How to Re-Engage the Disengaged

Julie Checknita, Employer Services | November-23-11




An employee who is not engaged or committed to the organization can be a real problem. You may have encountered the type of employee I’m talking about. They deliver inconsistent work, never really go above and beyond the job requirements, and do just enough to get by. They rarely show up for work on time, call in sick on a regular basis and take full advantage of that time off policy.

Often, these employees criticize the organization and the way things are done, and seem to never be satisfied with any type of decision made within the organization. They are also sure to voice these opinions to anyone willing to listen – which can prove to be quite destructive to other employee’s morale.

Professional development or career advancement? Forget it. These employees show little to no interest in growing professionally and exude a general lack of enthusiasm towards anything outside of their required job description. These clock watchers simply want to log the minimum amount of hours possible in order to collect that paycheck.

Not only do these employees have a negative impact on your organization’s performance, but they often impact the morale and performance of other employees.  If your organization requires any degree of teamwork, as many do, employees who are required to work with these employees will be either frustrated by these underperformers work ethic or may begin to wonder why they should bother going above and beyond their own job requirements when others get away with doing the bare minimum.

While some employees may be able to block out these employees constant complaining and negativity, others who may be dissatisfied with an element of their job or organizational policy may be more likely to jump on this bandwagon of discontent. The result?  A further decrease in both productivity and morale.

If other employees notice that these employees are getting away with subpar performance, abuse of vacation and sick days and negative attitude, they may begin to question management or the organization’s authority as a whole.

Very few disengaged and underperforming employees start a new job with this negative attitude, poor work ethic and predetermined mission to not succeed. Usually, along the way, something went wrong – so once you can figure out the root of this discontent you can begin to address the issue and potentially help them improve and become more engaged and productive.

How do you pinpoint what went wrong or why your employee is dissatisfied? The answer to this varies based on the situation.

Here are a couple examples of what you can do:

In individual cases, simply schedule a meeting and start a dialogue. Encourage the employee to discuss what they like and dislike about their job. Find out what they would like to see changed or what they would like to be doing. Most importantly, let them know that there won’t be negative repercussions for honesty — and explain that this feedback will be used to make positive changes.
For larger scale assessment, conduct job satisfaction or engagement surveys. In these surveys ask questions that prompt employees to rate their satisfaction with everything from the way meetings are run to how rewarding they find their work to be. Ask how they rate the organization as a whole, their own teams, supervisors and management, culture and their own role and projects. The anonymity of these types of surveys will help encourage employees to be more honest.

Once you have determined what the problem is, you need to assess whether or not it is legitimate or possible to rectify. Perhaps it is simply that there is a mismatch between the values and needs of the employee and the culture of the organization. It also just may be that you failed to screen out this slacker during the recruitment process and that it really has nothing to do with the organization. 

Not all problems are possible to fix, however it is important to clarify that there is a problem and then make the effort to improve their performance before taking more serious measures.

Try the following strategies to get this employee more engaged:

1) Ask for their input. Find out what they need in order to succeed, what they would like to see change, what else they would like to work on. Give them the chance to take more control of their role and voice any concerns that they have. It will be up to you to decide whether or not these requests are viable, however the answers they give may be a large part of the solution.

2) Outline the achievements they have had in the past, strengths you see in them and potential growth areas within their role and the organization. You can also communicate your faith in their ability to succeed and describe how they fit into the future of the organization.

3) Assist them set achievable goals. Make these goals time sensitive and meaningful with clear agreed upon outcomes. Make sure to schedule a follow-up conversation to go over the results of these goals.

4) Link their job duties and role to the larger strategic direction of the organization. Help them understand how what they do impacts the overall success of the organization.

5) Clarify why it is important for them to improve and be successful at work.  Clarify both the personal and professional gains that result from improved performance and success in the workplace.

6) Try to ensure that they some enjoyable work to do every day. While it is normal to dislike some elements of any job, it is important that some of the work is viewed as meaningful and enjoyable in order to keep employees engaged.

In the end, if these strategies make no impact on the employee’s attitude and productivity and this employee continues to underperform, then it may be time to consider taking the steps to fairly, and legally help them move on to a more suitable opportunity.


Looking to measure your employees engagement, but not sure where to start? ECO Canada offers an engagement survey tailored to environmental organizations. The survey is easy to access, simple to administer and can be used in any size of organization. Learn more.