When Does an Employee Quit?

Here is a question to ponder.  When does an employee quit?  The easy answer is the day they turn in their resignation letter.  Yes, that is the easy and most obvious sign an employee has quit.  But answering the exact moment an employee quits is impossible to do when just looking at the externals. 

You see, many employees, even some in your organization, may have already quit.  Oh, they may show up to work every day and put in their time.  They may even look at doing some extra work over and above the bare minimum requirement.  Heck, they may even be in this position for year and decades.  But the fact is that they have already quit either the leader or the organization already.  They have resigned themselves that they do not matter in the grand scheme of things to the business and therefore will begin to pour their soul and energies elsewhere.

The first job I quit was when I left the bank I worked at as a teller through high school and college.  The day I quit was in the spring of my senior year, after I had several good job interviews.  I knew all along that once I had my degree, I would leave to do other things, but those final few months I spent having already “checked out”. 

It would be years later before I quit another job.  I was with this organization for nearly 15 years and grew from a branch manager and mortgage originator to a commercial lender.  I handled the largest transactions in the market.  But after the second merger, management changed.  The people who I learned so much about credit from and who believed in me had left.  Now the leadership consisted of seasoned bankers who had found ways to skate by and yet get promoted all throughout their career instead of really being exceptional.  The credit structure had crumbled and instead of smart lenders on the front line, it was now order takers and credit administration that sat hundreds of miles away.

I began to have to make excuses for my bank and attempt to shield the customer from their poor decisions and delays.  The final straw for me came as I was driving to see my largest customer, I was informed the company was being reassigned to another lender who was closer in proximity, even though I had handled the relationship for years.  It was at that moment when I turned the car around, that I wrote the resignation letter in my heart.  Oh, I lasted half a year longer, but it was as if I had been a zombie. 

In this case, I quit my leaders, before I formally quit the bank.  Typically, people quit people before they will quit the company.  It may be for many reasons:  leader ineptness, unequal treatment, lack of growth opportunity, lack of reward or recognition, or breakdown in trust.  Any of these items can snuff out the innate desire of every one of us has to accomplish great things with their work.  

The last time I quit a job, the root causes were the lack of being able to move up in the organization and the limited opportunity that comes from that position.  In this case, I did also quit my leadership months before leaving. 

So as a leader, do you have any “dead men walking” in your company?  Are there just people going through the motions and collecting a paycheck?  Perhaps the most dangerous place you could be is when you have a worker who was very energetic and ready to make a real difference in the organization, but after repeatedly being shot down, now has resigned herself to passing time until better and brighter opportunities come up.

The most important resource in your organization is people.  People who are motivated and believe their work matters and can make a difference, who are allowed to use their creative talents, and who believe in themselves and the cause of the company, can make amazing and great things happen.  Throwing money at a problem will often just give you a bigger problem and less money.  Throw motivated people at a problem, and this can make a mountain into a manageable molehill.