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Your 3-Step Guide to Disengaged Employees

Disengaged EmployeesMost employees enter a new job with bright-eyed excitement. Everything is new and intriguing, coworkers are welcoming, and managers are supportive.


But at some point, the "honeymoon phase" ends (typically after the first year), and employees fall into one of four groups:

  • Highly Engaged: emotionally connected to the workplace and passionate about their roles and responsibilities
  • Moderately Engaged: productive, but not fully bought in to workplace culture
  • Barely Engaged: lack energy and passion; have reduced motivation
  • Actively Disengaged: frustrated; voice displeasure and disrupt others

Nearly two-thirds of the American workforce may be barely engaged or disengaged, causing a drain on morale and productivity. However, many of these individuals aren’t lost causes. They can be rejuvenated.


It’s up to organizations and managers to identify disengaged employees early on so appropriate actions can be taken before disengagement gets worse.


Get your copy: 200 Employee Engagement Ideas

Step One: Identify Disengaged Employees


Though apathy and indifference are usually key indicators of disengagement, there are more telling ways to determine whether employees are just going through the motions or seeking other employment, such as:


Poor performance. Employees submit late or disappointing work, then offer excuses rather than owning their shortcomings.


Lack of interest. Watch for employees who stop participating in team discussions, rarely contribute new ideas, and are withdrawn during one-on-one meetings.


No interest in learning or development. Disengaged employees accept the monotony of their current position and lose the passion to strive for anything greater. They can still adequately perform their daily tasks, but their growth potential flatlines.


Ongoing frustration. Highly-motivated individuals become frustrated when their ideas aren’t acted on, and when their managers and coworkers don’t show a similar drive for success. Employees who continually initiate discussions with their manager to voice their concerns may be a flight risk.


Increase in PTO days taken. If employees take a single day off several weeks in a row, they very well may be searching for new jobs and going to interviews.


Step Two: Determine if Disengaged Employees Should be Saved


Cruel as it may sound, not all employees are worth preserving. Some disengaged employees are simply too far gone or aren’t capable of performing the job they were hired to do. Source feedback from surrounding employees and ask yourself these questions:


Do they have adequate skills? If they’re not able to perform the required responsibilities, a change may be necessary. Consider whether further development and learning opportunities could get them to where you need them to be.


Do they recognize poor behavior? Explain that you’re concerned about their performance or behavior, and ask what’s affecting it. If employees admit they’re struggling, you may be able to identify solutions and help them.


Are there any solutions? Offer answers to their engagement problem, ask if those adjustments would help, and gauge their response. An enthusiastic reply indicates hope. An “I don’t know” or “I don’t think so” is further cause for concern.


How have I affected their engagement level? Managers are among the greatest influences on employee engagement. Do you recognize your employees enough? Do you offer them new and challenging opportunities? Do you discuss their future goals and create plans to help them reach their potential?


The answers to these questions should shape not only how you deal with disengaged employees, but all your direct reports. 


Step Three: Diagnose Employee Motivations


If the employee is worth saving, you need a plan to get them back on track. Start by understanding:


Employee motivations. Why did they originally apply for this job? What did they hope to accomplish, both for the company and their own growth? Why do they think they’re a good fit for their position?


What changed recently. Why did their enthusiasm fade? Is there something or someone negatively affecting their experience? What trigger events may have occurred recently to make a negative impact?


Your impact. Are you the problem? That’s a tough pill to swallow, but if multiple team members are disengaged, it might be time to stop pointing the finger and look inward.


6 Ways to "Fix" Disengagement


Now that you understand where the disengagement originated, you can start correcting it. Consider these ways to reenergize the disengaged:


1. Create a Personal Development Plan

Show employees that you care about and are invested in their success with a personal development plan. Ask employees how they want to grow and which skills they’d like to develop. Identify potential growth opportunities or stretch assignments. Consider conferences, webinars, speakers, and training sessions to drive development.


2. Set goals and hold employees accountable.

Work with disengaged employees to set attainable goals. Post public goal updates to increase visibility and accountability.


3. Encourage greater participation in one-on-one meetings

Don’t dominate the conversation. Allow employees to voice concerns and wishes. After the meeting, act on what you discussed. Few things are more disengaging than having feedback fall on deaf ears.


4. Conduct 360 feedback

Ask disengaged employees what would make their experience better. Source opinions from other team members and managers who work closely with them. Try to identify when disengaged employees are most engaged – what is it about those responsibilities that motivate them?


5. Recognize positive behavior

Employees who aren’t recognized are twice as likely to quit in the next year. Make sure you acknowledge strong performance and good behavior in a way that fits the employee’s personality. Even a simple “thank you” goes a long way toward making employees feel valued.


6. Continually monitor employee performance and potential

Are things getting better? Are disengaged employees showing more effort and potential? Document ratings and notes on employees’ performance impact, retention risk, and growth potential so managers, leaders, and HR can stay up to date on progress and add insights.


Looking for more ideas to engage employees and avoid this process? Download our ebook, 200 Employee Engagement Ideas for HR and Managers, to uncover new ways to boost engagement.


200 employee engagement ideas


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