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Dealing with disengagement

DisengagementThe old mantra goes "you can't please everyone all of the time", and never has this been more true than for human resources professionals. It is an inevitable fact that some people in your organisation will be disengaged, no matter what you do. Indeed, in the current environment of pay freezes and uncertainty for some, it is perhaps even more inevitable.

So what can be done with these disengaged individuals? How do you treat them and others fairly? Here are Connection's tips for dealing with your disengaged employees...

Accept it

One of the first steps in tackling disengagement is that you cannot avoid it - at least in small measures. In fact, many organisations factor in levels of voluntary turnover, accepting that 'new blood' is crucial to keeping fresh ideas and creativity flowing into the business. However, studies have shown that 50% of disengaged employees do not leave. So, accepting disengagement is just the first step...

Understand it

Value statements and engagement strategies may have an impact on many or most of your people, but they do not necessarily resonate with everyone. Those who are disengaged may voice cynicism, or they may isolate themselves and withdraw from their colleagues. Line managers need to be trained to pinpoint signs of disengagement, and need to work alongside HR to understand the reasons why the employee is disengaged.

Engagement surveys can give you an excellent overview of the situation, but line managers are key to understanding individual cases.

Personalise your approach

In today's multicultural, multi-generational workplace, a broad-brush approach will no longer suffice. As many studies have highlighted, money is often not the main reason for disengagement - benefits are more important, so offering a flexible approach that allows people to choose benefits that suit their lifestyles will have more effect.

Broad-brush communication will equally no longer suffice. HR can benefit from the knowledge of marketing teams in how to communicate to the various tiers within the workplace. This doesn't necessarily mean using Twitter to communicate to Generation Y, but an appreciation of how messages are received by different audiences is crucial in the modern workplace.

Start recognising

Disengagement can often arise from a lack of recognition, so it is important to recognise what the employee is doing right. Tiered levels of recognition, from department employee of the month awards to individual "thank you"s can make a difference at a personal level, and tying bonuses to performance can help turn a disengaged employee round quickly. Giving the employee ownership over goals, targets and milestones goes a long way, and when this is built in to a personal development plan, the employee is given focus and a clear, defined purpose within a specified framework.

And if all goes wrong...

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to turn a disengaged employee into an engaged one, despite all your efforts. However, if you have an overall engagement strategy, and your company values and strategy are clearly defined, the negative impact of a disengaged employee on your business is lessened. Remind the employee that certain performance levels are required, and create a performance plan to ensure that these levels are met.


The business benefits of an engaged workforce are well known. The tools and methods required to engage and motivate a workforce are becoming better known. Businesses now have to get smarter tackling individual cases of disengagement before they have an impact on overall business performance.

  • 1st June 2010
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