Can a Disengaged Employee Be Saved?

March 14, 2018

Can disengaged employees be saved

The ideal employee experience begins with hopeful, positive expectations on both ends; however, we all know things don't always work out for the best. Employees wander off the path and get disengaged for many reasons.

Workers are more engaged in their first six months on a job than they are at any other stage of their employment with a company. At the six-month mark, after the honeymoon is over, about half (52%) of employees remain engaged. Forty percent are not engaged at all, and approximately one in 10 (8%) is actively disengaged, according to Gallup.

Unengaged Workers are a Big Problem

For the past several years, Gallup surveys have revealed that, overall, only about a third of the workforce is actively engaged - and disengaged employees cost the country somewhere between $483 and $605 billion every year - so clearly, this is a serious problem. All too often, this lack of engagement happens on teams where managers become too complacent and don't realize their employees have become less committed to their jobs and the company as a whole.


How to Identify when an Employee is Disengaged

Unfortunately, your employees typically don't tell you point-blank that they're disengaged; they might not even be aware of it themselves. So, first things first: How do you identify disengaged employees?

Here are 10 signs your employees are disengaged:

  1. Provide frequent excuses for why their work is late or their production isn't up-to-par.
  2. Take single PTO days multiple weeks in a row (a classic indicator that there's a job search underway)
  3. Stop being team players.
  4. Recently start updating their LinkedIn profiles.
  5. Lie about the status of their work.
  6. Have difficulty with their manager or have had multiple managers in a short period of time.
  7. Lack enthusiasm for their jobs.
  8. Have had a close friend at work leave the company.
  9. Lack initiative.
  10. Are comfortable with status quo and exhibit no desire to grow.

Is the Team Member Worth Saving?

Once you've identified your employees who are less-than-connected, you have to ask yourself, "Do I want to keep this employee?" Yes, this might sound like a harsh question, but remember, keeping an employee on your payroll who might never change isn't good for anyone. At the same time, you don't want to make a knee-jerk decision and terminate the employee right off the bat. After all, engagement is a spectrum and at any given time, nearly 70% of the American workforce is not exactly engaged with their work. So, letting someone go isn't always going to solve the problem. Think about where your employees land on a disengagement scale of "At Risk," "Complacent," and "Toxic." If they are already toxic, chances are they can't be saved, but you can likely work with the other two types.

The best way to assess whether an employee is worth spending time and money trying to re-engage is to ask questions:

  • Does the employee have the skillsets needed to perform well in this position and make a positive impact on the organization? If not, it may be best to part ways.

  • Does the employee recognize that their behavior is problematic? Sometimes they don't. Tell the employee that you're concerned about the obvious lack of engagement and ask them what's going on. Then listen. Once you've determined the root cause(s) of the disengagement, ask the employee,

  • "If [the reason for disengagement] was fixed right now, how would your performance change?" If the answer is immediate and hopeful, the employee can likely be turned around. If the answer is, "I don't know," or "I don't think it would," that employee will continue to be a detriment to the team and you should consider measures to either re-assign or terminate.

  • Is the employee motivated to take action? If the employee responds positively to the above question, you should outline the benefits of improving the behavior as well as the consequences of not making improvements. This can be informal documentation or official in the form of a personal development plan.

saving employee

How to Save Your Best People

Assuming you come to the decision that an employee is, in fact worth saving, here are some things you can do to get them re-engaged:

  • Find out what motivates them. Your employees want to know that you're invested in their careers. Discovering what drives positive behavior and reinforcing that will help with engagement. Everyone wants to be appreciated.

  • Create a personal development plan (PDP). People often give up/become disengaged when they don't think there is opportunity. A PDP can help get them working toward a goal. Making sure their career path is clear can help them get motivated for what's next.

  • Recognize them. Recognition reinforces the positive behaviors you want your checked-out employees to exhibit. Depending on whether they're introverted or extroverted, the recognition can be a simple "thank you" email or it can be public thanks in front of the entire team.

  • Examine changes you can make. Think about what you can do differently as a manager to help your employees succeed. Nobody's perfect. Maybe you need to have more of an open-door policy or you should rein in the micromanaging.

When previously engaged employees are checked out, they have a negative impact on the whole team. Motivation, collaboration, and productivity all take a hit. Following these tips to turn around the disengagement can help your team member return to delivering great work and results and get the entire team back on track.

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