’ve had a conversation with the employee and have a good understanding of their circumstances, you’ll need to evaluate how your organization can help. Unfortunately, attrition is a part of running any organization, and you won’t be able to keep every worker who has a mismatch with your company. 

Many other workers can be retained through workplace changes or through working on a plan catered to their needs. You also have to remember that some workers may bring dysfunction to organizations, and it may be in the best interest of you and other employees to let them leave. In these circumstances, do your best to let workers leave gracefully and help them where it’s possible as they go. 

For the workers that can be retained, use the information they gave you during your conversation as a starting place. Are they hoping for more responsibilities or learning opportunities? Draft a plan to help them gain access to these things! Are they hoping for additional flexibility or are they dealing with personal circumstances? See if you can agree on an updated schedule or provide the worker with resources to help them. 

Lots of circumstances that make workers feel hopeless and like they don’t have alternatives are actually very solvable. It’s unfortunate that workers feel they need to threaten quitting before voicing their concerns, but it does give you an opportunity to solve problems, find mutual understanding, and reinforce to the worker and their peers that your company wants to help people grow and thrive

Make sure to consider other variables

Don’t forget to consider other variables. Some workers may be interviewing with other companies and using a threat to quit as a leveraging tool to negotiate changes at your company. If this is the case, make sure you’ve asked your employee if they’re in this scenario so that you have full transparency of their situation. 

The Great Resignation has meant that workers are hearing more about different opportunities, comparing themselves to their peers, and shopping around the market. Workers should be encouraged to find the best opportunity for their needs and life circumstances, but it’s also important to make sure that both your company and the worker stay professional while everyone’s weighing their options. How workers bring up their concerns or desire to quit, and how they negotiate, says a lot about their character and the type of personality that they bring to a workplace. 

Many workers have also left their companies during the Great Resignation only to go back. (These are known as boomerang employees). They realized that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and a hot market that favors employees doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to solve their problems or find everything they want at a new company. Because of this, have open conversations with employees who want to leave to find all of the ways you can provide some of what would improve their circumstances. Also encourage them to compare both companies so that any move they make really matches what they’re looking for. 

Lastly, avoid some attrition from the start

The best tip for how to respond when an employee threatens to quit is to avoid it altogether. Like we said, some attrition is inevitable since workers come and go, but a lot of turnover is avoidable if you can identify it beforehand. This means employee surveying so you can: 

  • Make sure workers have the resources they need to do their jobs 
  • Provide as many learning and growth opportunities as possible
  • Encourages employee to stay connected to their peers 
  • Check that teams, projects, and goals are aligned to the company’s mission 

When it comes to employee surveying, Workify is here to help. We can help you create a survey cadence that looks to spot problems before they cause turnover. And if you have workers that do leave, our exit surveys can help you understand why workers left so that others don’t leave for the same reason. All of our surveys are connected to our Engagement Intelligence Platform, giving you the latest in employee listening and making it almost feel like you have an in-house analytics team. 

All of our programs and surveys are also backed by I/O psychologists and our team of specialists will help you navigate our Engagement Intelligence Platform so that you understand all of your data and know what to do with it. Connect with us today to learn more and get started.