Signs You’re About To Lose Your Top Retail Employee

Signs You’re About To Lose Your Top Retail Employee

As retail leaders we all need to be hyper-aware of our team member’s happiness and how, exactly, they are feeling about their role and their career path with us and with the organization we work for. I will admit when I championed a transition to quarterly “Stay Interview” I wasn’t sure what to expect or what exactly the changes it would bring to the business. After the first three quarters of stay interviews, it was clearly the right move to make and one of the greatest benefits I can attest to is the ability to identify top performers who are thinking about leaving, for whatever reason. It was an opportunity to address a topic that could have been awkward or ignored during the regular course of business and we were able to give it the important focus, time, and attention it needed to retain our best employees.

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Exits, especially the unexpected kind, from the business can kill morale, productivity, and momentum. It can negatively impact customer experience and the culture for the employees remaining in the business. Just take a look at the recent unexpected exit of the CEO, Michael Barnes, of Houston Based retailer Francesca’s, ““We were banking on Mike Barnes to create a sustainable platform,” John Kernan, an analyst at Cowen & Co., said in a report. “The CEO, CFO and CMO positions have all seen turnover within the last 12 months, which creates execution risk and uncertainty.” Mr. Barnes left abruptly stating it was for “personal reasons”.

Why It’s Important To Watch For The Signs

Most bosses are caught off guard when facing a mass employee exodus, and the same can happen when just one remarkable employee resigns. The mass exodus occurs because in retail – we build relationships and spend time building teams that are aligned with our goals, objective, vision, and values and when the team leader leaves – their team members want to follow them.  Those relationships are valuable to employees and they are valuable to retail organizations. Retailers need to understand that supporting workplace relationships encourages and impacts retention.

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As a retail leader, it’s important to watch for the symptoms of an impending departure so you can address the issues before it’s too late. Losing even one top performing, highly-productive employee can disrupt your business, again – not to mention losing the several team members that frequently also exit the business. Separations can impact the culture in a team in a negative way and have lasting effects. And there’s a substantial cost and time commitment involved in replacing and training new employees, so the more time a retail leader has to prepare for the changes and fix the issues, the better.

10 Hints That May Mean Your Great Employee Is Thinking About Leaving

  • There is a change in their appearance: Perhaps they are a little more polished than usual. This sometimes can signal they are slipping out to job interviews during or after work. Also, if someone is unhappy in their job, they may begin to dress down because they feel that no one is really paying attention anyway — or because they simply just don’t really care anymore. Sure, it’s possible they just “upgraded their wardrobe” or want to reinvent their personal aesthetic but it’s far more likely they’re dressing up to interview elsewhere.

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  • Isolation and an elevated need for privacy: An employee who covers up personal calls on work time and takes frequent trips away from their desk or steps out of the store to seek solitude for a phone call are signs there could be cause for alarm. The employee may be fielding phone screens or scheduling interviews. Of course, there is always a chance it may be that they have a personal issue they’re dealing with. So – you don’t want to jump to conclusions. But continued unusual behavior like this can signal that it likely means either personal issues are conflicting with work or they’ve got one foot out the door.
  • They start taking more time off or working odd-hours: Leaving early, arriving late, or requesting random days off at the last second should have you worried, especially if they’ve always been a model team member who’s given you plenty of notice before scheduling appointments. Abnormal time-off requests could also be a symptom of trying to use up any remaining paid-time-off before abandoning ship. And a big tip off is scheduling time to get dental work done suddenly is usually a red flag that they are getting ready to jump ship and want to make sure they max out any benefits they feel owed to them. Also, if an always-punctual employee starts showing up and leaving early on a regular basis, it’s time to be worried.

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  • Sloppy quality and smaller quantity of work: Chances are your best employees consistently produce top-quality work and achieve or beat their deadlines. So it should be easy to spot when their work starts to slip. An occasional slip-up could mean nothing. What should concern you are prolonged lapses in quality or efficiency. This could be a sign the employee has grown tired of their work and disengaged from you and the organization.
  • They approach conflict and challenges differently: When team members are ready to make an exit from their organization, they may change how they handle disagreements. Or they may lose their passion for influencing change. If they have traditionally pushed back, they may no longer do so because they don’t feel it’s worth it. They have emotionally checked out. Conversely, someone who is usually agreeable and positive may become more argumentative out of frustration or resentment.
  • They’re uncomfortable discussing long-term projects and deadlines: If your employees are seeking or considering a new job they will, likely, become visibly uncomfortable discussing projects that are several months out. When longer-term deadlines involve them directly, they’ll become noncommittal or vague and will not offer up their usual solutions and ideas.

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  • Obvious shift in interactions with colleagues: If an employee appears to be distancing themselves from co-workers, it could be a sign they are already “checked out” and decided they feel there is no need to continue to foster personal or work relationships. If – all of the sudden – meetings start passing by without so much as a word from a normally vocal and proactive employee, it is a great time to approach them to see if something’s wrong.
  • Pay attention to your employees’ family lives: Marital issues, family illness, children’s life stages … all of these family matters can indicate changes to come in your employees’ lives. There is a fine line between awareness and interference, but you need to understand these things so you can prepare and support your team member and their team, if necessary. Being empathetic and making reasonable accommodation so your best employees can handle family or life changes can make the difference between retaining and losing that amazing person.

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  • Your intuition is telling you that something is up: The best retail leaders understand the instinct is a form of intelligence and they use this knowledge wisely. If you encounter awkward moments in your workplace or sense a missing level of energy and enthusiasm you can’t explain, this may be a sign someone may be about to quit. Your instincts count for a lot and, interestingly, most retail leadership doesn’t put enough stock in them; instead, they second-guess themselves and of course it’s easier to avoid than to address uncomfortable topics. So, even though we know something is happening we keep blinders on until we hear about it or it jumps out and slaps us in the face.
  • Consider the way you treat your top performers: If you are failing to recognize, appreciate, communicate, career path, and value your top performers you cannot [or at least should not] be surprised if you lose your best talent. If you are simply sending out a non-verbal thank you that is communicated through added work-load, more responsibility without balanced compensation – you are, essentially, giving them permission to consider other opportunities. Treat them well, recognize their contributions, provide them with opportunity to develop and take on additional responsibility, all while being compensated fairly – and communicate with them – often – to make sure they are happy with you, challenged and intrigued by their work, and they are publicly recognized and privately rewarded for their contributions.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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2 thoughts on “Signs You’re About To Lose Your Top Retail Employee

  1. Really like this post Beth. Specifically I like the “Stay Interview” point. Something I have tried often in vain to persuade my clients to introduce during the first 12 months of a new hire’s life. In many cases I’ve conducted these myself. Which often prove far more insightful because as an outsider / service provider I can be more objective and the interviewee is often more open.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Darren – I couldn’t agree more. I introduced the “Stay Interview” program into a business in 2015 and it was, by far, the most useful and impactful program for retention, development|career path planning, and employee happiness I have experienced. It’s incredible way to ensure that retailers have the right people, in the right place today and for the future health and growth of the organization!

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