On The Way Out? Emotions

Most of us tend to live in the moment.  Where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re with – these factors loom large in our minds, occupying large swaths of mental bandwidth and an even broader fraction of our emotions.

Which is why once we make a mental transition to a future state, it becomes extremely difficult to derive the same emotional energies from the current (and soon to be former) state.

A perfect example of this can be found at the end of school and the beginning of work.  In those final few days and weeks (for some, months) it is exceptionally difficult to keep your head in the educational game.  This is because you’re consumed by thoughts of your rapidly-approaching future state, the one to which you’ve already committed yourself.

The same thing holds true when employees are “on the way out,” swapping one job/employer for another.

For some people, contemplation of this rapidly approaching future is filled with worry.  There are likely to be many unknowns ahead, and mishandling of any of these can cause potential problems.  As fear and anxiety grow, it is natural to spend less and less time focusing on the here and now.

An early image considered for the EMPOWERED cover.

An early image considered for the EMPOWERED cover.

As for myself, I was always hugely excited by such changes, ready to rush forward into the future and explore any and all possibilities.  For different reasons, this also caused me to dwell on what was to come rather than the present.

Whatever the reaction, it becomes increasingly difficult for a departing employee to remain emotionally engaged in the activities of their old employer.  A lack of drive is probably the most obvious sign that a valued employee is on the way out, but there are other subtle indicators, too, including:

  • Unwillingness to take on new/fresh challenges.
  • Ready agreement to tight timetables or overly ambitious objectives.
  • A lack of interest in talking about the company’s future.
  • Zoning out during meeting and other discussions.
  • Failure to object to a foolish idea offered by a peer.
Another candidate image for the EMPOWERED cover.

Another candidate image for the EMPOWERED cover.

Sure, some of these signs can be subtle, and in all cases they need to represent a departure from past behaviors.  A little careful observation comparing current conduct to the way the employee handled such situations in the past, can really make them pop.

Early in my career, I made the decision to leave my employer in favor of greater opportunities elsewhere.  I managed to conduct my job search without alerting anyone to what I was doing, but as the day drew close for me to submit my resignation I couldn’t continue to hide my increasing emotional disengagement.  I began brushing off disagreements with coworkers over project deadlines (I was a project manager at the time), and I stopped worrying about whether we’d hit future milestones.

At the time I was much more concerned with finding a place to live and integrating into the organization I was about to join.  I simply couldn’t muster the same level of emotional energy I had in the past – too much was being diverted to my approaching “future state.”

A few days before I planned to quit, my boss called me in his office and directly asked what was going on.  At that point I leveled with him.

A third image considered for EMPOWERED's cover art

A third image considered for EMPOWERED's cover art

Which brings me to the biggest weakness of watching employee emotions as your primary tip-off to their impending departure – it often becomes obvious too late in the process.  Once the commitment to leave is in place, it can be quite difficult to come up with a successful strategy to keep the employee.  It might even be impossible.

Take the above example.  There as an attempt to convince me to stay in my old job, but at that stage I was already so emotionally committed to the new position that there was almost nothing I could have been offered that would have convinced me to stay.  In addition I had “committed” to the other company, which created a moral barrier to staying.  If at all possible, you want to talk to your potentially-departing employee before they commit to anything with anyone else.

Some employees will “wear” their emotional disengagement on their “sleeve.”  With these, you may have a chance to uncover their departure plans early.  Others will hide their emotions until the end is close.  With these, your ability to reverse a departure decision will range somewhere between limited and non-existent.

Like most of the other techniques used to identify employees “on the way out,” watching for emotional disengagement as a signal is best done in concert with other observations.  Only by adding up the various pieces of the puzzle will you get a clear picture of what is about to happen.

Other Posts in this Series:

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Here is the cover for my latest novel, EMPOWERED, which will be released in Kindle and paperback versions on October 12, 2014.  EMPOWERED is the story of newly hired division president Colin Jensen, and his investigation into unexplained performance problems in the shipping department of TruePhase Chemicals division.  The story is set in Indianapolis during a blizzard, and takes its inspiration from the television series Undercover Boss.  As always, there are a few plot twists that I hope will surprise and entertain the reader.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.