How to intervene with disengaged employees?

The first year of a job is blissful for most of us. There is learning, new people to meet, and fresh energy. And then, somewhere along the line, a shift happens. Research shows that employee engagement drops considerably during the second and third years, and a spectrum of disengagement plays out, with many employees falling into one of these three groups:

  • Moderately engaged – productive, but not fully bought into the workplace culture.
  • Barely engaged – lack energy and passion; have reduced motivation.
  • Actively disengaged – frustrated; they voice displeasure and disrupt others.

Studies show that 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 can be re-engaged. Here’s what you can do, if you feel like your team needs to be rejuvenated:

Notice signs of disengagement. People may not look indifferent or sad at work, but they may be disengaged. Here are more telling signs that could help you identify them:

  • Lack of interest or participation in team discussions. They rarely contribute ideas to projects and avoid important conversations with managers. They won’t be interested in learning either.
  • Ongoing frustration. Motivated individuals become frustrated when their ideas aren’t acted on. Employees who continually initiate discussions to voice their concerns may be at risk of flight.
  • Poor performance. Employees submit late or incomplete work, and instead of receiving feedback or owning up to the issue, they place blame on external reasons.

Assess if something can be done. Not all disengaged employees can be brought back. Those actively disengaged for a long time might be bringing toxicity to the organization. Or they might not be aligned with the values of the company. Then it’s a good time to let them go. But for the rest, ask yourself:

  • Do they have the skills? If they’re not able to perform the required responsibilities, consider whether further learning opportunities could get them to where you need them to be.
  • Do they recognize unproductive behavior? Explain that you’re concerned about their performance and ask what’s affecting it. If employees admit they’re struggling, you may be able to identify solutions and help them. It is a worthy effort, even if it takes a couple of months.
  • How have I affected their engagement level? Managers are among the greatest influences on employees. Do you appreciate your employees adequately? Do you offer them new/ challenging opportunities? Are you available to them? Have an honest conversation with yourself and see if you can change something. As a result, your team members might shift too.

Keeping your people happy has high returns. It is best to nip disengagement in the bud than let it fester. How are you going to practice this?

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