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Reengaging a Disengaged Employee

Disengaged EmployeeAn employee who has become disengaged in the workplace must be reengaged as soon as possible. To start, leaders must understand why the employee is disengaged. For example, has there been significant change in the workplace that has impacted the employee? Has the employee’s job role or responsibilities changed? Is new direct management impacting the engagement of the employee? Is something going on outside the workplace that is impacting the employee in the workplace?

Once leaders understand why an employee is disengaged, they can begin to develop a plan to reengage that employee in the workplace. Employees who are engaged:

  • Are more productive
  • Provide a higher level of customer service
  • Are more innovative
  • Collaborate more effectively
  • Are more effective at problem solving
  • Have less negative conflicts in the workplace
  • Share knowledge and best practices with others

Example of Reengaging a Disengaged Employee

Let’s look at an example of a leader working with an employee to reengage him in the workplace.

Over the last few weeks Lisa has noticed a difference in one of her employees, Andrew. Andrew used to be very engaged in the workplace, regularly offering to participate on initiatives, helping other employees solve problems, and generally having a positive attitude in the workplace. Lately, he has not shown up for department meetings, has told a few employees who asked for his assistance that he has no time for them and snapped at a number of co-workers (in one case the co-worker had simply said “good morning” to Andrew.) Lisa knows that a few employees in the group are frustrated because there are significant changes happening in the organization that is impacting the group. However, Andrew has always been a positive force when it comes to change, always seeing the opportunity in change. This time, however, Andrew has been talking negatively about the change. This change in how he is handling the change appears to be worrying his co-workers even more.

Lisa sees a visible difference in Andrew and how he is interacting with his co-workers. This is not the norm for Andrew and is beginning to have an impact on those around him.

Let’s continue with the story.

Lisa arranges for a one-on-one meeting with Andrew. The purpose of the meeting is to understand what is happening with Andrew that is causing a change in his usual behavior in the workplace. It is obvious he is disengaged and Lisa wants him to be reengaged. She decides to talk the meeting out of the office and invites Andrew to lunch to talk further.

During lunch Lisa mentions to Andrew that she feels there must be something wrong as his behavior has changed significantly in the workplace. She wants to help him, but also tells him she wants to be sensitive to the fact that he may not want to share. She lets him know that his behavior in the workplace has been concerning to her and noticeable to her co-workers. She comments that he has built strong working relationships throughout the group and the organization and is often seen as the “go to” person for his co-workers and others. She is concerned that he may impact the impression that co-workers have of him. She perceives, she tells him, that it is this particular change being undertaken in the organization that is impacting him and has caused this change; however, she would like to clarify that with him. However, she also adds, it is important that Andrew’s behavior change as the impact on himself, the team and the department is not acceptable.

Lisa’s approach enables Andrew to share as much or as little as he wants to about his current behavior. But she also makes it clear that she has expectations of behavior and that Andrew must meet those expectations.

Andrew acknowledges that he has been acting in a less than acceptable way and apologies for his behavior. While he doesn’t share many details, he does tell Lisa that there is much going on at home that he is carrying into the office. He realizes he shouldn’t be doing so, but is just a little frustrated at the moment. He is also concerned about the change that is going on in the organization and is worried about his future with the company. He feels that not enough information has been shared about the change initiative and he knows that many of his co-workers feel the same. Before Lisa can say anything, he also adds that he knows he could have come to Lisa with the concerns, but just didn’t do so. He had no excuse. He also acknowledges that he has treated his co-workers unfairly and offers to apologize to them and ensure that moving forward he doesn’t take out his personal frustrations on them. Lisa suggested that Andrew may want to reach out to Human Resources and in particular see if he might get some support, or at least someone to talk with, through the Employee Assistance Program. She also thanks him for his suggestion to apologize to his co-workers. She tells him she thinks this would be a nice outreach to them. Things happen, she tells him, and certainly his co-workers, with whom he has always had a strong relationship, would certainly understand.

Lisa doesn’t press for more details, it was not relevant. What she had wanted was for Andrew to acknowledge that his behavior was not acceptable and had to change. He did so. He also acknowledged and agreed to her expectations of him. Lisa commented to Andrew that she understood his concerns as well as the team’s concerns around the change initiative. She would address those concerns with the entire team. Together, Lisa and Andrew outlined an action plan to be sure that Andrew would meet expectations going forward.

Additionally, Lisa discussed the impact of the change on Andrew and his co-workers. His thoughts on the change enabled Lisa to prepare her conversation with the team as a whole.

Best Practices to Reengage Disengaged Employees

When leaders see that employees are becoming disengaged, it is essential to get them reengaged as quickly as possible. Take these steps:

  • Develop a plan for the conversation to have with the employee(s)
    • Set up the meeting
    • Find a quiet, comfortable place to meet with the employee(s)
      • Consider taking an employee out to lunch to talk, or, if multiple employees or the entire team – consider providing lunch in a meeting room
  • During the conversation with employee(s), be sure to:
    • LISTEN! to understand employees’ perspectives
    • Ensure understanding of the reason for disengagement
    • Be clear about the impact of being disengaged on the individual as well as the team
    • Determine, in collaboration with the team, what can be controlled (especially if the disengagement is related to something going on within the organization) and what cannot
    • Collaborate with the individual (or team) to determine how to reengage within the organization
      • Ensure an actionable plan is developed with timelines and “check in” points

Becoming disengaged within the workplace is not necessarily a major issue providing leadership recognizes the disengagement early on and works to get employees reengaged.