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How to Deal with Disengaged Employees

Employee engagement is a complicated piece of the people management puzzle because there is no “one and done” solution and pizza Fridays just don’t go far enough to make a real impact.

Before we dive into dealing with disengaged employees, we need to look at what has caused them to feel this way.

Most employees will tell you they’re not paid enough to do the job they do and, while this may be true in some cases, the majority of the time what they mean is that they don’t feel appreciated.

They don’t feel connected to a greater purpose.

They don’t see the point in turning up every day.

The answer does not lie in a pay increase.

Because the truth is, you could pay someone £1m a year, but if they don’t enjoy their work, don’t feel appreciated and don’t feel connected to a purpose, they will still feel disengaged.

Not only that, but a pay increase gives a short lived dopamine hit. It’s like when you get an Amazon package delivered. You initially think, “ooh, my order has arrived!” you rip open the packaging to look at the new thing you have ordered. Then you set it down on the table and carry on with your day.

I’m not saying never give pay increases, but rather, think about why you are giving an increase and make sure it’s for the right reasons.

So when an employee tells us they aren’t happy or are feeling like they want to leave, we have to look deeper than their exit interview questions.

We have to read between the lines to find the specific problem that has caused that individual to want to up sticks. Most employees will tell you they are leaving for more money or better opportunities which means that:

  • You have not made them feel valued in their role

  • You have failed to support their development.

And unfortunately, once someone has taken the decision to look for another job, you have already lost them. You have already pushed them to the point of no return.

So the first step preventing employees from getting to the point of looking for another job is to look at how you can make them feel valued, appreciated and important.

Are you starting to see why pizza Fridays don’t cut the mustard?

Pizza Fridays (I’m using this as an example, not to diss a good pizza) and other ad-hoc, low investment initiatives applied company wide does not tell an individual, “hey, thank you for the work you do. You’re important.”

It says, “We couldn’t be bothered to think outside the box”.

And when you pair that up with the fact that the under performing employees get pizza too, it really undermines the message you are trying to send.

Employee engagement is about creating a feeling for people; feelings drive actions. The way a person feels about their manager, their workplace and their colleagues will influence their performance and, crucially, how long they stay at your company.

I can hear all the employers out there saying “but we can’t afford to do much else?

How are we supposed to engage staff on a small budget?” Easy…improve the way you communicate.

❓When was the last time you thanked a member of staff for a good piece of work?

❓When was the last time you went out of your way to make someone feel important?

❓When was the last time you made time for a general chat with a member of your team?

Regular, general conversation is such an underrated tool in your leadership toolkit.

You will discover so much more about your team in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil than you will from their annual appraisal.

Simple things like asking about how Janet’s granddaughter’s sports day went or remembering the name of Dave’s dog or remembering how everyone takes their tea will all contribute to your staff feeling like they matter.

☕ When someone is having a bad day or seems to be feeling a bit flat, invite them to have a cuppa with you somewhere private when you can check in with them and offer support.

🏆 When someone succeeds, make a big fuss of their success with the whole team.

❌ When someone fails, help them learn from their mistake.

All of these little actions add up to impactful communication, helping your staff to feel important.

And when staff feel important, they perform better, stay longer, and become an asset to your business.

Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

So if you are finding that you’ve got a disengaged team member, take a look inwards. People often find it really hard to give negative feedback so they are unlikely to tell you what the real issue is (and that’s assuming they know themselves).

Have you done everything in your power to:

  • Make that person feel important and valued?

  • Support that person’s career development?

When you’ve reflected on where there might be some shortcomings on your part, then you can meet with the employee and see if they agree. Are those shortcomings the reason for them feeling disengaged and unhappy? What can you do to make them happier at work? There’s a theme appearing here - it’s all about having conversations.

No frills, no expensive tech platforms and not a pizza in sight. Just a good old fashioned chit chat.

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