On the Way Out? Taking Mysterious Time Off

While there are a number of tell-tale signs that a key subordinate may be leaving, none is harder to disguise than “mysterious” time taken off.  If you are concerned a critical employee is looking for a new job, this is where you should start your observations.

While not always the case, most subordinates need to interview with new, prospective employers before an offer is made.  This is typically (but not always) carried out during normal business hours thus necessitating time off from their regular jobs.

While I’ve seen employees fake illness, or use personal days for interviews, usually the time off has been taken as vacation which was arranged at relatively short notice.

Of course, employees take time off for a variety of other reasons, so you’ll need a few additional clues before you can conclude that the time off is related to a job search.  Below is a list of the characteristics I normally look for to increase the chances I have the “job search” diagnosis correct.

  • Full or half vacation days that were arranged close to the actual day to be taken (1-2 weeks ahead, typically)
  • A lone Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday taken off.
  • No explanation for where the person went was volunteered, or if something was offered it was vague or misleading.
  • Peers and friends were seemingly unaware of where the subordinate went during the mysterious time off.
  • Being present in the office on a partial day off in obvious “interview clothes.”
  • A “sick day” taken when the employee is not obviously sick upon their return.

By itself, one of these clues is not usually sufficient to conclude your subordinate is getting ready to jump ship.  If you observe a couple of them, you should be more than just suspicious.  I’ve found that directly asking the employee if they are interviewing for another position is often the easiest way to clear up the doubt.  Some employees will simply lie when thus questioned, but most will level with you – particularly if you have a history of taking such information in stride.

This is the cover of my latest Novel:  EMPOWERED.  Click the image for more details.

This is the cover of my latest Novel:  EMPOWERED.  Click the image for more details.

Mysterious time off is a valuable clue to an imminent departure, but it isn’t always present when an employee is interviewing.  If the target position is local, it is quite possible your subordinate may arrange interview(s) at the fringes of the day, or simply slip out for a couple of hours midday and hope you don’t notice.  Employees that are a little more cautious will arrange for interviews on a Monday or Friday, thus making the time off look less suspicious.  In some instances, I’ve known candidates interviewing for high level jobs to successfully arrange for interviews on the weekends or evenings, thus avoiding the leaving of any suspicious clues.

Even with these exceptions, in my experience there is a better than even chance that your potentially defecting employee will be exposed through careful scrutiny of their comings and goings.

Of course, what you decided to do with such information is a different matter.  If the employee isn’t a critical employee – usually one of those that would be classified as “Engaged” in my last post When They are on the Way Out – you should consider pre-emptive action (which I will describe in greater detail in the final post of this series).  If the employee is “Actively Disengaged,” you may elect to do nothing or even provide them an incentive to move on.  Making the right call on this is a key part of the art of management.

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To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, concerned about how a "deal" the company is negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, things are not exactly as it seems....

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