Disengaged at Work? 1 Sure Sign Bosses Should Look For

In my work, I talk to a lot of managers and supervisors who are, let’s say, a bit frustrated that they have employees who are disengaged at work. Employees just aren’t doing what is expected of them or what is asked of them. And managers and supervisors don’t know why. Employees become disengaged at work for many reasons. And their disengagement shows up in a lot of different behaviors. Let’s deal with one sure sign of disengaged behavior you, as a boss, should look for and talk about what you can do to help your employee re-engage. 

Disengaged at Work? Here’s Why.

I hear things like, “Why would someone be so disengaged at work?” “They should take their job more seriously.” “I wish they would just do what I ask or even tell them to do.” “Why do they continue to be disengaged at work?”

To understand why an employee might be disengaged at work, I tell managers and supervisors they must understand what the employee’s needs are.

Different people have different needs depending upon what they’re doing at work. Some people work for the money, just for the paycheck. Others work for the challenge. Others work for the relationships, and others work for the opportunity to grow and progress.

You just never know what their needs are unless, of course, you pursue those needs or you try to work to find out what those needs are. But you can bet that if someone is disengaged at work, they have a need that is not being satisfied.

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Sure Signs an Employee is Disengaged at Work

Now, there’s a number of things that happen when a need is not being satisfied but I’m only going to deal with one here. When an employee is disengaged in work, they most often will do one of two things.

  1. They either quit and leave or…
  2. They quit and stay.

If they quit and leave, that’s what I call physical withdrawal. They quit and leave. They take their ball and go home. They’ve had all the fun that they can stand working with you or your company. They’ve decided they can better fill their needs somewhere else. They quit, they leave.

But what about when a disengaged employee quits and stays? Oh, they’re still physically there, but they’re not thinking, their commitment level is not there. They’re not engaged in the process of trying to get better and help the organization get better. They just quit and stay. Some people call it retiring on the clock.

If you need in-depth training to help your managers re-engage employees, I can help. Let’s talk now.

That’s the challenge that most of us as managers and leaders have — not letting a circumstance or situation get to the point that a disengaged employee will quit and stay.

If they quit and leave, maybe we’ll be able to find someone that can fill that position. Maybe someone even better than the person that left it. But if they quit and stay, we don’t have that luxury any longer.

3 Questions to Re-engage an Employee Disengaged at Work

So how do you figure out what your employee’s need is? Well, there is the obvious way — you ask them what their needs are. There is the worst way — you ask everyone except the employee! And there is the best way — you observe the employee — engage with the employee — get to know the employee as a person, rather than just a resource to get work done.

Here are three questions that will help you re-engage a disengaged employee. Side note, I always tell people to plan, communicate, execute. Plan, communicate, execute. Plan what you want to talk to your employees about. Communicate with them, and then actually encourage them to follow up on the things that you’re planning.

Now, here are the three questions.

  1. What is the biggest frustration you’re experiencing right now? In other words, you plan a meeting, sit down with this disengaged employee, and you ask that question: “What is the biggest frustration you’re experiencing at work right now?” Don’t go in with preconceived ideas. You may find that they’ll say, “It’s not a problem at work at all. I’m having a problem at home or I’m having some other issue.” But if they do have a problem at work, you certainly want them to tell you.
  2. Now, the second question is an interesting question. “So how is that making you feel?” Not what’s happening as a result. “How is it making you feel?” Before someone can deal with the logical, rational solution to a problem, they have to deal with the emotions that the problem is causing. Give them an opportunity to vent.
  3. And then here’s the third question. “So what can I do right now to help you with that?” They may say, “Well, you could help me do this or this. You can call someone or you can give me this information.” They may do that. But the chances are probably better that they will say something like this. “Well, you’re already helping me out by just listening and letting me talk through. There’s really not a lot you can do. This is my challenge. But I certainly appreciate the time that you’ve taken to give me an ear and possibly a minute of consideration.”

Understand that disengaged employees don’t necessarily want to be disengaged. But if they think they have an ally in you, it makes the process a whole lot better. Do everything that you can to figure out why your employee has disengaged at work and I’ll bet you’ll find that there’s some need that’s not being satisfied. Once the need is identified, your job gets easier.

You may not be able to resolve the employee’s need in every case. But taking the time to engage your employee, showing concern for the employee’s interests and valuing them as an integral part of the team will pave the way for re-engaging your employee!

For more thoughts on how to determine an employee’s needs — read this.

#disengagedatwork #quitandstay #quitandleave #retiringontheclock #reengagingemployees #employeeengagement



Phillip Van Hooser
Author: Phillip Van Hooser
Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on leadership, service and communication. His popular book, “Willie's Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty” recently hit #1 in Customer Relations on the Kindle store. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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