HR professionals are always concerned with employee turnover rate. Turnover, of course, is a given. There will always be terminations. There will always be people who, for whatever reason, want to leave for greener grass. Those will be actively seeking other employment. But increasingly, some people are prompted to leave because an opportunity presents itself through little or no action of theirs. Those are passive job seekers.

How does that happen? Why would they leave? And, how can you spot them before they go?

How Passive Job Seeking Works

Passive job seekers are not actively looking for a new job. Instead, they stay active in their professional networks and associations, both online and in person. They keep current on trends in their field and may even blog or post on LinkedIn about those trends. They often build credibility in their industry and set themselves up as thought leaders. They stay open to new opportunities, and as such, field calls from recruiters who find them online.

Passive job seekers are basically content with their current employer, but they may be underused (read: undervalued), a little bored and well past ready to tackle something important.

What Makes Passive Job Seekers Leave

"Supervisors can make or break employee retention," which has a direct effect on employee turnover rate, says employee engagement firm TINYnews' employment retention survey. Several factors affect retention, "from overall manager satisfaction, to respect from managers, to managers' willingness to give employees freedom to do their jobs and offer transparency." The study found that employees with freedom to make decisions on how to do their jobs were "pretty satisfied" but those without, 28 percent, were more likely "to think about greener pastures elsewhere." And a Gallup poll, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, supports this, saying "managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores."

The ADP Research Institute report (ADP RI), Evolution of Work 2.0: The Me vs. We Mindset — a survey of employers and employees in 13 countries — also finds that one thing pushing passive job seekers out the door is their relationships with their manager. Not only do employees feel undervalued by their managers, "82 percent say they want to play an important role in their company." Managers can make that happen, but they often don't.

Signs to Look for

It's difficult to spot employees who are passively looking to leave. The usual indicators, such as upgraded wardrobe, longer lunches, drop in productivity or a change in time-off patterns are generally not going to be there.

Rather, you may notice:

  • Increase in personal calls (from recruiters)
  • Distancing from manager or peers (sign of giving up)
  • Talk about their blog (sign they care about their field)
  • Talk about professional social networking threads (sign they're active in their field)
  • Decrease in or stop talking about promotional opportunities (another sign of giving up)
  • Decrease in or stop talking about special projects (another sign of giving up)

How to Win Then Back Before They Leave

To win back passive job seekers, HR needs to educate managers, especially first level managers, on their roles in improving employee engagement. It's about "creating meaning, human connections, and [opportunities for] advancement," says the ADP RI survey. Feed into passive job seekers' passions about their fields. If they're blogging, for example, have them guest blog on the business' site. Find ways to broaden their experiences at work. Engage them.

It's about paying attention. Take notice of what people are doing and not doing at work, and try your best to understand their passions. Play into them. Incorporate them as much as you can, and you'll stand a higher chance of keeping your passive job seekers with you.

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Tags: retention