Do you suspect the dead walk among you at work?
I’m talking about disengaged employees who lethargically shuffle through the day and infect other employees.
And they’re no Grimm Fairy Tale–they’re real.
First, you have to spot them. I can offer seven ways to do so.
Once you’ve spotted them, you can’t just bludgeon them with a barbed-wire covered baseball bat (I’m eyeing you AMC’s Walking Dead). There are more civil ways forward.
Let’s hit the signs of disengagement first, then the solutions.
1. Declining quantity and quality of work
This is the most obvious sign. Their output has dropped, there’s no creativity and innovation, they’re consistently missing deadlines, they’re procrastinating a lot, follow-through is terrible, or they’re avoiding decisions.
2. Dwindling personal presence
When they’re there, they’re not really there. They’re disinterested and withdrawn (especially at team meetings), there’s a lack of discretionary effort, or they don’t make substantive contributions to conversations. In general, they don’t influence much of anything.
3. They’re radio silent too often
This just doesn’t mean they’re withdrawn when you see them. This means you don’t see them.
They’re either absent from work and social events (without good reason) or they’re at work but hiding. They’re not proactive with updates or setting up meetings that can help them advance projects or work through issues.
4. They show no desire for learning and growth
They’ve stopped asking for new assignments or new challenges. They never ask questions, pushback, or talk about their career advancement. They never ask for more responsibility or autonomy.
5. They only get involved when they’re volun-told
In those obvious moments where they can be proactive and voluntarily offer help… nada. They do the bare minimum and don’t actively pursue goals. Their get-up-and-go has gotten up and went.
6. They exude negative energy and attitude
They’re constantly complaining, whining, or blaming. They’re overly harsh on management.
They share the same story and same problems over and over. They’re defeatist, defiant, and consistently say, “That’s not my square.”
7. Visual and vocal cues abound
They have obvious mood swings, poor body language, and constantly seem stressed. You see them being easily distracted and hear co-workers vocalizing complaints about them.
Now that you’ve spotted the disengaged employees, here’s what to do:
- Have brave conversations with them. The message needs to be delivered that they’re not meeting expectations, but with empathy and a genuine desire to understand what’s going on. There may be personal issues that require a gentle touch.
- Discern between attitude and aptitude issues. Attitude issues require a firm but thoughtful reframing. Aptitude issues require training.
- Ensure you’re providing meaningful, challenging work that fuels their learning, growth, and fulfillment.
- Ensure you’re involving them in decision making and granting autonomy–critical for engagement.
- Create a culture of caring, authenticity, and teamwork. These are the attributes associated with the most engaged cultures. Make the workplace feel like a community, not a corporation.
- Look in the mirror and ensure you’re not perpetrating or perpetuating corrosive behaviors that kill the very culture you are trying to create.
So remember these signs and solutions to keep the zombie apocalypse from wiping out your workplace.