You have an employee who just doesn’t like to contribute. When it comes time for the role-playing in a training session, he (she) steadfastly refuses to participate. When you organize team events, he rarely takes part. In meetings and group discussions you will often find him with arms folded and noticeably silent. Sometimes he appears judgmental, as though he is ‘above it all’. Sometimes he just looks uninterested and disengaged. Learning new things is definitely not his thing.
While it might appear at first glance that The Non-Participant is only hurting himself, nothing could be farther from the truth. His opt-out behavior can have profound and long-term consequences on the productivity and cohesiveness of your team. More importantly, if you don’t do anything about it, you will be perceived as accepting – perhaps even sanctioning – his inaction.
The first thing you have to do is try and find out why he seems so reluctant to participate. Many times people are shy, or afraid of failure, in which case they may need some extra words of positive encouragement from you. Your next step is to help him understand the impact his actions are having on the team – and on you. And finally, you have to communicate in no uncertain terms that participation in these things is not optional, and that there will be consequences in the future if he is not engaged.
It’s not an easy conversation to have, and you will inevitably have to overcome a number of “Yabuts” (eg: “Yabut, I hate role-playing”), but the conversation is essential to ensuring you maintain a positive and productive workplace.
[This is from the Archive Project – where we are attempting to get 10 years of Winning at Work on the web! Original publication date: 30 January, 2005]
Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience, employee engagement and workplace performance for 23 years