Remember that amazing employee you took on a couple of years ago? He was going to rock your world–and he did for a while. But now he's just a rock weighing down your company. His ideas have dried up, he mopes around, and his only contribution is relaying last night's hockey scores. Chances are he's checked out mentally from the company–something human-resource practitioners call “disengagement.” Naturally, you fire this slacker–or maybe not, says Jocelyn Bérard, managing director of DDI Canada, a human-resource consultancy in Toronto. “Letting somebody go is not pleasant, and it can be very costly as well,” says Bérard. “If you lose the person, you lose the expertise and sometimes even a client, and that's worse.”
Bérard believes a better idea is to figure out what's causing your employee to be disgruntled, and try to fix it before giving him the heave-ho. After all, it's tough finding good help. That reality was underscored by a recent survey by Accenture that found that attracting and retaining top talent is the chief source of discomfort for Canadian execs.
Bérard says it's quite often possible to fix the underlying problem. Sometimes employees stop caring because they've been in the same job for too long. Perhaps they feel underappreciated or undervalued. Or maybe they just don't have the skills to do their job and are frustrated. Figure out what motivates your employees, and then use that knowledge to help get them back on track. And don't forget to look at the managerial level. “Maybe it's the manager who should be let go, or at least looked at, when there's a lot of disengagement in the team,” says Bérard.
Aside from reducing turnover, DDI's research has found that employees who enjoy and believe in their work, and feel valued, are much more likely to be better team players and coaches. DDI also found sales ability and persuasiveness decline as motivation wanes.
The real trick is to ensure members of your team never stop enjoying their work. Bérard says the easiest way to do that is make sure all employees know what they are expected to contribute, how it impacts the company and where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Regular reward for a job well done is also a nice bonus. It doesn't have to be cash, just some form of recognition to show employees they're valued. Bosses can also keep employees engaged by running efficient, organized meetings, taking action to resolve potentially bad situations, and holding people accountable when they do not perform as expected.
Ultimately, though, it's up to the employee to pick up the pace. “If he doesn't have the skills, but he wants to learn, then there's more chance I can help him,” Bérard says. “But if he doesn't want to, or he really doesn't fit, then that's very difficult to change.”