The Disengaged Employee


Try as you might, this is the employee that you can’t seem to motivate. She doesn’t participant in company events or contests. She doesn’t embrace teambuilding efforts, and doesn’t sign up for any committees or advisory boards. She’s not necessarily a disruptive employee, she’s just not engaged.

For the disengaged employee, a job is just a job. She works to make a living – or to practice an occupation she enjoys – but she has no interest in being part of a larger picture. Some disengaged employees can come across as cynical, and some are just aloof. Both, however, can have a negative impact on the performance of a team.

The most common, and unfortunately most counterproductive, way that managers address this is to just ignore it. “Oh, that’s just Jane being Jane,” the manager will say, “she doesn’t get involved in anything.” The message we send with this approach, of course, is that we don’t care if an employee is engaged. Definitely not a message we want to send to our teams!

Assuming that your disengaged employee is an otherwise good employee, your best strategy is to speak with her about it. Begin by asking her why she doesn’t participate in things. Listen carefully to her answer, and let her know you respect her reasons. Then gently but firmly let her know that, for the benefit of the team, you need her to get more involved. To do this, use a good stuff – bad stuff – good stuff sandwich. For example, you might say something like:

“Jane, I respect what you’ve told me. You’re a valuable member of the team. Now, as part of the team, I do need to ask you to make an effort to get more involved. It’s important to all of us. You’re good at what you do, and this will be a tremendous help. Will you try?”

Often the disengaged employee doesn’t realize how important it is to everyone else that she participates as part of the team. But once you’ve explained it to her, she will usually make an effort.

On a final note, if you have an employee who is both disengaged and unproductive or disruptive, you have a doubly difficult challenge on your hands, and it’s even more important that you deal with it. In this case you need to consider looking at more corrective strategies.

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