There are myriad reasons that employees may "check out" of their work. But regardless of the why they do it, managers must figure out how to support them. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Jessica Knight shares six expert-backed tips to re-engaging disengaged employees.
1. Collect evidence.
When you notice an employee start to become disengaged, start by collecting information about the situation, Allison Rimm, a consultant and author of Joy of Strategy: A Business Plan for Life, told Knight. For instance, identify how exactly the employee is falling short of expectations, how long his or her performance has been lagging, and what factors—personal or professional—may be behind the dip.
"Don't confront anyone about their behavior unless you have good evidence of how it's affecting others," Rimm said.
2. Educate yourself about resources.
According to Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit, you should always learn about your organization's resources for similar situations before reaching out to a disengaged employee. These resources could include employee assistance plans, training courses, and other HR resources.
"There ought to be some processes and mechanisms in place," Boyes said. "It shouldn't be up to an individual manager to deal with this ad hoc."
3. Be kind.
When you do sit down with a disengaged employee, be sure to listen and to empathize rather than judge or blame, Knight writes.
"Show up with genuine concern and interest for the other person as a human being," Rimm said. "Make it clear that you have a legitimate and sincere desire to support them through whatever it is that ails them."
4. Tailor your support.
Once you've spoken to your employee and you have a better understanding of why they may be struggling, collaborate with the employee to design an individualized solution—one that tackles the specific reasons for their lack of engagement, Knight writes.
For instance, if an employee is dealing with a stressful personal matter, such as divorce or a new child, work with the employee to identify what workplace support would be most helpful, such as condensed hours or remote work, Rimm said.
On the other hand, if an employee is burned out, reassess whether the employee's job requirements are sustainable, Boyes said. For example, Boyes explained, if an employee who typically went above and beyond their job requirements is now doing just the basics of the role, it may be time to reexamine your expectations or find a way to better acknowledge the employee's contributions.
5. Open up to the team—while maintaining confidentiality.
Once you've spoken with the employee in question, managers must also speak to the team overall—but, Rimm said, make sure you don't single anyone out.
For instance, Boyes advised managers to identify "what's most annoying [about the situation]—wasted time, missed deadlines, or grumpy attitudes"—and then address those issues on a broad scale by clarifying expectations and requirements. But "don't stigmatize" any one person, she added.
6. Be patient—for a while.
It may take time for a disengaged employee to regain their interest and motivation, Boyes said. Managers should be prepared to wait—while also understanding that some employees may not ever re-engage.
According to Boyes, if the potential solutions to the issue haven't resolved an employee's disengagement, it may indicate the role is not a good fit. If that's the case, Boyes recommended being straightforward about the organization's goals and the employee's performance, and—when possible—working together with the employee to help him or her find a new role or opportunity (Knight, Harvard Business Review, 3/5).