Ever heard of a guy called Disengaged Doug? When he first began working for a local plumbing company, he blew his bosses away. He was on time, worked hard and had an amazing skill set to match. Yet over time, something changed. He started turning up late, and often followed any requests from his bosses with a sarastic comment. Even worse, his once near perfect work had drastically slipped.

Sound familiar? This kind of character is someone I meet on a regular basis as many employers call to get advice on what to do with their version on “Doug”. Coming up in this article is learning how to identify your own ‘Dougs’ in the workplace early and know what to do to get them back on track.

How dangerous is Disengagement?

Disenageged employees, like Doug, are dangerous. Why? They can cost you and your company an enormous amount of money from not being productive. Yet, this is possibly not the greatest cost. Disengaged employees are great at convincing others to also become disengaged. Just listen to them during a lunchbreak or when the boss walks away, and they’ll be recruiting your other employees into their disengaged group.

Trust me, they’ve got some great stories to persuade others to not believe in your company anymore. When this happens, it not only becomes costly, but your entire team culture is impacted.

What makes a well written Agreement?

A well written employment agreement has your terms & conditions clearly stated such as hours of work, duties, notice period, remuneration, overtime etc.  Other clauses to protect you and your employee may relate to trial period conditions, confidentiality, health & safety, restrictions after employment has ended and so forth.  Basically, the more comprehensive your agreement, the more confidence you can have that you and your employees are covered.

I am often asked “can I write up my own employment agreement” and my reply is that yes you can and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) have a wonderful employment agreement builder function on the Employment New Zealand website.  However, I have seen cases where business owners and managers have downloaded every clause (even those that were not relevant) and the result is a pretty weighty contract. Alternatively, others have missed putting in relevant clauses, therefore their agreement is largely ineffective.

Finding the signs of disengagement

How can you tell if an employee is dis-engaged? Easy. They are often the workers who will be very vocal with how they feel about the company, their boss, their colleagues. Rest assured for those in the disengaged camp, there will always be something the company or their manager is doing wrong.

It’s highly likely it wasn’t always this way though. For the majority of people when they start a new job are excited about the opportunities and prospects that their new company can bring.

Over time something or events happen to knock this excitement out of them. Maybe they didn’t get enough training or development. Maybe they were overlooked for a project or job. Maybe their manager doesn’t talk to them much anymore? These are some of the reasons I hear on a daily basis from unhappy employees, often given as reasons for why they are performing badly.

If you see these signs, ask yourself what has changed for the employee that may have left them feeling upset by you or your company’s actions? It may be more than one thing, but put together over a period of time, means they’re just not enjoying working for you at the moment.

Shifting Disengaged Doug Back to the real Doug

Most employers think that eventually a disengaged person such as Doug will eventually resign, yet often they don’t. Either way, it costs you time, money and motivation, so the best approach is to focus on keeping Doug as Doug – engaged and really enjoying his job.

The good news is I have seen many cases where disengaged employees have been turned around. It has taken effort to rebuild the trust from both sides but it can be done. Managers have to want to rebuild these relationships and that starts with regular, quality communication. The first key step is to begin having regular one to ones. This gives managers the opportunity for managers to show their staff how important they are.

Below are a few more initiatives you can use to help turn around disengaged employees and strengthen your workplace relationships:

Your Management Style: Reflect on your own management style. Can your employees come to you and share their issues without the fear of being told off or mocked? If you were afraid to approach your boss, how would that make you feel about work? If your employees are comfortable in coming to you that is a great sign. Being approachable and truly listening are some of the main keys to engagement, and picking up early if something has happened to make Doug go off track and begin to feel disengaged.

Give direct feedback: Frame your feedback in a way that is appropriate. Appropriate for the employee and the situation. Feedback focuses on the what and how something was done. You could ask questions such as “What happened? How did it happen? What were the results? What steps can we take to have a better outcome? How could I have better guided you? What support do you need from me?” These questions are all directed at the job and what needs to happen to make it better. Also it sends a message to Doug that he isn’t out there on his own, instead he has a manager and a company backing him up, taking responsibility together.

Give recognition and praise: Why should your employees go the extra mile if it is unnoticed? Research by Gallup found that praise, or a lack of it, has a direct impact on turnover, and a company’s bottom line. They found that getting praise or recognition for good work increases revenue and productivity 10% to 20% and that those feeling unrecognised are three times more likely to quit in the next year. Praise is like fueling your car to go the distance, the more that you put into it, the longer your people can keep going.

Invite Employees to share ideas: One of the most important questions a manager can ask their workers is ‘what do you think?”. Most people want to feel their work is making a difference and that they are valued. By asking their opinion and truly listening to their response, this lets them know their input is respected

Speaking face to face rather than by email: Since you are unable to pick up on body language you can’t see if your employee is disengaged by what you are saying. Speaking face to face allows you to pick up on those all important body language cues such as eye rolling, sighing, gazing into the distance or checking their watch. Trust isn’t built over text messages or emails. It’s built through face to-face connections, making eye contact and interpreting body language.

Dealing with a Disengaged Doug can be initmidating, so begin with starting one-on-ones with each of your team, and applying the tips above. If you need a more thorough plan in how to address your employee engagement, then please contact us today. We love this stuff!