Employee flight risk: Leverage this talent retention trend and retain top performers

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People today are quitting at record rates. Almost half (40%) of employees worldwide consider moving to greener pastures in the near future.[1]

Losing these high-flight-risk workers can disrupt team dynamics, create skills gaps, and cost a lot of money, so employers need to develop better employee retention strategies.

Understanding employee flight risk in HR can help you stop workers from leaving. 

By spotting the signs and taking advantage of this talent retention trend, businesses can prevent the departure of top employees and keep their teams intact. 

In this article, we explore what creates a high-flight-risk employee, why it’s crucial to spot them, how to calculate employee flight risk, and how to use talent assessments to plan succession.

What is employee flight risk?

Employee flight risk is the likelihood of an employee leaving their job soon because of inadequate employee compensation, lack of career growth opportunities, poor work-life balance, or bad management.

Other reasons include:

What is a flight risk employee?

A flight risk employee is one who is planning to leave an organization soon, regardless of whether they’re a new hire or a top performer. 

The main problem occurs when high-value employees leave the organization. 

It causes team morale disruption, stakeholder concerns, knowledge gaps, increased workload for other team members, and high costs associated with hiring a replacement. 

That’s why it is important to recognize a flight risk employee and develop strategies to reduce your talent attrition rates.

Some warning signs of a high-flight-risk employee include:

Employee flight risk indicator


Decline in engagement

A sudden drop in enthusiasm, engagement, or participation in work activities signals a potential growing disinterest in the role.


Increased unplanned or frequent absences could reveal personal dissatisfaction, stress, burnout, or a potential job search.

Decreased productivity

A noticeable decline in an employee’s productivity or a shift from consistently high performance can indicate disengagement and flight risk.

Lack of engagement with the team

A feeling of disconnection from team members is a potential sign of an employee contemplating quitting, especially if they’ve been a great team player before.

Change in work habits

A lack of task prioritization, poor time management, less attention to detail, or taking more breaks are subtle signs of disengagement and increased employee flight risk.

Unusually negative behavior

An unhappy employee tends to be more negative than usual. If someone is constantly grumpy, it’s a good indication that something is off.

Lack of initiative

An unwillingness to commit to a new project or exciting task is a potential sign that your employee wants to take off.

Why is identifying employee flight risk important for talent retention?

According to research, employers can prevent 78% of employee departures

They need a strategic approach to identifying and mitigating employee flight risk for sustained talent retention rates.

Understanding flight risk enables employers to address issues before they escalate. Organizations can implement targeted strategies to retain valuable human resources by recognizing the signs early.

The departure of high-value employees causes significant costs related to recruitment, onboarding, and potential disruptions. Just that, on average, replacing an employee costs one-half to two times their annual salary. 

That means if the employee’s wage is $100,000 per year, replacing them costs between $50,000 and $200,000.

Recognizing flight risk motivates employers to invest in retention strategies, ultimately saving on the expenses associated with turnover. It also helps maintain good team dynamics and a positive work environment.

Despite the clear benefits, employers must navigate the inevitable tensions associated with flight risk indicators and respect employee boundaries. 

For example, asking employees going through major life changes if they plan to resign is inappropriate. Doing it might open the door to a legal case for intimidation or discrimination if you don’t handle this conversation delicately.

Another issue is deciding whether investing in employees displaying flight risk signs is worth it. Although creating a professional development plan can improve retention, the question remains whether you can justify these investments for someone likely to leave.

Employers risk being “too little too late” when tackling employee flight risk. Instead of waiting for disengaged employees to leave, organizations should focus on preventing turnover by creating a positive work environment and addressing potential issues early on.

How to calculate employee flight risk

Businesses can improve talent retention by conducting an employee flight risk assessment. This strategic approach follows an employee flight risk model, helping HR teams predict potential departures.

Here are the best ways to calculate employee flight risk scores and secure your organization’s talent pool.

1. Identify past flight risk indicators

You need to review past employee departures to identify patterns in workers deemed high flight risk. Recognizing recurrent themes can help you understand crucial factors contributing to voluntary turnover.

To do that, you must thoroughly analyze data from the exit surveys of former employees who decided to leave. Look for insights in their feedback that can uncover the reasons behind dissatisfaction, unmet expectations, or issues that have contributed to their decision.

This retrospective analysis serves as a valuable guide for recognizing similar signs in the future. It also helps you create a comprehensive map of flight risk triggers. That includes specific events, changes, or circumstances correlating with heightened departure risks.

For example, a past analysis can reveal a common theme of employee burnout, disengagement, and missed deadlines among departing employees that coincided with the increased demands of a new project.

A thorough exit interview analysis can also show a perceived poor employee work-life balance

These insights help the organization proactively address workload concerns by reviewing staffing and implementing flexible work policies to reduce workloads, prevent burnout, and increase satisfaction.

2. Use upward feedback to look for current flight risk indicators

Regular surveys and reviews provide a dynamic channel for capturing upward feedback. 

These tools should strategically incorporate key flight risk indicators such as job satisfaction, employee engagement, and performance.

Real-time insights about your employees’ state of mind help ensure awareness about current employee flight risk.

You should develop a strategic approach based on consistent data collection, identifying trends, assessing potential risks, and organizing timely retention interventions.

3. Create a retention risk matrix

A retention risk matrix is an HR tool that categorizes employees based on two key factors: the employee flight risk and the impact their departure could have on the organization. 

Creating a retention risk matrix helps you understand how to tailor retention strategies and which employees you must prioritize.

To create a retention risk matrix, you first need to:

  1. Determine the likelihood of resignation (low to high): Place employees on a scale based on observed flight risk indicators, such as job satisfaction, engagement, and performance.

  2. Estimate potential impact on the organization (low to high): Evaluate the impact an employee’s departure could have on team dynamics, project timelines, or specialized skills within the organization.

  3. Create matrix quadrants: All employees fall into one of four categories.


Action you need to take

High-likelihood and high-impact

You should focus immediate attention on these employees due to both the likelihood of leaving and the significant impact on the organization

High-likelihood and low-impact

You should address potential flight risks strategically, considering their impact on the organization

Low-likelihood and high-impact

You can implement preventive measures to maintain employee satisfaction and engagement

Low-likelihood and low-impact

You should monitor this group and address any emerging indicators to prevent potential flight risks

4. Educate managers on how to implement the retention risk matrix

Managers are crucial for assessing performance, observing employee flight risk indicators, and keeping talent turnover rates low. 

You must teach managers the importance of a retention risk matrix for maintaining accurate and up-to-date information.

You can conduct training sessions for managers and provide practical guidance on the application retention risk matrix. Equip them with the skills to identify flight risk indicators, categorize employees effectively, and contribute to a targeted retention strategy.

You must also create a feedback loop between managers and HR professionals to monitor potential employee flight risks. 

The best way to do that is to organize regular check-ins to discuss changes and ensure that the retention risk matrix information is still relevant.

6 best practices for leveraging employee flight risk identification to retain your best performers

Getting better at recognizing high-risk employees helps you understand the factors influencing job satisfaction and engagement. 

Let’s explore the six best practices with actionable steps to identify flight risk employees and retain your best performers.

The summary of best ways to leverage employee flight risk identification

Best practice

How it helps

1. Focus on early detection

Enables you to take action at the first signs of employee dissatisfaction, preventing voluntary turnover.

2. Use people analytics tools

Provides valuable performance and flight risk data, helping you develop the right retention strategy.

3. Implement retention risk matrices

Helps identify top performers, guiding you to direct resources where they matter the most.

4. Act on upward feedback

Promotes open communication and understanding of employee motivations and concerns, enabling more personalized retention efforts.

5. Follow good employee retention practices

Creates a supportive work environment and minimizes flight risk.

6. Plan for succession

Identifies viable successors for senior employees, minimizing the impact of departures.

1. Focus on early detection

Dissatisfaction is the main reason employees consider leaving a company. It stems from different factors and manifests in many ways. 

You need to monitor for indicators of dissatisfaction because early detection can prevent issues from escalating and leading to voluntary turnover.

Surprisingly, it’s not just junior employees who are at risk of leaving. One in five top performers plan to quit their jobs within the next six months.[2]

To keep your top performers, pay attention to early signs by monitoring for changes in their approach, productivity levels, and teamwork. 

Talk openly with your workers, embrace employee listening, and act quickly if you sense any dissatisfaction. You can start by initiating one-on-one conversations, listening to their feedback and concerns, and trying to understand the root cause of their discontent.

Then, you should collaborate with your team to implement necessary changes, whether they involve workload adjustments, better communication channels, or career development opportunities.

This proactive approach ensures you catch potential flight risks before they become a bigger challenge.

2. Use people analytics tools

People analytics tools refer to software that uses data to provide insights into workforce dynamics. These systems help analyze employee-related information, such as performance metrics, engagement levels, and engagement survey responses.

Determine key flight risk indicators for your organization using performance ratings, feedback trends, or survey responses related to job satisfaction and engagement. 

You can also use people analytics tools to inspect data from performance reviews and proactively manage flight-risk employees. 

For example, you can use analytics to assess the skill levels of employees, identify any gaps that might hinder career growth or lead to dissatisfaction, create personalized training, and show your commitment to employees’ professional growth and satisfaction.

Predictive modeling of analytics tools uses historical data and current workforce dynamics to predict employee turnover. 

Organizations can allocate resources and implement retention strategies proactively in departments or roles with a higher likelihood of turnover.

Analytics tools also help create customized career progression, identify potential mentors or leaders, and tie performance metrics to rewards and recognition programs, helping organizations understand overall job satisfaction, identify trends, and take action.

The important thing is to analyze performance reviews and employee survey data regularly to ensure ongoing awareness of workforce dynamics.

3. Implement retention risk matrices 

Retention risk matrices are essential for prioritizing retention efforts and resources. By categorizing employees based on the likelihood of departure and potential impact, these matrices help develop targeted retention strategies. 

The main goal of these tools is to identify the most valuable employees who fall into the high-flight risk category. 

These top performers are instrumental in the organization’s team productivity and success, so they require your special attention.

The retention risk matrix enables you to identify contributions critical for the company’s success, such as key leadership positions, project leads, or individuals with specialized skills crucial for operations.

When updated regularly, it also helps you allocate resources strategically, directing resources toward flight-risk employees in mission-critical roles.

4. Act on upward feedback

Upward feedback helps you to learn about your employees' motivations, expectations, concerns, and goals. To stand out as an employer and build trust, you should act on the upward feedback and show how much you value your employees. 

Establishing a good company culture where you welcome and act on upward feedback builds trust and encourages open communication. It makes employees likely to voice concerns rather than contemplate resignation, fostering a positive and collaborative workplace.

You must set up regular channels for collecting upward feedback, such as employee surveys, one-on-one meetings, or dedicated feedback sessions. 

Ensure employees feel acknowledged and appreciated for sharing their perspectives to encourage ongoing participation. You should act quickly on valid concerns raised through upward feedback to show your commitment to employee wellbeing.

Another important thing is to communicate the improvements to close the feedback loop, focus on employee recognition, and reinforce the value of employee input.

5. Commit to good employee retention practices

To minimize the need for extensive flight risk strategies, you must commit to good employee retention practices, including competitive compensation and benefits, flexible work policies, employee assistance programs, and employee wellbeing practices.

Here are some concrete steps you can take to support employee retention:

  • Review compensation packages: Stay informed about industry benchmarks and regularly review employee compensation packages and benefits to remain competitive.

  • Tailor flexible policies to employee needs: Customize flexible work policies to accommodate the diverse needs of your workforce, creating a supportive and accommodating work environment.

  • Promote employee assistance programs: Actively promote and encourage employee assistance programs to support employee wellness.

6. Think about succession planning

If a top-performing senior employee is unlikely to stay, no matter what steps you take to retain them, it’s time to consider a succession plan. 

Identify viable successors with talent assessments to ensure a smooth transition after their departure and minimize the impact.

Talent assessments evaluate candidates based on skills, compatibility with the role, and factors that provide objective insight into their readiness for the role.

For example, if a software engineer manager is a flight risk employee, and the company wants to prepare for succession, the organization can identify the role’s critical skills and use our Software Engineer Management test to assess potential successors. 

The test evaluates technical skills, managerial capabilities, and strategic thinking. The company should compare these competencies with organizational needs to identify strengths and weaknesses. 

The HR department can organize additional employee training programs, mentorships, or leadership workshops to bridge any skills gap in the identified successor. That ensures they are ready to enter the role when the flight risk employee departs.

Employee flight risk: 3 examples of companies succeeding with this talent retention trend

Focusing on employee flight risk detection helps organizations retain top talent and invest in initiatives that build a good company culture.

Let’s explore how three businesses have recognized the importance of employee flight risk and implemented successful strategies to address it.

Organizations using employee flight risk detection to succeed: A summary


What it does

Credit Suisse

Uses analytics to identify the employees likely to quit


Built a comprehensive flight risk model that reduced turnover by 3%

Hewlett-Packard (HP)

Designed a predictive model with flight risk scores

Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse, a global financial services organization, needed a strategy to address flight risk, reduce attrition costs, and ensure organizational stability. As a part of the solution, the company turned to analytics to identify employees likely to quit.

The data analytics team evaluated several characteristics to calculate the probability of an employee leaving within the following year. 

It analyzed raises, promotions, life events, manager performance, and team size. This data-driven approach provided managers with the most common early warnings and enabled quick action.

These initiatives helped the company:

  • Create special training for managers to retain high-performing employees, resulting in $70m in annual savings

  • Focus on internal promotions, create a culture of growth, and promote employee loyalty


Experian, one of the leading companies in the data and analytics industry, provides several information services, including credit reporting, decision analytics, and fraud detection.

When the company faced high employee turnover, it turned to predictive analytics to identify employee flight risk. The organization built a comprehensive flight risk model with 200 attributes, such as team dynamics, commuting distance, and supervisor performance.

Some employee flight risk factors included teams bigger than 10-12 members and longer commutes owing to relocation.

The company used the insights to implement sound management practices that helped reduce turnover rates by 3%. 

That led to an estimated cost savings of $8m to $10m, showing the significant financial impact of strategic flight risk detection.[3]

Hewlett-Packard (HP)

HP, a global tech company with more than 300,000 employees, faced significant challenges with high employee turnover, especially in sales divisions, where turnover rates reached 20%.

The organization used data to develop predictive models, creating a flight risk score for each employee. The score assessed the likelihood of employees leaving the organization, considering factors such as pay, promotions, and performance ratings.

The model informed managers about key risk factors for attrition and encouraged them to develop retention strategies. 

This system served as a powerful tool for managers, enabling proactive interventions and strategic decision-making to mitigate the impact of employee turnover. 

These proactive retention practices resulted in estimated savings of $300m.[4]

Use employee flight risk detection to hold on to top performers

Understanding motivation and recognizing dissatisfaction signs early enables organizations to create strategies to combat employee flight risk. 

This proactive approach prevents employee turnover and reduces costs associated with recruiting and onboarding a replacement.

You can use insights about employee flight risk to improve the employee experience through strategic data analysis, upward feedback, retention risk matrices, and comprehensive people analytics.

If you’d like to learn more about how TestGorilla’s talent assessments help you identify successors for high-flight-risk employees, watch a live demo

You should also sign up for a free forever account to try skills testing for yourself! Sources

  1. De Smet, Aaron, et al. (July 13, 2022). “The Great Attrition is making hiring harder. Are you searching the right talent pools?”. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved January 26, 2024. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/ the-great-attrition-is-making-hiring-harder-are-you-searching-the-right-talent-pools/ 

  2. Willyerd, Karie. (November 18, 2014). “What High Performers Want at Work”. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 26, 2024. https://hbr.org/2014/11/what-high-performers-want-at-work/ 

  3. “HR Analytics Case Study Collection”. (March 13, 2015). AIHR. Retrieved January 26, 2024.  https://www.aihr.com/resources/AIHR_HR_Analytics_Case_Study_Collection.pdf 

  4. Goswami, Pratibha; Srivastava, Upasana. (May 2021). “Predictive Analytics the Key to Talent Management in Post Pandemic Crisis”. International Journal of Marketing and Human Resource Management. Retrieved January 26, 2024. https://iaeme.com/MasterAdmin/Journal_uploads/IJMHRM/VOLUME_12_ISSUE_2/IJMHRM_12_02_005.pdf 

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