When it’s your first day, or even first month on the job everything seems bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The fresh environment is exciting, the work is new and different, coworkers are welcoming, and managers are supportive. After that honeymoon phase, the silver lining starts to dull, friction sets in, and disengagement blooms.

What is engagement and why does it matter? 

Engagement can be interpreted as a broad indicator of how motivated an employee is at work. According to global estimates, just 13% of people are truly focused, motivated, and engaged at work.

While 2020 represented unprecedented unemployment, chaos, and uncertainty – employee engagement increased. In fact, Gallup reported that in May 2020 the percentage of “engaged” workers reached 38%, the highest since tracking this metric. Why? Because suddenly employees had a challenge, something new and different to solve, and companies were reinventing themselves again. Imagine what the market, your industry, or even your company could be if you had 100% or even 75% engagement. Engagement could truly change the entire trajectory of your business.

How to tell if your employees are disengaged 

Two words: apathy and indifference. These are the key indicators of disengagement. Sometimes employees can disengage for a short time while they are working through a personal problem, medical issue, divorce, etc. Other times, disengagement is a legitimate workplace issue. If disengagement is a personal issue, there’s usually little you can do. However, if the workplace is the problem – that is wonderful news because it means you can change it.

An Employee Problem vs. Engagement Problem 

It may sound harsh, but sometimes the problem isn’t engagement, it’s the employee themselves. Not all employees are a good fit and sometimes it’s easier to find someone who is more qualified to fill the role rather than to engage an inadequate employee. Here are a few indicators for you to tell whether you have an employee problem or an engagement problem.

An Employee Problem: 

If these indicators sound familiar, it may be time to cut the employee loose and find a better fit.

  • The employee can’t perform their required responsibilities.
  • The employee doesn’t have any future goals or ambitions.
  • There have been no recent changes in their work or personal life that may explain their disengagement.
  • The employee is constantly undercutting company norms, rules, or values.

An Engagement Problem: 

If these indicators sound familiar, it’s time to support your employee and re-energize the workplace.

  • The employee can admit they’re struggling and accepts your suggestions for help.
  • The employee hasn’t been challenged lately.
  • The employee has personal issues at home they are dealing with that bleeds into their ability to focus at work.

How To Make Disengaged Employees a Thing of the Past

1. Start Today 

Disengagement thrives over time, so as soon as you suspect something is amiss, it’s time to address the issue. Don’t use anger or defensiveness but skip the small talk. Stay calm and let them know you’re concerned about their behavior and you want to better understand the root cause. If you can uncover what is really going on, you can start finding a solution.

2. Try a Survey

Specifically, pulse surveys. A pulse survey is meant to be a short list of key questions sent out on a regular basis to get a “pulse” of the company. This survey may be sent out quarterly or even monthly and helps you track the overall feelings in the office. A pulse survey helps to identify problems early before they create detrimental problems.

3. Be an Active Listener

As you talk to your employee, make sure you are doing most of the listening as well. When appropriate, repeat their response back to them and share your interpretation to ensure they are being heard and you understand. Allow them to make a case for themselves and explain why they should be re-engaged. Ask plenty of questions and listen to their concern and ideas.

4. Create a Plan 

A conversation is a great start, but if it’s not backed up with action it’s only empty words. End the conversation with a plan, a to-do list, and a future goal or second meeting date.  Send them a summary of the meeting with the action plan included. This put commitments in writing and creates a paper trail of behavior if the employee’s job is in jeopardy in the future.

5. Recognize positive behavior

Employees who aren’t recognized are twice as likely to quit in the next year. Rather than focusing on the squeaky wheels, acknowledge strong performance and good behavior. Sometimes this can be a simple “thank you” or another simple type of employee recognition. It goes a long way in supporting engagement.

6. Don’t get emotional 

Truly disengaged employees aren’t going to be motivated by tears or emotion. Instead, keep things formal, concrete, and focus on the task, and don’t expect to win them over in one day.

7. Focus on what they value

In order to do this one, you must get to know your employees. You should know what matters to them, what is important in their life. If their beliefs and values don’t match the company’s values – you’ll always have a disconnect. On the other hand, if you can connect the organizational needs with each person’s unique motivations you will untap one of the main drivers of engagement.

8.Focus on management development

The number one reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or supervisor. It is vital for management to receive adequate training and development to lead their team to success. When employees trust their managers, it affects engagement exponentially. Poor managers make poor teams. Make sure managers are given ongoing support and development opportunities.

9. Encourage Time Off

Disengagement often comes from employee burnout. Your people need to recharge their batteries and get a break from work. Still, 65 percent of employees didn’t use all their Paid Time Off (PTO) last year? Research shows that when employees get a break from work, they are more productive and engaged when they return. Encourage employees to recharge their batteries and take time off.

In a competitive market, an engaged workforce is the most significant advantage your company has. On the other hand, disengagement threatens the health and performance of your company. Disengagement can be addressed and remedied through feedback, insight, and priorities. Investing in the energy, time, and resources it takes to increase engagement will provide an unmatched ROI in productivity, revenue, and growth.