You hardly talk to each other anymore. You’re spending more and more time apart, and when he is with you, his heart just doesn’t seem to be in it. He’s being secretive, wearing nicer clothes, and you’re noticing an increased number of unexplained absences.
Finally, he sits you down and says it: He’s leaving you … for another employer.
Employee disengagement is much like the dissolution of a marriage: The earlier you can address any issues, the better the odds of working things out. But it’s much harder to rekindle the relationship when the other person already has one foot out the door.
Read our complete guide to employee engagement and reap the benefits of a happier, more motivated team.
And just as divorce can be contagious, so can employee disengagement. Employers who brush off a disengaged employee as “one bad apple” can easily be caught off guard by how insidiously disengagement can spread throughout the entire workforce.
If early detection is the key, then HR leaders need to know the warning signs of an employee who is becoming disengaged.
They Don’t Mesh with Their Manager
“People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers,” as the saying goes. And while that’s not always true (only 19% of people in more senior roles quit because of a manager), employees who rate their supervisor’s performance as poor are four times as likely to be job hunting.
Even if the employee doesn’t leave, having a manager they can’t stand is a major trigger for disengagement. And the relationship doesn’t even have to be particularly acrimonious. Perhaps the employee and the manager simply have very different communication styles and always seem to be misunderstanding each other – that alone can be enough to result in a frustration from both parties, which can spiral into an increasingly negative and unproductive situation.
How to Turn It Around
Managers should make a point of discovering the work and communication styles of all their employees (and themselves), to foster better trust and communication. One employee may do best when communications are limited to brief, point-form emails, so they have everything in writing. Another may prefer a chatty face-to-face meeting so they can hash out all the details before getting on with their day.
And if there is simply too strong of a personality clash between a manager and an employee, consider whether there may be opportunities for the employee in another department with a manager who would be a better fit.
They’re Missing the Mark
If a formerly great employee is starting to miss deadlines, turn in subpar work, and basically doing the bare minimum (if that), be on alert, especially if they keep offering flimsy excuses or are brushing off your concerns. An employee who is disengaged is one who has a very hard time mustering up any motivation or enthusiasm for their tasks, so they’ll procrastinate and cut corners—anything to spend as little time as possible actually dealing with the work that they’ve grown to dread.
How to Turn it Around
Ask them. It sounds simple, but simply talking to your employee, saying that you’ve noticed that they’ve lost enthusiasm for their work, and asking what would spark their motivation and interest can open up a dialogue that may save the relationship. It may be that the employee is experiencing difficult emotional issues and needs extra support. Or they may have been doing the same tasks for years and are bored—why not ask them what kinds of projects they’ve always wanted to tackle and see if you can shift some tasks around to give them the time and space to try something new and exciting?
They’re Just Plain … Missing
Not that employees should come into work when they’re not feeling well, but a disengaged employee is one who will gladly seize upon any excuse to call in sick. And it may not always be an excuse—the high level of stress caused by being disengaged at work can easily lead to panic attacks, chest pain, headaches, digestive issues, and other physical manifestations of burnout. This can turn into a vicious cycle: The employee misses work, falls behind on their tasks, which leads to even more stress, which leads to more physical issues. In addition, it creates a real risk of spreading disengagement across the organization, as other employees deal with the fallout from these increased absences.
How to Turn it Around
Focusing on emotional wellness within your organization can go a long way toward helping employees develop better coping and stress management skills. Tools like implementing mindfulness into your wellness program and providing emotional support resources like an EAP or coaching can all go a long way toward helping employees pull out of their negative spiral and rediscover their motivation.
When an employee is on a hard trajectory toward disengagement, it’s not always easy to turn things around. Nor is it impossible. With thoughtfulness, creativity, and openness, you can help bring your disengaged employee back into the fold and end up with a workplace culture that’s even better than it was before.