What Is a Flight Risk Employee and How to Spot the Signs

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What Is a Flight Risk Employee and How to Spot the Signs

Employees that are a flight risk in your organization can harm the business more now than ever before. In recent years, organizations increasingly face talent acquisition and employee turnover challenges. According to a recent Mckinsey report, 40% of people surveyed in six countries are unhappy at work and are considering quitting their job in the near future, while over 4 million people in the US quit their jobs in June 2022. 

It’s clear that HR faces a new challenge of retaining potential flight risk employees and avoiding the disruption and costs associated with voluntary quitting. This article will assist HR professionals to understand why employees leave and how to conduct an employee flight risk assessment to determine potential flight risks.

What is a flight risk employee?
Why would an employee become a flight risk?
What are the signs that an employee is a flight risk?
The cost of an employee flight risk for the organization
How to conduct an employee flight risk assessment
What can HR do to help retain employees and lower employee turnover?

What is a flight risk employee?

In HR, the term flight risk refers to the possibility that an employee will leave your organization, either for a better opportunity somewhere else, because of difficulties in their current job, or for other personal reasons, which we’ll explore in more detail later. 

According to Ceridian’s 2022 Pulse of Talent survey data, 61% of employees globally are a flight risk, with 38% open to the right opportunity and 23% actively looking for a new role. 

A high percentage of flight risk employees poses a real threat to any business, particularly in the current tight labor market with high job vacancies. In the US alone, there were 11.3 million open jobs at the end of May 2022—up substantially from 9.3 million available jobs in April 2021. 

An employee flight risk has the potential to create several concerns for the business. Voluntary resignations can cause disruption within teams, which can negatively impact productivity. Resignations will result in hiring costs for the company, as well as time lost when onboarding new employees. All of which will affect the organization’s profitability. 

Why would an employee become a flight risk?

Several factors contribute to an employee becoming a flight risk.

  1. Lack of career development & advancement: According to Mckinsey’s 2022 Great Attrition report, the number one reason respondents quit between April 2021 and April 2022 was because of a lack of career development and advancement opportunities made available to them. 
  2. Reprioritizing work-life balance: A 2022 Wellness at Work Report found that many employees have placed less importance on their careers and professional lives since the pandemic. Employees want to spend more time at home with their families, have a better work-life balance – and seek jobs that allow them to do this.  
  3. Inadequate compensation: Another top reason for flight risk is inadequate compensation or the perception that an employee is underpaid in relation to the market. Many employees believe they can find a new job that pays them equally or better than their current employer, with similar or better benefits. 
  4. Uncaring and uninspiring leaders: A lack of care from managers and business leaders can damage team morale and employee engagement and result in a loss of respect and trust for those in senior positions. Once this happens, it’s very difficult to regain that respect and trust. 
  5. Lack of meaningful work: Employees want to do work that matters for an organization that is contributing positively to the world. Millennials, in particular, are more commonly searching for jobs that inspire them and get them excited to come to work and are looking for more than just a paycheck each month.  
  6. Inadequate work flexibility: The pandemic forced most organizations to adopt a more flexible attitude and allow employees to work from home. Many people, particularly caregivers (including parents and pet owners), benefited greatly from this flexibility. Although organizations have reverted back to pre-pandemic working models, many employees are now on the hunt for remote, hybrid, or freelance jobs that allow them to maintain work flexibility. 
  7. Lack of support for health and wellbeing: Without physical and mental health, we cannot perform at our best, so it’s in everyone’s interests to prioritize employees’ health and wellbeing. However, long hours and overwhelming workloads lead to stress and eventual burnout or voluntary resignation.  
  8. Significant life changes: Major life changes such as marriage, pregnancy, the birth of a baby, relationship breakdown, bereavement, illness, and even events such as the pandemic can all contribute to an employee becoming a flight risk. These types of life changes often lead to shifts in priorities and values, which can impact their approach to work, their careers, and employment in general. 

What are the signs that an employee is a flight risk?

There are several signs that an employee may become a flight risk:

  • Changes in productivity work habits: Look for decreasing productivity rates and noticeable changes in work habits such as turning up to work or meetings late.
  • Lack of motivation: An employee may display less motivation than previous levels when working on a project or doing the course of business as usual when engaging in their day-to-day tasks.  
  • Doing the minimum required: Your employee is doing only the bare minimum to keep managers happy and rarely going above and beyond what they’re told to do.
  • Taking more leave than usual: Monitor absenteeism increases, whether these are sick days or non-paid leave, as a possible sign of a flight risk. 
  • Going through major life changes: Consider whether an employee is about to or is going through a significant life change and how this may affect their productivity or work goals. 
  • Constantly missing deadlines: A once diligent employee that has consistently begun to miss deadlines could also be a sign of a flight risk employee. However, this could also indicate other issues, such as a lack of time management or an unmanageable workload.
  • Lack of willingness to take on new projects: Taking on new projects is one of the best ways for an employee to gain career progression in an organization and demonstrate that they are ready for a promotion. Employees may not be willing to become involved if they no longer have an interest in remaining at the company. 
  • Disinterested in their professional development: A lack of interest in their professional development indicates a disconnection between their job and the organization. 
Signs That An Employee Is A Flight Risk
Spot the signs of an employee who could become a flight risk

The cost of an employee flight risk for the organization

Flight risk poses several financial and non-financial costs.

Every departure costs approximately one-third of that employee’s annual earnings. 67% of those costs are accumulated by reduced productivity, interview time, and lost knowledge. Meanwhile, 33% of the costs are made up of hard costs, including recruitment, onboarding, and hiring of temporary workers. Worse, a bad hire generated by a sub-par recruitment funnel or poor management decisions can cost an organization 30-100% of a worker’s annual salary.

Additionally, when an employee leaves an organization, there is a loss of knowledge and skills in the company. The team’s workload may also increase while a replacement is found. This can create disruption and a loss of morale within the team. 

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While some factors that lead to an employee leaving are unavoidable (relocating, retirement, change in goals), many causes of flight risk can be minimized with the right HR strategy. 

How to conduct an employee flight risk assessment

Conducting an employee flight risk assessment is the best way to understand who may be a risk, how big of a threat this poses to the organization, and the steps to take. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Collect and aggregate the data

Collect data on all your past employees to determine the patterns and common themes connecting those who have resigned. 

For example, what position did they join in the company, and what position is the employee in now? What is the length of time between promotions? What were their performance review scores and peer feedback? 

This information can be generated using an employee flight risk tool, an excel spreadsheet, or an HR software system. 

Step 2: Analyze your data

Next, analyze the data collected to predict who might be a flight risk in the future. Use predictive data analytics, which learns from existing data and uses it to predict future individual behavior. Predictive models can help HR departments determine high performers during the hiring stage and can also help them predict which employees are likely to leave.  

Experian provides an example of the power of predictive analytics. The company faced turnover levels 3-4% higher than they preferred. Utilizing a predictive model with 200 attributes, Experian was able to predict employee flight risk. 

Similarly, IBM was experiencing high turnover rates for business-critical roles. The analytics team developed an algorithm that included performance, salary, promotion history, and more sources. 

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Step 3: Determine who to focus on

After analyzing your data, the next step is to use an employee flight risk assessment matrix. This will help determine which employees require more attention. The matrix would categorize employees into 4 quadrants based on their likelihood of leaving and the impact their departure would have on an organization. It could look like this:

Low likelihood of leaving – High impact of leavingHigh likelihood of leaving – High impact of leaving
Low likelihood of leaving – Low impact of leavingHigh likelihood of leaving – Low impact of leaving

An employee with a low likelihood of departure and a low impact of turnover would have a minor effect on the business. In this case, interviewing the employee would not be advised.

However, an employee with a high likelihood of departure and a high impact of turnover probably would have unique skills needed in the business or valuable knowledge. A loss of this type of employee would impact the business. These would therefore be the type of employees to focus your attention on. 

Step 4: Identify actions to implement

Once you’ve determined flight risk employees, the final step is to decide on the correct course of action. 

HR can conduct retention interviews, provide a job satisfaction questionnaire to high-risk employees, and develop a growth and leadership plan for employees that will positively impact your organization. 

What can HR do to help retain employees and lower employee turnover?

There are many courses of action that HR can take to reduce employee flight risk. These are outlined below:

1. Incentive schemes: Rewards and recognition

Suppose a talented employee is not feeling fulfilled in their position and sees an opportunity to earn more elsewhere. In that case, they may leave – particularly if there is nothing more attractive to keep them at your company. Let’s face it; though most companies may not be able to offer an increase in salary. HR can still build incentive schemes that are attractive to employees. 

Publicly recognizing, appreciating, and celebrating your employee’s hard work and achievements can boost engagement. It can also help to boost the qualities and behaviors you’re looking for in all your employees.  

Additionally, providing opportunities to move to other departments within the organization that are a better fit for them ensures that you retain their talents. It also provides them with further opportunities to grow their careers. 

Recognizing the uniqueness of each employee and applauding their contributions shows that you value them, while also allowing them to shape their role and contribute positively. 

2. Prioritize employee development

One of the main reasons for flight risk is a lack of career progression within the organization. The best way to counter this is to ensure employee development is a key focus area in your company. Work with managers to build individual development paths for all your employees.

Gallup research has proven that employee training and development can increase business profitability twofold, and increase sales and improve customer satisfaction. 

3. Organize consistent check-ins and reports

Ensure managers schedule regular one-to-one meetings with their whole team and prepare quarterly or bi-annual individual reports. This way, employees will know where they are and what to do to progress in the company and meet their professional goals. 

4. Address internal and external pay equity

It’s essential to keep an eye on your competitors, especially as the labor market is so volatile and unpredictable post-pandemic. Pay attention to what they’re offering employees, and ensure you remain competitive. Consider what you can do to stand out with your compensation and benefits packages.  

However, be cautious not to follow a compensation and benefits trend blindly. Rather evaluate your own internal company needs and culture, and align your compensation and benefits needs to these as well. For example, tech companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, gave employees a pay cut if they chose to work remotely. However, Airbnb announced that their compensation would remain the same for remote employees and will include single tiers per country. This meant that employees who were on a lower location-based pay tier received a salary increase.

While addressing legal pay equity is essential, addressing the gray area of global pay inequalities can help to set your organization apart.      

5. Introduce health and wellness programs

Your employees can’t perform at their highest level if they’re not prioritizing their health and wellbeing. So it’s in every company’s interest to prioritize health.

At software company, Intuit, their “Fit for Life” program offers meditation classes as reimbursable expenses and incentives for taking a walk during working hours. Other companies provide in-house yoga classes and nap pods so employees can recharge their batteries. 

6. Introduce work flexibility 

Give employees the chance to work from home, offer flexible hours, or take a hybrid approach to work. Offering work flexibility establishes a certain level of trust and autonomy that many employees value.

Additionally, hiring remote workers means you’re not limited to interviewing and hiring employees within a specific geographical radius, so you can hire the best people for the job. 

7. Develop leadership skills of management

Finally, help managers to define their leadership development plans. Managers who learn better leadership skills can inspire, lead and motivate their teams more effectively.

Assist managers to become effective leaders by helping them to hone interpersonal management skills and leadership tactics.  

To conclude

Employee flight risk is a concern for all organizations. However, when you understand why employees leave, you can take considered steps to minimize this and ensure your employees are happy and thriving at work. 

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