On the Way Out? Changing Work Habits

Work habits are the things that characterize how we go about our normal workday.  It can include various behaviors, habits, quirks, and other characteristics that make the individual… well… an individual.

Some work habits are obvious such as:  How you dress, how you answer the phone, and whether you’re an early riser or a night owl.  Others are more subtle such as:  The display of personal mementos, where and with whom you eat lunch, and how much (or little) you delegate.

Change in a single work habit isn’t something to get overly alarmed about, but it should be enough to encourage more exacting observation.  Simultaneous changes in multiple work habits are a louder klaxon, and should immediately cause you to put your antenna up.  You probably want to soon move beyond just observing and on to asking – otherwise you’re positioning yourself for a nasty surprise when your (formerly engaged, valuable) subordinate turns in her resignation.

Work habits are HABITS.  They become such specifically because they are regularly repeated.  When a habit changes, it is usually because we see ourselves in a different light.  Sure, it might be caused by bowling your first 300 game or a new boyfriend (or girlfriend), but when habits change without visible explanation you can be sure something is going on behind the scenes.  In some instances this will be caused by a second interview, or an eye-popping job offer.

A few examples:

One of my subordinates was a habitual early riser (as was I), and one of the few employees that beat me to the office in the morning.  When that behavior suddenly changed and he started “sleeping in,” it was only a few weeks before I received his resignation.

I recall one subordinate removing all his personal pictures from his office (I guess he didn’t want to have too much to carry out on his last day).  His resignation came only a short time later.

 Click Image for more info on my most recently published novel -- EMPOWERED.

Click Image for more info on my most recently published novel -- EMPOWERED.

A sharp-tongued, amateur comedian felt emboldened to make increasingly sarcastic public comments as his departure date approached.  While he wasn’t a highly valued subordinate, his behavior was still a tell-tale sign of his plans.

Slacking

The most common behavior change I’ve noticed is slacking.  When a valuable, and engaged employee suddenly seems to be ignoring due dates or delegating unusual amounts or types of work, it is often a sign that they are picturing themselves in a new job.

A manager could easily drive themselves crazy trying to follow up on all the ongoing changes in work habits among their subordinates.  To make the task manageable, focus primarily on your most critical employees (typically those that are the most engaged – see the first post in this series When They are on the Way Out).  In addition, don’t get overly excited unless you see the following:

  • More than one Work Habit changing.
  • A particularly dramatic change in one habit.
  • A combination with other tell-tale signs that a subordinate is about to quit (mysterious time off, vagueness, rumors, etc – see the other posts in this series starting with:  When They are on the Way Out.

If your suspicions are reasonably roused, you can ask the employee directly if he or she is looking for a new job.  In most cases, the employee will level with you.  At that point you can explore the reasons for the decision and what you might be able to do to change their mind.

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels:  LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, DELIVERABLES, HEIR APPARENT, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, and EMPOWERED.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

To the right is the cover for HEIR APPARENT.  Someone is killing corporate leaders in Kansas City.  But who?  The police and FBI pursue a "serial killer" theory, leaving Joel Smith and Evangelina Sikes to examine other motives.  As the pair zero in on the perpetrator, they put their own lives at risk.  There are multiple suspects and enough clues for the reader to identify the killer in this classic whodunnit set in a corporate crucible.

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