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How To Deal With a Disengaged Employee

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Did you know that 68% of today’s employ­ees are dis­en­gaged?

Employ­ee engage­ment isn’t an easy process. Super­vi­sors often believe that the key to han­dling a dis­en­gaged employ­ee is sim­ply adding anoth­er ping pong table, hap­py hour event or new perk.

These small things might help a lit­tle, but they don’t paint a com­plete engage­ment pic­ture. Gen­uine engage­ment is some­thing com­pa­nies have to approach holis­ti­cal­ly and individually.

The real­i­ty is that to cre­ate a tru­ly engaged employ­ee, com­pa­nies have to think about the indi­vid­ual beyond the con­text of engage­ment: They have to think about the total­i­ty of their well-being.

The Undercurrent of Engagement Is Well-Being

The rapid shift to remote work and the unprece­dent­ed string of events in 2020 led to some­thing Gallup called the well­be­ing-engage­ment para­dox. Gen­er­al­ly, high work engage­ment cor­re­lates with greater well-being.

How­ev­er, that wasn’t the case in 2020, and it’s not the case in the (almost) post-pan­dem­ic, remote world.

Reports of employ­ee engage­ment hit a record high in May 2020. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, well-being met­rics dropped, with employ­ees report­ing high­er lev­els of stress, burnout and wor­ry. Men­tal health issues also hit a high. While much of these increas­es cor­re­late to iso­la­tion, pan­dem­ic fears and polit­i­cal ten­sions, there’s some­thing impor­tant to take away here.

Even as some com­pa­nies are tran­si­tion­ing back to the office, many employ­ees are still reel­ing from the effects of 2020. They’re more stressed out and near­ing burnout, and it’s clear that there’s a long road to recov­ery and stability.

So, what are the best ways to sup­port employ­ee well-being and help an active­ly dis­en­gaged employee?

Re-Engaging With a Disengaged Employee

1. Learn How to Detect a Disengaged Employee

Before a super­vi­sor can help a dis­en­gaged employ­ee, they have to know how to spot them. The def­i­n­i­tion of employ­ee dis­en­gage­ment is hard to pin down. In the sim­plest terms, a dis­en­gaged employ­ee doesn’t enjoy their work and only puts in the bare minimum.

Some signs include low ener­gy, absen­teeism and a lack of enthu­si­asm. If employ­ees are seri­ous­ly dis­en­gaged, they can bring down team morale and cause more sig­nif­i­cant disruptions.

Super­vi­sors chalk these traits up to a per­son being a lousy employ­ee when often it’s a prob­lem with engage­ment — a fix­able issue. That’s why it’s so cru­cial to be able to detect dis­en­gage­ment for what it is.

2. Check the Common Causes

A dis­en­gaged employ­ee is often a sig­nal that some­thing with­in an orga­ni­za­tion isn’t work­ing. This is espe­cial­ly true if employ­ee dis­en­gage­ment is a com­pa­ny-wide issue.

Some com­mon caus­es of dis­en­gage­ment include:

  • Micro­man­age­ment and a lack of autonomy
  • Burnout and overwork
  • Lack of acknowl­edg­ment from team mem­bers or supervisors
  • Lack of career growth
  • Feel­ing unheard and unsup­port­ed by supervisors
  • Not being chal­lenged enough
  • Poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion and unclear expectations

Super­vi­sors should eval­u­ate their cul­ture and see if it includes any of the com­mon caus­es of dis­en­gage­ment. If so, work­ing to fix those issues could do won­ders for com­pa­ny cul­ture and can help dis­en­gaged employ­ees thrive.

3. Get to the Root of the Disengagement

To under­stand dis­en­gage­ment, com­pa­nies have to get to the root of what’s caus­ing it in the first place. How­ev­er, sim­ply ask­ing a dis­en­gaged employ­ee why they’re dis­en­gaged isn’t going to cut it. Super­vi­sors have to build trust with a dis­en­gaged employ­ee before they feel com­fort­able open­ing up about their work issues.

To build that trust, super­vi­sors should make it a habit to ask the dis­en­gaged employ­ee about their career and life goals. They should work to acknowl­edge their accom­plish­ments and lis­ten when the employ­ees speak up.

It’s crit­i­cal to rec­og­nize that the root of dis­en­gage­ment isn’t always root­ed in work issues. Some­times it’s about that person’s indi­vid­ual cir­cum­stances and stres­sors out­side the build­ing, which is why holis­tic well-being is so essential.

4. Lead With Empathy and Consider the Full Well-Being Picture

A person’s life out­side of work will irrev­o­ca­bly impact their atti­tude and moti­va­tion at work. For instance, a sin­gle par­ent strug­gling to take care of two chil­dren and their ail­ing par­ents might find it hard to stay focused at work.

A sin­gle per­son who was iso­lat­ed dur­ing the pan­dem­ic might be expe­ri­enc­ing an uptick in men­tal health issues right now. In fact, 51% of work­ers have report­ed an increase in men­tal health issues since the begin­ning of the pandemic.

Super­vi­sors should work to get to know their employ­ees per­son­al­ly. This makes under­stand­ing their needs inside and out­side of work much eas­i­er. When employ­ers know a person’s needs and wants, they can help them achieve their goals and cre­ate more ful­fill­ing and engag­ing work lives.

5. Burn Out the Burnout

Burnout and stress rates are high, and they’re only pro­ject­ed to get even high­er. That’s why it’s impor­tant to look for signs of burnout in employ­ees and offer solu­tions. Com­pa­nies should move away from a cul­ture that pri­or­i­tizes the ​“hus­tle hard­er” mind­set and into one that prais­es ​“self-care.”

Super­vi­sors should con­sid­er offer­ing more PTO and enforc­ing breaks and manda­to­ry ​“no-email hours.” Addi­tion­al­ly, super­vi­sors should work to engage with employ­ees with­out push­ing them too hard. This is espe­cial­ly true for new-to-remote employ­ees who tend to suf­fer from overwork.

Ulti­mate­ly, the goal is to set man­age­able work­loads and rea­son­able expec­ta­tions. Then, learn to rec­og­nize when some­one is near­ing burnout and help them nav­i­gate away from the edge.

6. Provide Adequate, Individualized Support and Benefits

The pan­dem­ic has had dis­parate effects on indi­vid­u­als. Front­line work­ers might be expe­ri­enc­ing peak burnout and steep finan­cial hard­ships. Employ­ees from var­i­ous eth­nic back­grounds might be fac­ing inten­si­fied equi­ty, diver­si­ty and inclu­sion con­cerns. Sin­gle par­ents might be over­whelmed with the new remote work norm.

Ulti­mate­ly, employ­ees need employ­ers who will meet them where they are now and pro­vide them the ben­e­fits and sup­port they need today. To retain employ­ees and keep them engaged, com­pa­nies have to offer ben­e­fits that help make life’s strug­gles more manageable.

It’s about improv­ing well-being and increas­ing engage­ment by look­ing at the per­son holis­ti­cal­ly and pro­vid­ing a means of enhanc­ing their well-being.

An indi­vid­u­al­ized lifestyle ben­e­fits plat­form like Fringe is the per­fect solu­tion. Com­pa­nies can pro­vide their entire team with indi­vid­u­al­ized ben­e­fits, so employ­ees get the ben­e­fits they need right now.

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