Reigniting the spark in a disengaged workforce…

Posted by Roxanne Chugg

I doubt that there would be a Senior Leader who isn’t dealing with disengaged employees in some way shape or form.  Whether it happens over a period of time or all of a sudden, watching your employees stop enjoying their job and work can be really challenging.

We talk a lot about engagement and how important it is to business key result areas such as innovation and output, but not everyone buys into it. The average employee spends about 15 hours per month complaining about their work – that adds up to almost a month’s worth of days spent grumbling and stewing at the expense of more productive activities. Gallup puts the cost of a disengaged workforce at $25 million per year for a company of 250 employees - http://screenwerk.com/2013/06/25/gallup-70-of-workforce-not-engaged-costs-billions-in-lost-productivity/

It can prove to be really difficult to analyse why this is happening and turn a disengaged employee around; however investing the time and energy helps you harness the power of your people and learn how to keep everyone on track.  If you have a disengaged employee, here are three tips on how to start the conversation.

1. Work to understand what you are dealing with

Disengagement is an symptom of variety of issues, such as poor leadership, workload, boredom, lack of team unity, stress and conflict.  Indicators of disengagement can present themselves in a variety of ways. For example, a high performing employee might seem distracted and lack focus at work, lacks initiative or simply stops asking questions or making improvements to their work. Each employee is different, which means managers need to pay attention to every individual’s working style to notice when things change – and more importantly why.  As a leader you cannot treat everyone equally, you need to find out what makes your employees tick and what leadership style to apply in different situations.

2. We have two ears and one mouth; listen more than we speak

Once you’ve noticed an employee is disengaged from their work, proactively have a conversation with them about what’s behind the change in their behaviour. The best leaders and managers listen more than they speak.  Ask open ended questions to learn what motivates them and what triggered the loss of interest. For example, rather than asking “are you enjoying your work” you could ask, “How meaningful are you finding your work?” or “how much are you enjoying your work at the moment?” and “what else would you like to be doing and learning in your role?”  This should lead into a conversation that can help you identify the issues and put strategies in place to improve the employee’s engagement.

3. See engagement as a moving target

Once you and the employee have come up with some ways to re-engage them in their work, follow through and follow up; regularly and often! The old saying that “actions speak louder than words” rings true here. Chances are a disengaged employee is symptomatic of larger problems within the organisation, so take this chance to learn more about the pain-points within your organisation and develop ways to rectify the issues and sustain the enhancements you make. Effective managers remain curious about their employees and connected to them in a variety of ways. Simply asking an employee how you can help and allowing them to see that you are interested goes a long way towards building trust and momentum. 

No one loves their job all day, every day; it’s normal for engagement levels to fluctuate. What’s not okay though is when a bad day turns into something long term that is misaligned with your organisational values and desired behaviours and therefore impacts on the culture of your organisation.