October 03, 2019 | 5 min read
Disengaged Employee? 5 Reasons Why (And How To Fix It)


As a manager, you’ll see ebbs and flows in your employees’ behavior. Some days are more motivating than others, and everyone will have an off day here and there.  However, when a day turns into a week or a month of sub-par effort, you may be dealing with a disengaged employee.

When someone is disengaged in their work over a long-term period, this should be a red flag to managers. Not only are you losing valuable productivity, but there are a host of other consequences to such behavior. This employee may be dissatisfied with their work and looking for other opportunities, leading to high costs associated with turnover. Plus, their sour attitude could affect the morale and productivity of the rest of your team. When you’re facing a culture crisis and the costs involved with potentially losing this employee, it’s time to step in and investigate.

While winning back a disengaged employee is a challenging task, all hope is not lost. While they’re clearly dissatisfied with something, you can still work to rectify the situation and re-engage them. There may be one of several issues going on, and it’s your job to speak openly with your employee to figure it out. Here are the problems you should be looking forand how to fix them:

They’re not playing to their strengths

As a manager, it’s not only your responsibility to meet company and department goals, but to understand the strengths and weaknesses in each team member. When you fully understand your staff, you can strategically assign tasks, allowing each team member to contribute effectively. But, when an employee is only given tasks where they struggle, their morale sinks lower and lower as they continue to fail, and they will become disengaged in their work quickly.

To fix it: Speak candidly with your employee about what they like and dislike about their role. When you learn what irritates them and what really lights them up, you can make small adjustments to give them more tasks aligned with their interests, ensuring that they really like some aspects of their job.

Read Also: Managers: 5 Ways To Provide Growth Opportunities For Your Staff

They’re lacking clear goals and benchmarks for success

As employees continue to come to work week after week, it’s important that they’re not left in the dark when it comes to the results of their work. Oftentimes, employees don’t understand whether they’ve met their goals or not—and sometimes they don’t see any results at all. This can be especially frustrating given all the time and resources they have invested in their job.

To fix it: Ensure that you’re clearly communicating with your team about their performance. When you share goals up front, as well as progress along the way and successes and failures at the end of a project, you’ll know that your employees will understand what is expected of them.

They’re lacking value and purpose

You might hear in the movies about “corporate, soul-sucking jobs,” and while that is a bit dramatic for most workplaces, it holds some truth. When people spend 40+ hours a week at work, they want to know that it made someone’s life better or made a positive impact somewhere. If they’re only given tasks with no end result in sight, or only hear negative stories about the company, they’ll quickly disengage and start looking for a workplace with a better reputation.

To fix it: At a department level, it’s important to communicate team wins that have made a positive impact, just as described above. However, value and purpose often go beyond that, to a company-wide level. Executive leadership must address systemic reputational and cultural issues to rectify this situation. Not only does that mean positive statements, but it also means taking culture seriously and engaging in positive actions and reinforcement.

Read Also: 5 Ways Leaders Can Shape Organizational Culture

They’re having a personal issue

Sometimes, work isn’t actually the problem, and your employee is having a hard time outside of the office. While you may think that this is not your problem, it’s important to have empathy for your staff and try to understand what’s going on. When you fail to handle these situations properly, your employee may hold it against you later.

To fix it: While you can’t “fix” this one per se, you can offer help. First, ensure that your employee knows that they can come to you with any problem. Ask them to walk you through what’s going on, and see what they need from their work in order to make it through this difficult time. They may need some more flexibility or a lighter workload in the short-term, and over time, you can check in with them to ensure they’re getting the support they need and are getting back on track with their work. 

You’re lacking transparency

You may notice that the solution to all of these common issues is that it is up to the manager to clearly communicate with their staff. As it turns out, lack of communication and transparency are the source of a lot of employee dissatisfaction. When a staff member is kept in the dark, they’re sure to build resentment. Plus, the more you lack transparency with them, the more likely they will avoid speaking up about their problems.

To fix it: It’s important to recognize that you don’t have to be friends with your employees in order to facilitate open communication with them. If you’re lacking transparency with your staff now, you have likely drawn some harsh boundaries, but you don’t have to break them down completely to fix these issues. In addition to openly communicating, ensure that you’re listening and showing empathy for your staff and what they’re feeling.

For more strategies to re-engage employees and offer a positive employee experience from beginning to end, read our latest eBook: The Employee Experience: Strategies For Each Stage Of The Employee Lifecycle

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