Human Resources, Startup Advice

How do you know when a staff member is about to leave your startup? Five founders weigh in

StartupSmart /

Envato co-founder Cyan Ta'eed.

Envato co-founder Cyan Ta'eed. Source: Supplied

By Emma Koehn and Dominic Powell

If you want to grow a business, hiring the people who can best maximise your success is critical, but holding onto them can be an entirely different story.

In a climate where staff are keen to move from one opportunity to the next instead of choosing a company for life, how can you make sure your best talent sticks around — and how do you know they’re starting to look for opportunities elsewhere?

StartupSmart asked five entrepreneurs to reveal some of the tell-tale signs of staff who are ready to jump, and what to do about them.

Cyan Ta’eed
Co-founder, Envato

“The most obvious sign someone is about to leave a startup is if they stop caring about the work they’re doing. We have a set of values and a mission that drive what we do as a business and if someone stops buying into those values or that mission they’re usually a month or two away from leaving.

“Likewise if they’re starting to get frustrated with their colleagues or other teams on a regular basis! While our goal is always to keep great people engaged and happy working with us for as long as possible, sometimes it’s also healthy for people to move on to a new challenge. I find it’s important to be thinking of my role as a manager as to help them progress in their career, whether that’s within Envato or another company. Having said that, we fight hard to keep our great people!”

Andre Eikmeier
Co-founder, Vinomofo

“When someone withdraws into themselves, it’s a reasonable sign. Not absolute, sometimes other things are going on, but it’s a sure sign that someone’s not engaged. They turn up to their desk and quietly go about their business until it’s time to leave.

“Hopefully someone’s talked to them before it gets to that stage, but if not, that’s the time to connect with that person and really ask where they’re at.”

Gen George
Founder, tamme and Skilld

“I think with any business, startup or a more established company, the biggest give away is when someone starts to lose passion for the project or journey the business is on. If they aren’t in line with the companies vision and where it is going, they will lose interest and start looking elsewhere.

“As a leader, if you miss this transition, it can hit the business harder than you think. But always do an exit interview, understand as a leader how you could have managed them better; how you could have made sure that the whole team (including them) could have kept evolving to what the businesses needed. And also remember there are amazing people for different stages of your business. So make sure you learn and reflect on the experience and leave on the best possible terms.”

Ammar Ahmad
Founder of online beauty platform AMR Hair and Beauty

“There are tell-tale signs of when a staff member is ready to move on. They appear to lose motivation and passion for their role. They take longer to complete tasks, they are less enthusiastic and less inclined to get involved with new ideas and team participation.

“You can combat this by communicating with this staff member and find out why they are wanting to leave and/or unhappy. If they provide you with honest feedback of why their needs are no longer being met, you can then help to resolve the issues where possible.”

Hayley Markham
Co-founder and chief operating officer, Code Camp

“I always take great interest in the welfare of those I manage. After all, you spend such a huge amount of time with your co-workers that it becomes easy to spot any shift in attitude that could be explained by problems in their work lives or their personal lives. Everyone’s different so I always focus on making sure that not only do my staff not get to the point of wanting to leave, but that the work environment I provide is one which they enjoy being part of.

“I constantly check in with each of them to ensure that their ideas and opinions are being heard and that they are reaching the goals they have set for themselves. Challenging staff and giving them the support they need to succeed has a very positive impact on not only our business but our staff’s drive and their satisfaction levels. If I notice any of my employees becoming even remotely disengaged from myself or their workload, I head straight to that person to work out a solution.”

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