A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the cost of terminating employees for lack of engagement and why it might be worth your time to see if you can energize the folks you have instead. Some of you wrote me that the cost of having a non-worker just filling space is also expensive. I absolutely agree. The person who has quit-but-hangs-on is not only costly in terms of lost productivity, but has a tendency to bring down the morale of everybody around. In an effort to justify their own behavior, they also will try to recruit others to be as demoralized as they are.
I promised in the earlier post to give a suggestion for a path you might follow that will keep you from having to go down the "firing" path. For sure there is a time when parting ways is the best for everybody, but if it gets to that point, you should at least know that you've made as much of an effort as you can to get the person engaged. This is where my S.O.S. plan comes in:
1. Start from where they are. One of the first things you need to do in order to understand employee disengagement is to give serious consideration to what the job looks and feels like from your employee's perspective. This is a personal thing. Think about the person with whom you are struggling. How far is their commute? What kinds of outside pressures do they have? What is their history with you and with the company? What are their relations like with other employees? Really sit down and decide to be empathetic…trying your best to see what the situation at work looks like for them. In most cases, they are disengaged for very practical and rational reasons from their point of view. See if you can identify at least possible sources of dissatisfaction for the specific person.
2. Open your mind to other interpretations. What works for you may well not be working for them. What you see as an opportunity to be a part of an exciting project may look to them like one more task that they have to do without recognition. I had this experience once while managing a restaurant. I thought I was empowering employees by having them make selections related to a remodeling of the restaurant. They saw me as simply shirking my duties as a manager and forcing them to add more responsibility to their plates. While your interpretation of the situation may be accurate, it is also not the only valid interpretation possible.
3. Solicit their solutions. While the first two steps have to do with your own reflection, it is imperative that the disengaged employee be made part of solving the problem. I'm not suggesting that you should just simply give everybody every thing that they want. But if you have considered their point of view, and opened your mind to alternatives, you will be in a better place to hear what they have to say and help jointly solve the problem.
Of course, coming up with solutions is different than implementing them. You should also come up with an agreement between you and the employee as to what will be different going forward. This will usually include some change on your part and some change on theirs. This can also be a new beginning for turning an unproductive employee into a powerful one. If it doesn't work, then consider other options but don't wait forever to take action. The longer a disengaged employee remains despondent on your team, the more difficult it will be to take action later.