Signs of your colleague leaving?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Can you observe the strange or changed behaviours of your colleague as signs of leaving?

Once upon a time, on a busy last Monday of the month, my Account Manager took an emergency leave. He told one of our colleagues that he had to visit his uncle who was on a short trip to Singapore from Dubai. To nail the point of how desperate his uncle was to meet him, he went on to add that his day-trip flight ticket to Singapore was sponsored by his uncle.

It did not occur to me that it was odd for an uncle to meet his nephew in such a hurry. Hey, it happens, right? And to cloud my judgment even further, I was also preoccupied with wishing for my uncles to be as equally rich, generous and loving!

A week later, the Account Manager resigned and I got to know that in actual fact he was attending a final interview (with his new employer) that fateful Monday. I felt bad because while I certainly did not expect him to tell me that the emergency leave was taken to attend an interview, I failed to read the Signs that his resignation was on the cards.

Signs in Action

This brings me to the question – is it possible to foresee signs of leaving especially when each of us is so engrossed with our busy world. which is made worse by the fact that we almost always see things from our point of view as a boss and as a colleague? I would like to believe that if you are a keen follower of human behaviour, you might be able to see it coming. And sometimes your own experiences (as you get older 🙂 help too!

Fast forward to a few years later… one of my Colleagues s told me that she has to meet her lawyers in Penang to discuss her divorce which has suddenly come up for hearing. She told me on Saturday that she will return to KL on Monday evening. On Tuesday morning I was expecting her resignation and she did not disappoint. The Signs? We had a lengthy argument a few weeks back on her lack of client focus. Our arguments escalated through many forms of communication: private + public + emails. It was only a matter of time that she freed herself from me. On hindsight, I regretted her leaving but I was a young inexperienced manager who believed in having the final word in any argument. Unlike the first time, I never addressed the Signs in this case due to my ego rather than ignorance.

Imagine if we could decipher our colleague’s Signs as crystal clear as these signboards?

Detection or Prevention?

If you have reasonable equations with your people, there are patterns that will be difficult to miss. Yes, even if people are gifted with Hollywood acting skills you can observe a few things. The eye contact stops dropping; handshakes become less warm; people skip dinner invites; casual conversations take a walk; they skip meetings; unplanned leaves increase; just to name a few. People are not robots, so Signs will always be there.

This brings me to my next question – can we prevent or act on these Signs? Prevent is a tough one, the act is perhaps more appropriate. One of the best acts you can undertake is to have an honest chat which goes a long way to drive visibility. So when the eventuality happens, you are able to tell each other that it was only inevitable. This too saves the organization time and a few blushes.

My Signs

You can see those Signs happen to you too! Once when I was leaving, my boss asked me to email the letter at the end of the conversation. Whenever I reflect on that episode today, I feel he saw the following Signs. When he offered me a new role a couple of months prior, I had a dispute with him on the location and the designation which was given to me. When he revised these, I picked on a new dispute on how he had too many direct reports. 14 in total and I refused to be part of the 14. He rectified that too and still, I dragged my feet signing the new letter of appointment. Hence I was not surprised that he had not announced my new role internally due to the Signs he saw. Wiseguy!

In another case, one of my direct reports missed a dinner appointment with me during our annual meets. The next day, he gave our regular morning walks a miss too and all the while refusing to comment on a new incentive scheme. A month later, he quit; but this time I had read the Signs in time – his back up was ready to join me in 15 days!


Sometimes not reading the Signs can be embarrassing. One of our managers fought hard to award promotion to her colleague. In return, the colleague resigned within a week after receiving the promotion. The manager lost her credibility in front of HRD.  More so because the said employee was demanding for the promotion just to use it as a tool to negotiate for a better package with her new employer. It’s uncommon NOT to be able to read the Signs in this case as the employee and manager have been working together for 3 years. Some people are good actors 🙂

So, you ask, what can I do to read these Signs of leaving better? The best I can say… go ahead and join a course on astrology. Otherwise,  it would take you 20 years of trial and error to become a self-acclaimed Signs reader like me. 🙂

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