Disengagement is contagious and costly, and it’s your responsibility as a manager or HR professional to deal with this contagion before it spreads throughout your workplace. Overall, 16 percent of employees are actively disengaged, according to Gallup, but even one disengaged employee is one too many.
You can spot an actively disengaged worker as someone who disrupts projects by dropping the ball, overburdens co-workers who have to complete undone tasks, and ruins team cohesiveness by undercutting the mission and goals that motivate their colleagues. Disengaged workers may also work at odds with company norms – consistently breaking rules, like coming in late or leaving early, and generally being uninvolved in the office culture.
When you have actively disengaged employees in your fold, your other team members, who may have their own outside stresses and yet work hard to play by the rules, may feel resentful. And — watch out for this — the person they might end up resenting could be you.
Handling Disengaged Workers Is a Key Part of HR’s Job
If you are an HR professional, then you are the one responsible for ensuring that everyone contributes to shared company success, and your staff relies on you to be paying attention. Here’s how to approach a disengaged worker and prevent the contagion of disengagement from spreading throughout your company.
Step One: Get Employee Feedback and Listen
You may be feeling disappointed and frustrated with an employee who’s not pulling their weight, but it’s important to keep those emotions in check. It’s rare that an employee shows up at work with a desire to be engaged – or to disengage others. It’s quite likely that there are factors you don’t know about that are at play in the situation, so spend some time together and consider your meeting a fact-finding mission.
When you meet with employees, it is essential that you take a supportive tone to encourage them to talk openly about their feelings. Ask them to share their concerns and priorities as well as any ideas they have about how their job could be improved. Gathering regular, more frequent employee feedback through anonymous engagement surveying is another very effective way to stay informed. Such technology allows employees to feel safe in being candid about their experience and needs.
Just be sure you are gathering feedback and measuring often – as engagement is exceptionally fluid and shifts frequently. Keeping your finger on the pulse of employee engagement requires a rich toolbox of strategies so use them all to gather this critical information that will inform your engagement action.
Step Two: Address Immediate Issues
Regardless of how you gather your engagement data, be sure to respond to actionable engagement issues right away. This is the equivalent of stopping the spread of harmful contagion before it gets out of hand. There are feedback tools out there to help make this task easier, such as advanced technology that can deliver bite-sized, personalized actions for both employees and managers.
Author and engagement specialist Tim Eisenhauer states, “When an employee begins to experience problems with engagement, it’s essential to step in as quickly as possible so that things don’t progress further.”
The action you take will depend on the feedback you receive but here are some examples of ways you might tackle engagement challenges:
- Frequently Monitor Engagement
How often do you monitor employee engagement? If your answer is once to twice per year, that is simply not enough. Engagement levels are always changing and you must track it frequently in order to make a true impact. How can you accomplish this? Try pulse surveys. Pulse surveys are meant to be short and include a list of key questions that can be sent out regularly on a quarterly or even monthly basis. By frequently monitoring engagement, you can be immediately alerted of any dips in engagement and take action right away.
- Personalize Your Actions
As soon as you detect any sign of disengagement, make sure to address employee needs (whether it be recognition, rewards, feedback, ) with personalized action. For example, if an employee reports a dip on engagement around recognition, consider spotlighting the person in the next team meeting, recognizing them on your company-wide recognition platform, or having a personal one-on-one meeting to go over their accomplishments. Every employee is unique, with a different set of needs at different moments of time, so avoid using a one-size-fits-all model – you have to make your action personal.
- Focus on Management Development
The number one reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. It is vital for management to develop trusting relationships with their employees. Research shows that when employees trust their managers, it affects engagement. Make sure managers are providing ongoing support and communication to their employees. By improving the way managers interact and work with their team, you are one step closer to improving engagement.
- Use a Strength-Based Approach
Take a strength-based management approach and start leveraging your employees’ strengths. Offering learning and development opportunities to help employees build upon their unique strengths is a great way to help them develop as professionals. After all, 87 percent of millennials said development is important in a job and 40 percent of employees who receive poor training and limited opportunities for development leave their job within five years.
- Identify Core Values
Have you ever measured the core values of your employees? Use a strength-based approach to identify which values matter most to each employee, as individuals. Once you determine which values are most core and remain constant to your employees, you can incorporate those values into your engagement Through a strength-based approach that leverages core values, you can better drive desired behavior and engage employees.
- Be Attentive
Make sure your employees feel heard and give them the attention and support they deserve. Encourage employees to participate in meetings and share their opinions. Always be receptive to their input and try to see their point of view. For example, if an employee needs more role definition and clarity, take the time to help them review their work priorities. Giving this type of undivided attention allows for engagement to occur on a very personal level.
- Encourage Time Off
Did you know 65 percent of employees didn’t use all of their Paid Time Off (PTO) last year? Research has shown that disconnecting from work affects performance . When employees get a break from work, they are more productive and engaged the following Avoid employee burnout by encouraging employees to take time off so they can recharge their batteries.
Once you have addressed the immediate needs of your actively disengaged employees, it’s important to help establish or reinforce a strong and healthy company culture that supports and encourages your staff to feel engaged in their work. There are many avenues to creating a culture that drives engagement , but here are two powerful steps to get you started on the right path:
- Institute employee recognition and rewards
When you let employees know that you notice and appreciate their efforts, they become even more engaged in what they’re doing; it’s just a fact of human nature. Remember: “Employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year,” according to Gallup. Your staff’s teamwork will also improve when co-workers are encouraged to recognize and compliment each other’s efforts. Recognition is an engagement win-win.
- Align employees with your company’s vision
HR expert Andre Lavoie writes in Entrepreneur that employee alignment with the company goals and vision is one of the most basic elements of engagement. He cites a 2016 Gallup poll that found “only 40 percent of millennial employees surveyed felt strongly connected to their company’s mission.” Lavoie goes on to comment that “this disconnect is sure to cause a lack of direction and create listless employees disengaged from their work.” Evaluating the extent to which your people feel aligned with, and empowered around, your company’s vision will guide you towards actions you can take to enhance that experience of impact – a key engagement driver.
Strengthening employee engagement in your company is a high-value investment in your organization’s performance and you can take concrete steps to achieve success. If you’re interested in learning more about the relationship between disengagement and business performance, take a look at our white paper, “Is HR a Cost Center? The True Cost of Employee Disengagement” and to see how one company went from below its benchmark to Best-in-Class in employee engagement related to recognition, download Achievers’ case study on Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.
Disengagement is a risk factor that threatens organizational health and performance but can be addressed through feedback, insight and a commitment to prioritizing employee engagement on your company’s strategic agenda.
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About Dr. Natalie Baumgartner