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7 Tips to Manage Disengaged Employees for Maximum Productivity

CoAdvantage- Workplace disengagement incurs a heavy price for employers, resulting in lost profitability and productivity – as much as $550 billion in yearly lost productivity for the U.S. economy.

Worse, disengagement is dismayingly common. According to Gallup, which has been tracking engagement levels in the U.S. workforce for decades, only 34% of U.S. workers are actually engaged with their work.

Functionally speaking, disengaged employees are disconnected from the roles they occupy and tend to be in “workplace survival mode.” They have no particular attachment to their work or its outcomes, don’t feel their work is meaningful or satisfying, and are mostly just in it for the paycheck. They do the bare minimum and, along the way, incur huge opportunity costs because they never go above and beyond.

And since they’re so common, virtually every employer must figure out how to handle them. Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Address underperformance and sub-optimal productivity, or you will risk it getting worse.

1: Identify the underlying cause. Disengagement can be but isn’t always a personality trait. Often, there’s a proximate cause: they’re bored, there’s been a miscommunication, they don’t have the right skills for their role, they’ve overwhelmed, they’re dealing with personal issues, there’s friction between them and their supervisors. Don’t assume their disengagement is permanent or unchangeable.

2: Search for solutions collaboratively. Most employees want to be good at what they do. Don’t just give your disengaged workers flat warnings to “do better.” Make them active participants in a problem-solution process. Solicit and incorporate their feedback and suggestions into performance improvement plans.

3: Focus on extrinsic incentives. A group focused on their paycheck is more likely to respond to external rewards than to find intrinsic motivation. Ultimately, managers may need to find some balance of a carrot-and-stick approach, a mixture of rewards and consequences.

4: Conduct a fit test. Poor performance or disengagement can sometimes be the result of a poor fit with the role. The Harvard Business Review recommends evaluating workers for fit as well as for performance. Moving them into a new role that’s a better fit could see their engagement – and performance – improve.

5: Be both straightforward and upbeat. Don’t sugarcoat honest feedback, but don’t destroy their morale either. Evaluations and conversations about performance should always recognize both existing strengths and areas for improvement. Indeed, help these employees understand how they might use their strengths as a foundation to overcome any issues.

6: Just let them go. If you’ve given a disengaged worker every reasonable chance, provided them with the support and collaborative problem-solving needed to improve, and they still fall short of baseline requirements and/or are having a de-motivating influence on employees around them, termination may be the only option left.

7: Bolster your pipeline/recruitment process. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make sure your recruitment and hiring process considers job fit and does a good job of reaching high quality workers. For example, if managers or business owners handle recruitment themselves but find it overwhelming or distracting, a PEO, recruitment specialist or vendor can help immeasurably with this step.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.