How to Identify Flight-Risk Employees


Employee retentionOpens a new window is a critical part of HR strategy and implementation and often helps save millions in recruitment costs. Organizations turn to different means to assess engagement levels and do what they can to prevent employees from quitting. This includes pay raises to promotions to meet specific work needs as per life stage. However, early recognition of the kinds of retention measures that will work depending on how well you assess your employees for their “flight risk,” i.e., the tendency to leave. 

Spotting high-risk employees begin with understanding your employees well—their needs, motivators, and aspirations, as well as their pet peeves. This assessment must be formalized into a process such as an engagement survey, pulse dipstick, manager connect, etc. to make it an ongoing commitment. Moreover, results must be documented so that retention actions can be taken where desired. A systematic approach to managing high-risk employees right from their identification to reinstating to low risk or exit is a must, and HR professionals must own this process in conjunction with line managers. 

Begin by looking for the following signs and recognizing what to do about them: 

High fliers: These are the high-value employees who are not only prized by the organization, but by the employees themselves. They are typically oriented to high achievements and seek new challenges and endeavors time and again. Such people are constantly assessing their own worth in the market and will jump at the slightest hint of a better opportunity. It is therefore important to provide such people the thrills of challenges and greater responsibilities. Design linchpin positions for such people—dynamic positions that meet their high-energy, high-achievement need. 

Employees who are stuck: This is frequently seen in traditional companies where old timers end up doing the same work for years, and also in flat-structured companies where career progression is not concrete. Such employees will feel “blocked” or “stuck” in their careers and look for opportunities elsewhere. If you spot several such employees, it may mean there is a problem with your career pathing model or your organizational structure. The immediate solution is to counsel the employee and offer other benefits like flexi-work, telecommuting, rewards and recognition etc. For the long term, however, re-evaluate your organization structure for career progression opportunities and create alternate progressions (cross-functional assignments, international moves etc.) or reorient the organization structure through a job evaluation exercise. 

Truly disengaged employees: These employees who are intrinsically disengaged are not difficult to spot. They may exhibit frequent absence, call in sick often, leave early and come in late, appear for interviews in your network or vent out their feelings to team members. They are the types who essentially do not care about completing the job, leave alone doing it well. Reasons for disengagement may be multiple, ranging from personal problems to sheer work boredom. The first step is to assess the state of mind formally through engagement surveys, but more importantly through informal chats. Talk to team members and the employee’s managers to dig out the root cause. If a personal problem is a concern, refer the person to an Employee Assistance Program. If it is another reason, you may want to consider whether you want to retain such as a person in the first place! The worst part of disengagement is that the attitude is contagious and can spread to the surrounding employees just as quickly, creating an undesirable situation.

Whatever is the reason for an employee turning high-risk, the HR and supervisor’s first role is to decide whether it is worth retaining the person and at what cost. This decision will also depend on the industry, talent market, and employee skill, and must be taken after careful consideration of all factors.