A recent client of mine, returning from and reflecting on two weeks of paid time off, had an epiphany. He’d had enough. He was going to quit his job and change his career. That kind of epiphany.

Ya know, life is too short, YOLO, carpe diem, et al.

In my role as a leadership coach, it’s about as revolutionary an idea as grabbing a cup of coffee. When you have my job, it’s a familiar story from a client. In fact, it’smy story. I graduated high school at 17 and spent the next four and half years as a manager for a novel Mexican restaurant chain. It was kind of a pre-Chipotle Chipotle. It wasn’t my intent to make it a career but I was having fun and we hoped to grow our early successes into a national chain.

It wasn’t until I had to take a few weeks off due to complications from appendicitis that I realized I didn’t want to spend my career running restaurants.

A lot of people come to similar conclusions this time of year. The holidays are a time to take stock of where we are in our careers. That also means if you manage people, it’s time to take stock of who might be taking stock.

For most of the year people are so busy doing what they’re doing, they don’t reallythink about what they’re doing. The holidays are different. They’re the perfect time to jumpstart a job or career search. Maybe it’s because people have been holding off for a year-end bonus. Maybe it’s their New Year’s resolution. Maybe they spent Christmas with a one-upping brother- or-sister-in-law. Maybe they watched It’s a Wonderful Life and they’ve started thinking about their place in the world.

You might have engaged in this kind of thinking during the holidays. Others have too. So how can you be proactive knowing some of your key associates might be looking for a new gig in the New Year? More importantly, what do you do about it?

For starters, this …

Rehire your best people. Before the holiday break, sit down for a few minutes with each of your key performers and tell them they’re valued and you’re looking forward to having them on your team in the coming year. If you’re saying to yourself “I don’t have the time for this.” (And if you are we should talk…) convey the same thoughts in a short handwritten note (yes, even if your handwriting sucks).

Check in, check up. Take time to meet with your key people after they’ve been on vacation and pay special attention to subtle shifts in attitude or demeanor that may indicate they might be charting a new career course.

Coach’em up. Embrace the challenge of developing your people. Be a good career coach. That inspires loyalty.

Just keep in mind, these methods might not be enough. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

No one likes to lose a top performer, but if you’ve provided the person with a good career path and you’ve put in the effort to support and led them to this point, it may indeed be time for the person to make a change. Avoid the urge to make it overly difficult for the person or to deliver ultimatums. Coveting talent and holding a person back rarely works in the long run. There’ll be some short-term pain, but these things have a way of creating long-term positive gains in goodwill and referrals.

And sometimes the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The person may want to come back, but only if there’s a bridge that allows it.

– Roger Lipson

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