8 Ways to Re-Engage a Checked-Out Employee, According to a CEO

disengaged employee and manager on a meeting

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Deborah Sweeney102
MyCorporation.com CEO
May 26, 2024 at 12:28AM UTC

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a manager or a person in a leadership role. You work with a team of great employees and everyone has a solid work ethic. Lately, however, you’ve noticed one team member appears to be less engaged in their role. They complete necessary assignments but are gradually bringing less of their A-game to the table. 

You know that this employee didn’t always behave like this at work. Something is off, but you aren’t sure what’s happening. You won’t know what’s going on with an employee until you reach out to initiate a conversation together. 

If you have concerns that an employee is checked out, here’s what managers and leaders can do to help re-engage them in the workplace.

Step 1: Check-in With Your Checked-out Employee

Create a safe space for conversation.

Before you start making plans to meet with and speak to the employee, think about where this conversation will take place. Ideally, this conversation should be in an environment where the employee feels comfortable and safe. 

If a team member doesn’t feel comfortable having this discussion in the office, suggest a few informal options. Think spaces like meeting up at a coffee shop or going for a walk together at a local park. Managers may also ask employees which space they feel comfortable meeting at and let them pick the spot. 

If you work virtually, consider whether this should be a phone call or if you want to speak face-to-face over a video meeting. While you can read your employee’s body language better over video, they may be more comfortable expressing themselves over the phone.

Let your employee speak.

Managers should start acting as an open ear once they’re in a safe space with their employee. Let the employee talk everything out and be an empathetic listener. Do not interrupt them, start offering unsolicited advice or try to rush through the conversation together. Give your employee the chance to speak. 

A manager’s goal when addressing a disengaged employee should be to learn the root cause of the employee’s discontent, says Tina Hawk, the Senior Vice President of HR at GoodHire, a company that provides employment background check services. 

Finding the root cause will not happen if managers try to talk over employees and never allow them to get a word in edgewise. Be patient, present and non-judgmental during the conversation.

Actively listen.

Active listening is a technique practiced by Myasia Stephens, Director of Communications & Belonging at LaunchSquad, an independent public relations agency. Stephens advises taking notes and repeating back what you heard to the employee. 

The more an employee talks, the more you’ll be able to dig into the real reasons why they feel checked out in the workplace. Stephens uses examples like an overwhelming workload, a difficult partner on a never-ending project, or even your management style — which may be stifling their creativity or making them feel stressed out. 

Remember that you do not need to solve every problem during this conversation. The key is to listen and reiterate the value and importance that the employee brings to the company. 

“Acknowledge their value to you,” Stephens says. “Let them know that you’re on their side and you want to help them.”

Show a genuine, active interest in helping them out.

Once the conversation is over, Stephens says it’s time for managers to get to work in helping improve these issues. 

Step 2: Make a Difference In Their Work Life

Pair the employee with a mentor. 

Debbie Winkelbauer is the CEO of Surf Search, a life sciences recruiting firm. Winkelbauer says establishing a mentor/mentee relationship can help employees struggling with feeling unrecognized or stuck in a career rut. 

Mentors may guide mentees forward by providing feedback on areas for improvement and celebrating workplace wins.

Give employees new, exciting tasks. 

Linn Atiyeh is the CEO and Founder of Bemana, a specialized recruiting and headhunting firm that works in the equipment and industrial sectors. Atiyeh finds it effective to have employees feel like they are working towards something substantial or rewarding. 

She advises assigning the employee with a new medium-to-long term task that they are excited about or reinforcing their current goals. Try using rewards to incentivize progress towards reaching those goals. This is a win-win for the business and employee — it gets the employee enthusiastic about the task at hand and gets the balling rolling for the company.

Encourage the employee to take some time off.

Are you noticing that the employee who feels checked out has been working long hours and work weeks? Do they have plenty of PTO that hasn’t been touched in months? Encourage them to take some time off. 

Use this time to invest in mental health days where the employee can get some much-needed rest and enjoy activities that make allow them to naturally recharge. 

Keep communicating.

An initial conversation between manager and employee as it relates to feeling checked-out in the workplace isn’t a one-and-done deal. Employees are counting on you to provide them with useful resources and help improve their environment. Once leaders understand what isn’t working, Stephens says they must be able to advocate for employees and be their best champion. 

“Once you leave that [initial] meeting, it’s your actions that will make or break the employee’s trust in you,” Stephens points out.

The next steps are simply to keep communicating together.

“Ensure that you follow up with them on the status of the work issues they shared, send them any resources you can think of, and keep the communication flowing between you two,” Stephens says. “Feeling cared about and heard is integral to employee engagement.” 

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for re-engaging a checked-out employee? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article was written by a Fairygodboss Contributor.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.

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