When your best employee is ready to cross the line

Picture your best employee standing outside, alone. At his feet is a blue line running perpendicular to the direction he is facing. His toes are touching the line. The side of the line where he is standing is his current reality. The other side is everything his current reality is not. The other side is relief from whatever is causing him distress on this side of the line. It could be his boss. It could be his job. It could be the pile of unread emails in his inbox. Something is wrong and it's gotten so bad, he's standing with his toes on the line. At this moment, he's vulnerable. The next problem, request, or needless meeting is going to push him over the line. He doesn't know if life on the other side of the line will be better or worse. He doesn't care. It doesn't matter. All that matters is the other side of the line is different from his current reality. This moment is the start of the journey to a new destination. He didn't get to the line because someone dangled more money in front of him. He hasn't even talked to a recruiter or applied to a job. He has no idea what he wants to do. He doesn't hate where he is, but he has gotten to the point where he is ready to say, "Enough." Some days, when he gets to the line, he can find a reason to step away. Some days, he isn't even at the line. He's far from it and wouldn't entertain the idea of doing something different. But on the days when he's at the line, something new might catch his eye.

He might return that recruiter's message. He might respond to that email just to "learn more about the role." He might do a search for his current job title on LinkedIn just to see what's out there. At that moment, he's ready to step across the line. After that first step, he might take another, then another, and at the end, he's telling his co-workers he's leaving for something new. He's too far over the line to come back. His manager and leaders will say he got offered more money. They'll say, "we aren't competitive with our benefits." They'll worry about what they can do to keep others from leaving. Meetings will be scheduled. The analysis will be done. If they are lucky, his former co-workers will reap the benefits of his departure in the form of retention agreements. They weren't planning to leave anyway, but they'll take the extra money for doing what they would have done anyway. And eventually, they'll get pushed to the line, too. They'll be asked to take on too much. They'll be asked to respond to the fire drill. They'll be told to do one more project because it's a business need. No other work will be put on hold or taken off the project list. It all needs to be done. And the one-off requests for one more analysis or a list of information will keep rolling into their inboxes.

Maybe she's next. She knows how he got to the line. She had never been there herself, but once he left, she took on his work. She's stepped up to the line more lately. She's stepped back, gone to the office happy hour, laughed with her co-workers and gone home feeling better about things. The next morning, when she opens her inbox, there are more things than she can do by the end of the day. She tries to prioritize and delegate, but everyone is approaching the line. She looks around and can see it on their faces. They've all had enough. They're all vulnerable. If they get the call or email at that moment, they will step over the line and start the journey. It happens every day. It happens to everyone. Do you notice when you are at the line? Do you notice when your employees are at the line? Can you step back? Can you help them step back? If you can't, you're done. So are they.

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