Benefits of Connecting Disengaged Employees


March 26, 2013

Picture the scene: You’re the HR manager at company XYZ.  An employee calls to schedule time to speak with you about an issue.  The employee arrives and begins to explain that he feels his career is stalled.  He was hired as a xxx (could be any level employee) and he tells you he has skills that are not being utilized.  He is able to give specific examples of times his supervisor has not recognized his abilities.  He is now unchallenged, disengaged, and ready to leave your company.

Does this sound familiar?  Well, if you’ve worked in HR for any length of time, I’m certain you have had this conversation and likely, more than once.  The problem is that once an employee reaches the point of coming to HR, it is often too late.  Why do companies do this, and what can HR do to help managers shape the culture so that they do not lose valuable employees?  The key is getting employees connected.

To start with the “why” of it all, we need to go all the way to the beginning of the employee life cycle.  Sourcing/hiring.  Many companies have a reactionary style of hiring.  Managers wait until there is an unexpected resignation and a position opens that they need filled “yesterday or sooner”. The recruiter of HR manager must scramble to write a job description, get it posted, and begin looking at potential candidates. This knee-jerk reaction to hiring does not lend itself to finding employees who truly have the qualities and skills that will make them most successful in the position.

“Connection Fact” #1:  Companies need to have a well thought out recruiting strategy to be most effective in hiring people with skills that closely match those required in the position. When skills match position requirements, employees are more likely to be engaged in the work.

So, assuming your company has not used a well thought out recruiting strategy, the manager will now have to deal with the issue of keeping the employee challenged.  The problem now becomes how does the manager know that the employee is not being challenged?  One would think that there should be regular feedback for employees throughout the year.  It is during these conversations that the employee could tell his supervisor that he needs more challenging projects.  But let’s face reality.  There are thousands of employees who do not have the opportunity to take part in regular performance feedback conversations.  This leaves the employee feeling like no one at the company cares if they are under-utilizing their skills.  No one cares if they are engaged in their work.

As I discussed in a guest post over at Aquire last year, employee engagement has a direct effect of stronger company performance. So, it is critical that a company be able to evaluate which employees are becoming disengaged so they can correct the problem as quickly as possible.

“Connection Fact” #2: Companies that lose disengaged employees often see the negative impact of having lower profitability and higher recruiting expenses.

Whether you are the HR manager or the direct supervisor, there are numerous ways to increase employee engagement.

  • Encourage mentor relationships- Employees who feel mentored know that someone in the organization cares about their development and career path.
  • Communicate more, not less- Being transparent, even in economic downturns, builds trust with employees.  They will be more likely to hang in there for the long run.
  • Allow and encourage some fun in the work day- this one seems obvious to me.  HAVING SOME FUN AT WORK= employees who don’t dread being there.

The point is we should be seeking out ways to improve this in our own work environment.  And, if you find that the company is not encouraging increased engagement, it may be time to find something new.  Although employee engagement is holding steady during the economic downturn according to a recent Towers Perrin survey (June 2009), companies should still focus on proactively managing this aspect of the business.  It just makes sense.


  • The term “Employee Engagement” is thrown around so easily now without many people really defining what it means for their organization and the people that direct employee performance. A recruiting strategy is needed. I think in addition managers and supervers of employees at any level truly need to understand what “engagement” means for their employees.

    The main reason we want to take this time is so we don’t have to have the “too-late” conversations with employees who have already resigned without leaving. Ahhh if people were built the same then we would not have these problems!

    • @Benjamin- You know, I’ve pretty much banned using the HR Terms like “engagement” when I’m at work. Most employees have no idea what that really means. By putting things into terms that people can relate to we’re far more likely to get participation. Love what you said about “resigning without leaving”. Would love to see a post on that topic… Thanks for adding your voice to the mix here. Always appreciated!

  • Several years ago I created a program for SHRM groups entitled “I Promise To Be An Engaged Employee If You Promise To Let Me Do It My Way.”

    And therein lies the issue for most organizations looking at the issue of Employee Engagement. Do you notice the first word happens to be “employee?” Yet, when those closed door conference room meetings are going on, where are the employees. Not in that room.

    Get out there. Spend time with them. Find out who they are. Find out what they want and can contribute. Go back to your files where you took notes during the interview/hiring process. All the information you need to engage an employee is there; not in your closed door meeting.

    • @Rich- Truer words were never spoken! I agree and in my organization we initiated an employee committee to “own” activities that may engage people. HR facilitates and we’re seeing some good results. If an employee sees a co-worker who is engaged, it often can spark theirs. Ultimately though, each one of us is the only one who can inspire ourselves. So glad you commented!

    • @Bruce- Thanks for sharing that interview. I’ll definitely check it out. As a supporter of social media, I agree that it too can and should be part of the strategy.

  • Trish, You hit the nail on the head when you say that it all begins at the start of the employment life cycle. What some folks don’t realize is that the employment life cycle actually starts at the moment the first communication is established with the job candidate. When a candidate applies for a job the relationship has begun. Impressions will be made and good recruiting is driven by excellent marketing skills, whether or not the person is hired.

    Benjamin also makes a good point about the “too-late” conversation A.K.A. the exit interview. These should be abolished. They serve no purposeful use and are so after-the-fact that they are a waste of time.

    All-in-all, employees want a reason to believe, to be included in the conversation, to be held in high regard, to be respected and to feel they make a difference.

    • @Cindy- Thanks for the comment. You know, I agree with you about exit interviews. I know there are a ton of people who still think they are necessary, but on whole, I don’t. I like the idea of having an exit that sends the person off with positive vibes about the company. Letting them rant to the HR pro on their last day does not accomplish this. I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head and just may need to write a post about it. So glad you commented!

  • Thanks Trish. I actually did write an article about engagement and exit interviews that was published on ERE a few months ago. This is definitely a topic about which I do feel strongly.

  • All too often, an employer who only sees an employee for what job is needed at that time will often have unengaged employees. Is the supervisor in charge actually paying attention to the notes the HR person made about a candidate’s attributes? Does the supervisor actually pay any attention to what an employee actually can do? If there is a new challenge, does the supervisor see if s/he can’t tackle the challenge from within?

    Keeping an employee feeling like they are integral parts of a solution and a big piece of the puzzle is more likely to keep the said employee engaged.

    Mentoring is KEY to making an employee feel like the company wants them around and cares about them. I agree 1000%.

    Again- you wrote so many good points, and I wish more people like myself would read your blog. The HR stuff can be made to work with owner/operators as well as HR pros as owner/operators ARE the small business’ HR. Good onya!!!

  • I like this. We must rely upon our management team to help deliver the mentoring opportunities, great communication and fun. Sometimes they are those ones that have “resigned without leaving” that Benjamin mentioned. And if they resigned without leaving AND haven’t told anyone yet, how effective will they be in delivering those very things that are required to improve engagement.
    I think this is a neglected part of our engagement strategy. We focus on improving the engagement of our employees with the efforts of unengaged managers.


  • Trish – This article hits home for me. From one HR professional to another, I can totally relate to your opening paragraph! I’m sure you’ve seen as well, those employees who are disengaged but NEVER come to HR or voice it to management – basically ‘retired in place’. Often times, companies do not realize that there may be a substantial percentage of their workforce in this category. They need to think about how these employees are affecting their bottom-line. Even more reason as you say, to create an engagement strategy that starts within the recruitment process.

  • Keeping employees engaged can have multiple benefits for organizations. I recently came across research presented at the APA Convention in San Diego illustrating the importance of providing employees with the resources they may require to release emotional build up. In this study emotional build up of contempt and/or guilt lead to increased inter office bullying behaviors. So, engage those employees and do more than keep them…decrease their unethical work behavior.

  • We’ve all experienced it…the dreaded first day at a new job. You are given the requisite tour of the office, training materials to read through, perhaps some videos to watch. And then what? Most likely, you dread coming back the next day for more of the same, or only to sit at someone’s elbow as they try to do their own work while explaining processes and procedures as you feverishly take notes. It’s anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month before you really feel like you’re up and running in your position. Or, in a much more stressful scenario, you are thrown in with little to no instruction or support, and are expected to “sink or swim.” There’s gotta be another way, right?

  • Great points, Trish. Thanks for writing this. Employee engagement is really where everything should start. If your employees are happy, they perform better. If we can get past the mandatory “team building” activities and just have a little fun at work, things would be much better!

    Keep up the great work.


  • Great post Trish! You really hit the nail on the head with connection fact 1. I have seen few things that can derail employee engagement quicker than a mismatch of an employee’s skills and behaviors with those needed to perform the job well.

    I have featured your post in my Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ blog picks of the week (found here: to share your thoughts on engagement with my readers.

    Be well and keep rockin’!

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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