A star employee starts missing sales targets. A manager’s eyes glaze over at the weekly check in. Other staffers seem to withdraw, and while their work is adequate, it’s lackluster. Getting disengaged employees to re-engage in their work may seem like a Herculean task. And sometimes, acknowledging irreconcilable differences between an employee and your company and parting ways amicably may be the best solution. But more often, you can bring wayward employees back into the fold with a few simple steps. We spoke to three experts who offered their advice on how to reignite your staff.
Find ways to reconnect
Employees who have withdrawn have withdrawn for a reason. Maybe it’s a personal problem or maybe they feel unappreciated, but “the approach should be ‘What can we do to help?’” rather than ‘You need to shape up,’” says Paul Hebert, human resources expert and vice president of solutions design at Symbolist. Remind that “we” includes the company as a whole and that other staffers may be willing to lend a hand. Simply asking the question may jumpstart some employees and make them feel cared for and recognized within the company. Helping staff connect to each other outside of work can deepen engagement in the office, as well. Take this opportunity to help your employees reconnect to the company. This is your chance to over-communicate your firm’s goals to the team and how each staffer’s role fits in. “An enlightened company knows that they have human beings on staff, and know that they have problems that require human solutions,” says Hebert.
Talk less and ask more questions
Disengaged employees often have potential, but don’t feel that their perspectives are being heard. So resolve to listen more. At meetings, keep questions open ended. Ask “What do we think? How could we make this even better?” Resist the urge to fill any empty silences with your own voice and let your staffers offer their own suggestions. Make a habit of one-on-one lunch or coffee meetings where you ask staffers individually what you can do to make work better for them. Keep it professional, not personal, both in tone and subject matter. “Managers often make the mistake of berating someone or telling them they need to change their attitude, when in reality it’s always better to put a positive spin on it,” notes Susan Strayer LaMotte, founder of exaqueo, a workplace consultancy. “Give them an opportunity to make an ask of you, whether that is a different project or new department or additional training.” Present yourself as a partner and that you plan to work together to make changes. If you get the dreaded “Nothing, I’m fine” in response to your queries, keep the conversation going. If you can’t get them to open up in that moment, revisit the conversation later at an agreed-upon date try again. This gives you time to evaluate if the issue is ongoing, and gives your staffers time to prepare for their ask.
Sometimes disengaged employees don’t feel anyone is watching, says Laurie Ruettimann, founder of Punk Rock HR, The Cynical Girl and The HR Blogger Network. Studies show that lack of praise and recognition is a top reason that employees are unhappy at their jobs. This is your chance to rethink how you give feedback to your staff, positive and negative. It might even be a chance to reacquaint yourself with staffers’ roles, since you might not understand them as well as you think you do. Sit down with your staffers to set goals together that you can work toward. “The best way to refocus their attention is put a deadline in front of them,” says Ruettimann. Together, brainstorm a list of specific things that need to be accomplished in the next 30 days and have check-ins throughout that 30-day period. You might find that you learn more about this staffer’s role than you would have otherwise and that your employee will rise to the challenge. Says Ruettimann: “If you hold them to performance standards, work can actually be a good distraction from what else is going on in their lives.”
Amy S. Choi is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Women’s Wear Daily and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. She is currently working on a book about her travels through the developing world