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Firm Management

Reducing Staff Turnover: How to Recognize and Respond to Retention Red Flags

Accounting and finance professionals with in-demand skills are finding they have many options when it comes to job offers. This is great news for candidates. However, as a manager, you recognize a rosier hiring environment means you have to work harder...

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Accounting and finance professionals with in-demand skills are finding they have many options when it comes to job offers. This is great news for candidates. However, as a manager, you recognize a rosier hiring environment means you have to work harder to keep your top talent.

Here are some retention red flags that indicate an employee may be ready to jump ship:

1. Change in attitude

An employee’s deteriorating work attitude could be an indication she’s considering leaving your firm. When a worker who used to approach every challenge with gusto becomes more distant, she could be entertaining job offers at other companies. At the very least, this change signals something is not quite right.

2. Quality of work drops

A telltale sign an employee’s mind is not on the job is when he turns in work late and at subpar quality. Though this sometimes occurs when a staffer is under personal stress, it also could be a sign he’s halfway checked out and has lost interest in his current role.

3. Disengagement with colleagues 

Engaged workers show up to meetings, work functions and social events. A retention red flag is an employee who’s frequently late or a no-show to office activities, even the optional ones, especially when she used to volunteer for assignments and was the life of the party.

4. Absences

Employees who uncharacteristically take long lunches or leave early may be interviewing for other positions. The same is true of team members who have never missed a day of work except for scheduled vacations but now frequently take personal days. They could be using up their paid time off instead of losing it when they leave.

5. Shift in dress

Has your senior accountant or financial analyst upgraded his wardrobe, and now he comes to work more often in business attire? While it’s possible he’s experimenting with a new look or dressing to get ahead, he also may be heading to interviews during lunch or after work.

6. Furtive behavior

When you walk up to an employee and she minimizes all screens, it could be because she’s looking at job postings or emails from prospective employers. While snooping is unbecoming behavior, do keep an eye and ear out for warning signs to determine whether you need to have a talk about retention or just goofing off on the job.

How to Respond to Retention Red Flags

There are several steps you can take to turn the situation around and keep top employees happy, satisfied and with your organization. Even if you don’t see any red flags, you should still be proactive about enhancing your retention strategy.

1. Hand out raises

A Robert Half survey found an inadequate compensation package is the top reason good employees leave their jobs. Take a look at the wages of your most productive accountants, and compare them to the salary ranges listed in the 2015 Salary Guide from Robert Half.

If salaries are on the lower end, bump them up before your top performers seek better pay elsewhere. It’s too late to offer them a raise when they turn in their resignation letter; a counteroffer is a poor retention tool.

2. Help balance the burden

Sometimes a formerly good worker turns in lower-quality work because he’s stressed. If his work-life balance is off, offer time perks like a flexible schedule, telecommuting options, a compressed workweek or even going part-time.

If the work is too much for one person to handle, hire a new full-time employee or bring in temporary help. Let him know you’re on his side.

3. Show a way up
A key aspect of job satisfaction for motivated employees is knowing they have potential for career advancement. Ask about their career goals and aspirations and whether they’re happy with their current roles and responsibilities. If a staff member feels she’s hit a ceiling at the company, work with her to map out a possible career path and let her know what professional development opportunities are available.

4. Keep your door open

When employees feel management cares, they’re less apt to leave. Have regular check-in sessions to listen to their concerns and catch retention red flags early.

5. Show appreciation

Your top employees deserve to be recognized. If your company doesn’t have a recognition program, put one in place. Bonuses and gift cards are effective, but there are also many low-cost ways to thank valuable workers and let them know you’re glad they’re part of the team.

The best retention strategy is to be proactive — before star employees start sending out warning signs. But even if you see retention red flags, you still have time to turn the situation around so they’ll have every reason to stay.

Regardless of how the situation turns out, avoid burning bridges. Stay in touch with high-performing professionals who leave, and they may boomerang back to your firm in the future.


Paul McDonald is senior executive director with Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Over the course of his 30-year career with the company, he has spoken extensively on employment and management issues based on his work with thousands of companies and job seekers.


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