There are signs that someone has plan to quit, e.g. suddenly calls in sick from time to time, frequently take "secretive" calls, avoids social interactions with co-workers, less engaged than they used to be, and acts more quiet during meetings. Being a manager for many years I find that "I had a bad feeling" almost always turns out to be correct.

I have an employee doing this now. As his manager it is not that hard to sense it and the natural reaction is do I want to keep him or not? In this case, I don't want to keep him (for various reasons, not because I don't think his skill is not qualified for the job). What should I do then before he officially announces?

---- update ----

I said I don't want to keep him if I notice he has a desire to quit. That is a big if. If he doesn't show signs to quit, of course I want him to stay too. I am not sure if this logic is hard to understand or not because from the answers and comments I got I feel they didn't get this.

---- update 2 ----

My question was closed so I added some information, hoping it can be reopened and get more answers.

First, as I commented to some answer he actually had announced it and then I asked the question in hindsight, thinking about is there anything I should do during that time. But not as one comment said "I was just probing to see if anyone will back me up".

Second, I held a meeting with my guys, telling them that I know the situation is tough if they need to advice/help please just come to me. But I didn't talk to that guy in particular. I thought about it but chose not to, which probably was a mistake.

Hence my question, what should do during that time ?

  • 45
    What is the chance he has decided to leave based on your behavior? Such as short answers to questions, having little time for him, brushing him off when he wants to ask etc
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 8:30
  • 8
    What should you do in which regard? Do you want him to leave sooner? Do you want him to leave later (but still leave)? Do you want to know exactly when he's planning to leave? Do you just want him to know you know he wants to leave for some reason? Do you want to know and/or address his reason for leaving (possibly in case others may feel the same)? Do you want to prepare for him leaving to make sure you're not left in a bad spot? Something else? Commented May 20, 2020 at 19:20
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    How would you expect this person's behavior to be different from this if they were going through a very stressful personal life period right now? (eg: impending divorce, death in the family, trying to close on a house, adopting a child) Seems like it would be sensible to at least ask what's going on, rather than just bringing the hammer down blindly.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 21:21
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    @T.E.D. …or suddenly found out they have a severe illness. Commented May 21, 2020 at 13:52
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    @JoelEtherton thanks for a long comment. Actually I asked this question as a hindsight, he announced it then I asked the question here, thinking about was there anything I should before he announced it. Commented May 21, 2020 at 15:27

5 Answers 5


If you are well prepared to lose a person, what would be needed?

You are evidently a developer given you Stack Overflow profile. If turnover in China is anything like it is in North America (developers last 1-3 years on average), losing developers is a common occurrence and something most teams should be prepared for.

The key questions to answer:

  1. Do they have any key knowledge that would be lost if they left? Time to get it written down.

  2. Are they likely to take any other team members with them? Even if knowledge is not unique to one person, it can easily be unique to a team.

  3. Are there any client relationships that might be impacted by this person leaving?
  4. Are there any passwords or software licenses they hold personally that you want to retain?
  5. How about their files? Will their files be retained or wiped?

Given that you don't want to keep this person, you are basically just waiting for him to announce his resignation. Perhaps you write up a job ad or peruse your network of contacts so you can get a replacement quickly, but until he actually quits, what is there to do?

  • 1
    "what is there to do?" That was exactly my question :$. BTW, when you said "If turnover in China is anything like it is in North America", I was confused, the turnover in China is high, especially for 20s but I don't know the situation in US. Is it high or low ? Commented May 20, 2020 at 8:18
  • 1
    @Qiulang added some questions for you to ask yourself about that person. And yes, turnover in certain parts of USA/Canada is high. Where I am (Calgary, Canada), you see plenty of developers who have spent no more than 15 months in any job. I graduated university last year and already plenty of software engineering friends are on their second job. Commented May 20, 2020 at 8:56
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    Thanks for the update. I think I need to at least ask him what is going on even though he probably won't give me a straight answer. Commented May 21, 2020 at 2:34
  • @MatthewGaiser Heh, here in Calgary, I think people are lucky to have any job right about now...
    – corsiKa
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 4:05
  • @corsiKa now sure. Two months ago the market was still robust for developers. Commented May 21, 2020 at 5:07

You're reading a lot into his behaviour. Sure, those could be signs he's about to quit, but they are more general signs of unhappiness. It could mean trouble in his personal life, dissatisfaction with his job that's not bad enough to quit over, poor mental or physical health, or something else. Unless his performance is falling below acceptable, then as a good manager, you should be planning for him to stay and be asking him

  • what's making him unhappy
  • is there anything you can do to improve matters

If he does go ahead and quit, don't be churlish and show that you wanted that outcome. You also don't have to fight to keep him. Simply thank him for his service, provide a decent reference and wish him well.

  • 4
    Thanks for replying my question. He actually announced it today and I asked this question as a hindsight. As for the reason why I didn't intend to keep him, you may check my other question workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/146908/… Commented May 20, 2020 at 8:09
  • 3
    @Qiulang fair play for asking even in hindsight, it shows great character to want to learn, and managers are people too, we can all improve constantly especially when it comes to people skills
    – PeterH
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 15:35

Have a direct conversation with your colleague. You have a better chance of having mis-interpreted the situation than having correctly guessed your colleague's intentions - even if experience suggests otherwise.

Instead of guessing the intentions and feelings of your colleague, engage them in a caring and direct conversation:

  • If you're intent on letting them go, you should do it immediately. Your colleague's recent changes in behavior should not be the reason for termination if you have yet to discuss your observations and offered to help.
  • If you'd like to keep your colleague on your team, share your observations with them, the impact those changes have had on you, and ask if there is anything you can help with. Don't pressure your colleague into giving a rationale for your observations - instead listen and acknowledge the context or feelings that may be underlying the change.
  • "If you're intent on letting them go, you should do it immediately. " I don't get this. Commented May 20, 2020 at 12:08
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    I don't intend to fire him but if he resigns I don't intend to keep him as well. Commented May 20, 2020 at 14:10
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    @Qiulang If he resigns, you don't have the option to keep him......... that's what a resignation is.
    – user91988
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 19:37
  • 1
    @Qiulang - Sounds like he'd want you to fire him, for the same reason your boss says you can't fire him, so you're waiting for him to quit, and I presume your boss wants you to make their life a living hell so that they do quit, leaving your only option to decide if you're going to do that or not (be mean). (there's a language barrier here between us, and I'm not an accountant so IDK, and I read way too far into things....)
    – Mazura
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 5:36
  • 7
    You read too far into things Commented May 21, 2020 at 6:14

I don't intend to keep him

As you've noted, it's easy to see people's behaviour change when they've got one foot out the door. It's entirely; possibly he also realizes you don't want him and isn't willing to bust ass anymore.

If they're doing the job, I'm not sure what the problem is here.

People don't leave jobs. They leave bosses. Ask yourself why they're leaving.

Or just ask them. It's a lot easier to have a conversation about this like adults.

  • 2
    people do leave jobs too, I've left brilliant managers and even companies, for many reasons, family, location, salary, headhunted with amazing salary etc. its so much harder handing in a notice when the manager has become a friend !
    – PeterH
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 15:39

Some of the other answers here are very good, but one aspect they don't touch on is severance payments. Since you are located in China, you should be aware that Chinese labor law is very much in favor of the employee, and that if you fire the employee the company is legally required to pay him severance, as well as giving him 30 days advance notice. The amount he should be paid will vary depending on why he is fired, but from what you wrote it seems that you cannot legally fire him under Article 39 nor under Article 40 of Labor Contract Law of the People's Republic of China, thus any firing this employee would be illegal and you would likely end up paying double the normal amount of severance (if X is his monthly salary, the normal amount of severance would be .5X for every 6 months of time he worked at the company, thus the doubled amount would be X for every 6 months he worked at the company).

Note that many employees are not aware of their rights under the labor law, and it is possible that this employee would not be aware.

Knowing nothing else about your situation other than what you wrote, I recommend that you wait for the employee to quit and thus avoid paying the severance.

Edit: as a more broad answer, you should be aware of the laws regarding firing employees. In many jurisdictions, you are only allowed to fire employees for certain reasons, and with a certain amount of severance payment. If you attempt to fire an employee in other situations, there are legal and financial penalties.

  • I didn't mention I am from China because I don't this to sidetrack the answers. I believe the situation can happen in any place. Commented May 23, 2020 at 10:09

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