Foolproof HR Strategies to Win Back Disengaged Employees

The Disengagement Pandemic

If you've been noticing more disengaged employees, you are not alone. According to recent studies, only 36% of people are engaged at work. Even more, about 33% of them are ready to take on new challenges and 38% of them feel drained after virtual meetings.

Looks like two years of smiling on camera and asking if you're on mute have taken their toll. But if you're quick to judge the employees or even remote/ hybrid work itself, learn that it's not all unfixable. Remote work works -- it's just that not everyone has fully adapted to it (and that includes company leadership as well).

In this article, we will explore the disengagement pandemic that has swept over virtual offices everywhere -- as well as what HR strategies you could try to ward off employee disengagement and keep people from leaving.

Read on if you want to find out more.

Types of Disengaged Employees

Not all disengagement is created equal. To tackle the problem of employee disengagement and lack of initiative at work, you must first learn to recognize the different types of disengaged employees:


An engaged employee is productive, efficient, creative--and above all else, pleasant to work with. They have ideas, they are effective in delivering their work, and they inspire others to do so as well. They are the employees you dream of – the ones that will do everything to really pull their weight in the team and make your company culture better. 

Not Engaged

A person who is "not engaged" at work is neither engaged, nor completely disengaged. These are the people in limbo: they aren't disgruntled per se, but on their way to embracing more negativity. They won't influence others -- not positively, not negatively either. They simply exist: they clock in, do the bare minimum, and clock out.

Actively Disengaged

An actively disengaged employee is almost like a raging ball of negativity. They take it out both on their work and other people. You can identify them via a negative attitude, a lack of motivation to do better, and an unwillingness to improve.

They actively create trouble for the company as well as those who try to keep up with them. They take one too many snack or cigarette breaks, and they actively try to "recruit" others in disengagement as well. These are the people who will bring negativity to the workplace and generate an epidemic of dissatisfaction.

You don't tackle this kind of problem by letting the actively disengaged employees go, because it will simply validate their points in the eyes of others and generate even more dissatisfaction. As you will read later on in this article, the way to deal with active disengagement is quite different.

What Are the Signs of a Disengaged Employee?

Just like with any other epidemic, spotting the early signs of the problem will help you isolate and treat it accordingly. The symptoms of a disengaged employee include the following:

Productivity and Quality of Work is Low

A disengaged employee will often do the job, but they won't give their best to it. Their performance reviews aren't stellar, and their work product is a little lacking. They may have slipped into this way of being over time -- perhaps they were once engaged with the company but slowly became disengaged without realizing it.

Disengaged Employees Lack Initiative

Disengaged employees are often the ones who sit back and don't take initiative. They aren't ready to lead, nor will they be able to take risks on behalf of the company. If you notice this behavior happening, it's time to act.

Disengaged Employees Are Frequently Absent

Disengaged employees often won't show up to meetings. They will often be late or miss them altogether, and they may even take more sick days than usual. While disengagement doesn't always lead to an increase in the number of absences, it's still a sign that something is off.

Disengaged Employees Are Last to Arrive and First to Leave

You might notice disengaged employees showing up late and leaving early -- not just once or twice, but regularly. Engaged employees don't see their workday as something that needs to be done in eight hours or less -- they do the job because they love doing it. Disengaged employees, on the other hand, will clock in and out and try to work as little as possible.

Disengaged Employees Are Socially Withdrawn

Engaged employees are socially active. They love talking about the company and their work with others, and they thrive in social environments. Disengaged employees will often withdraw from such interactions -- as a result, they will lose out on chances to learn new things or gain new knowledge that could help them perform better at work.  

Increased Number of Breaks

When employees feel disengaged, they often react by taking more breaks. They'll take a break between tasks, during lunch or even in the middle of their workday to hang out with friends from other departments or people from outside the company. It's a way for them to get away from what makes them disengaged: the work itself.

They Mock Other Employees’ Accomplishments

Employees who feel disengaged often become envious of their colleagues' success. They might not outwardly show it, but if they mock other employees' accomplishments regularly, you should take that as a warning sign.

Disengaged Employees Aren't Trying to Improve

Engaged employees are always looking for ways to improve. They read books, take courses and attend workshops in their free time because they're dedicated to the company's success. Disengaged employees will only do the bare minimum, so it could be a warning sign that they aren't invested in improving themselves or growing with the company.

Disengaged Employees Are Disparaging of Company Aims and Objectives

Employees who feel disengaged will often mock the company's mission and its vision. They simply aren't committed to their work, and they don't care about the direction in which the company is headed. If you notice this behavior, it's time to take action.

Disengaged Employees Generally Have a Bad Attitude

Disengaged employees often complain. They don't like their job, they dislike their coworkers and they hate the company's mission. This negativity will spread through the entire workplace, making everyone else miserable as well.

29 HR Strategies to Re-Engage Disengaged Employees

OK, you've spotted the disengaged employees, and maybe even got to the source of their dismay. How do you actually tackle the problem? (Hint: removing the disengaged team member won't actually get the results you aim for).

Communicate More Frequently with Detached Employees

A disengaged employee needs to know they are part of the team. Regularly checking in with them regarding projects and progress is a good way to remind them they are not alone in their work.

Open up new opportunities for connection with your team. Many times, the very reason people become disengaged at work is actually lack of communication. As such, going back to basics on this will help you reconnect with someone who may show low employee engagement levels.

Determine Their Engagement Level

Speaking of engagement level: don't just assume someone is completely disengaged. Sometimes, people may be going through a rough patch. We're only human, after all, right? Discuss with your team and determine their engagement level before you take more action.

Discover Employee Motivations

If you want to make a difference, you need to find out what drives your employees. What makes them tick? What are their passions? How can you help them achieve their goals through work? Find this out and it will be easier to re-engage someone.

Search for Possible Solutions

Take a step back. Don't just jump straight to doing something about it because, well, you might do the wrong thing or even make things worse. Consider what you can do to resolve this issue before taking action.

Identify Adequate Skills

Not everyone has the same skill set. Some employees may not possess a specific set of skills necessary for a certain role or task, while some will have exceeded expectations in their previous post. When you've identified the skills they lack, find ways to develop them within your team.

Evaluate the Workload

Sometimes, disengagement is due to workload. Is the employee overloaded with projects? If so, consider allocating some work elsewhere. Remember though, sometimes employees are too engrossed in their work that they don't have time for much else. The solution here could be to re-evaluate their tasks and see if something can be done about it.

Evaluate Whether Employee Matches the Job

Another reason that could cause their disengagement is that they simply do not match the job and role. Employees may feel uncomfortable and out of place if they're majorly mismatched. If it's possible, consider having them apply for a different post within your company – one which better suits their skills and abilities.

Check If the Employee Feels Heard

All employees like to feel heard. They want to know they are part of the team and that you acknowledge them even if they make mistakes. When employees feel alienated, it will be difficult to re-engage them with the company's mission.

Analyze Recent Behavior Change

Before you jump into conclusions and accuse an employee of being disengaged, take a look at their recent behavior. Is there a pattern? Do they seem more distant than they were before or have your working relationships deteriorated? Only then can you determine how to move forward from the disengagement.

Explore Manager Impact

You might be the one to blame. Think about whether your management style is rubbing off on an employee or if you're not listening enough, perhaps because you have a tendency to rush through conversations. Also consider if they have been more negative lately due to your influence.

Skip the Small Talk

When you're having a chat with an employee, don't jump straight into business talk. Ask more casual questions before work related ones, as this can help them feel more comfortable and willing to open up about their concerns.

Address the Problem Head On

Some employees may be holding up the work of others because they are not engaged or motivated enough to do their tasks. You can't avoid this issue, so you need to confront it head on. Lead with positivity and look for solutions that suit everyone involved.

Listen Carefully and Allow For Pause

Before you say anything, listen to them without interrupting. Keep in mind that when an employee is disengaged, they probably won't be able to express themselves properly and might even get emotional. This could make it harder for them to form their thoughts and talk about the issue in a clear manner. By listening closely and allowing them to take pause, you give them space to re-think their approach, priorities, and behavior.

Ask Questions

If an employee seems disengaged, you can try asking questions that need more than just yes or no answers. This way, they have to spend time thinking about their ideas instead of simply giving the first response that comes to mind.

Document the Conversation

When you have a discussion regarding disengagement, take down notes or record it. This will ensure that nothing gets forgotten and action is taken as quickly as possible to address the problem.

Close with a Commitment to Action

Before you conclude the meeting, set clear expectations. What are they expected to do? Are there certain deadlines or projects that need priority over others? Close with a commitment to action and specific steps that will be taken by both parties.

Share Notes and Follow-up with Next Steps

Always send your team a summary of your talk and ask them to share their thoughts too. Follow up with deadlines and keep you updated on the progress they're making. It might seem like you are micromanaging them, but, in reality, you are simply being thorough.

Provide Challenges and Growth Opportunities

You need to look out for employees who are disengaged, but also those who might be lacking the necessary skills and abilities. Let them know that you're willing to invest in their training and ability development. Don't forget to reward them with small perks every now and then as a way of showing your appreciation.

Create a personal development plan for every team member.This way, they can see the bigger picture and how their contributions are helping to grow the company.

Set Goals and Hold Employees Accountable

It can be hard to have a one-on-one with an employee you feel is disengaged, but it's necessary. Make sure your tone is nurturing and positive when you talk about the issue. Provide them with clear expectations and set challenging yet achievable goals, especially when it comes to deadlines.

Also, align employee goals with company's goals and objectives. You need to ensure that your employees' personal goals are aligned with the company's goals. If they have no idea of what you're talking about when you try to explain where your organization is headed, it's time for a serious talk. They should understand why their work matters and how it helps them fulfill their dreams.

Encourage Greater Participation in One-On-One Meetings

With an engaged and motivated workforce, you can expect everyone to be on the same page and be willing to hear each other out. As a leader, you can do your part by encouraging greater employee participation in one-on-one meetings -- not because they have to, but because it benefits them.

Conduct Regular 360 Feedback Surveys

You can ask for feedback in various ways, but 360-degree feedback surveys are one of the best methods. These give you insight into how your employees feel about their jobs and managers so that you can develop more effective strategies to motivate them or identify ones who need extra help.

Recognize Achievement and Positive Behavior

Is the employee being recognized and appreciated for their work?

When you have an employee on your team who is disengaged, it doesn't mean that they are toxic to the company. You still might need their contributions even if they are having a bad day or two. However, let them know what good behavior looks like and make sure they go home with positive messages every now and then.

Continually Monitor Employee Performance and Potential

Employees who are disengaged might not even realize that they're doing it. They don't want to be a part of the company and that's okay as long as you take the appropriate action at the right time. You need to identify those employees who aren't putting in their best and encourage them to seek greater challenges elsewhere.

Pinpoint Poor Performance

It's important to not only look out for the disengaged employees, but also those who are underperforming or causing chaos in the organization. Find out why they aren't performing up to par and give them the necessary coaching to improve their work.

Notice Lack of Interest in Development

When you notice that a team member isn't interested in learning new skills or attending any training, it's time to have a talk. You can tell them what they're missing out on and how they could improve their work if only they invested some time into developing themselves professionally.

Uncover Ongoing Frustrations

It's important to see if there are any underlying issues that are causing employees to feel disengaged. Ask them what is frustrating them in the office and how you can help alleviate their concerns. If they don't open up to you, give them some space until they're ready to talk about it.

Be Aware of Any Increases in Paid Time Off (PTO) Used

If you see employees taking more time off than usual, it's a sign that they're not happy with their work environment. They might be looking for another opportunity elsewhere so find out why they want to leave and what you can do to keep them motivated.

Recognize Poor Behavior

No one is perfect, especially when it comes to work. So you might have an employee who is disengaged but doesn't want to leave your company just yet. They might be underperforming or causing chaos in the office without even knowing it. Show them what good behavior looks like by giving feedback on their performance and conduct regular meetings with them to keep them in the loop and praise them for their good behavior.

Regularly Conduct Employee Engagement Surveys

No matter how great an HR person or team leader you are, you will never be able to read minds. Nobody can. What you can do, however, is conduct regular employee engagement surveys. Even if they are submitted anonymously, they will still give you a better idea of how engaged your team is and what you can do better as their leader to keep them efficient and happy.

Nobody can be engaged 100% of the time, that's for sure. But when disengagement becomes regular -- and even worse, a full-on epidemic among your employees -- you have to do something. As shown in this article, the solution is not removing the "bad" employee from the team, as much as it is trying to fully understand their pain points and helping them understand why doing better at their job will benefit everyone (themselves included).

What about you? What do YOU do about disengaged team members?

Topics: Human resources

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