Identifying and Managing Emotionally Detached Employees

Have you ever felt emotionally detached from your work? If you said yes you’re certainly not alone, and if you said no…please leave a comment telling us what your secret is. Whether it’s due to sleep deprivation, being overworked, or something crazy going on in our personal lives, most of us have days when we just don’t feel like ourselves. While that’s perfectly normal, it’s when employee disengagement shifts from a temporary to a consistent basis that it becomes a problem for your company’s productivity level and turnover rate. Although engagement is not always easy to pinpoint, there are various telltale signs that an employee just isn’t feeling it anymore, as well as steps to be taken to reverse the issue.

One obvious red flag concerns lines of communication and behaviors surrounding them. When a staff member is quiet during meetings, it’s easy to assume that that they just didn’t have anything relevant to say. However, if suddenly mum’s the word for someone who is normally vocally present, it’s likely that they would much rather be somewhere else. The same can be said when once-responsive employees stop replying to e-mails or partaking in work-related discussions with their colleagues. Unsurprisingly, the best way to deal with an employee who isn’t communicating is to, well, communicate with them about it. Even if you think it’s probably nothing, it never hurts to reach out and make sure everything is okay, and if not, have a discussion to determine the source of the dilemma.

While verbal distance is a big warning sign, literal distance is an even bigger one – as in an employee not being at work. When a staff member calls out, no one ever wants to believe it’s simply because they don’t want to be there. We all want to give our workers the benefit of the doubt, and besides, things do happen – people get sick, family matters arise, an employee’s favorite rock band comes to town, you know, priorities. But when these call-outs become a little too regular for comfort or they occur in conjunction with other common disengagement signals, it may be time to sit down and have a candid conversation with them about how they are feeling about their work.

Another major indicator is attitude. When a once wide-eyed, optimistic, and energetic employee now seems to always present as cranky and apathetic (or in Sesame Street terms, when Elmo turns into Oscar the Grouch), what do you do? You could sweep it under the rug and assume that whatever’s bothering them will eventually resolve itself, but if you wait too long you run the risk of losing a valuable employee. It’s important to take action as soon as you notice these negative behaviors – talking with them and their supervisors is a great first step as the problem could be something as simple as them being overworked, which can be easily adjusted.

The last and probably most glaring sign of an employee’s emotional detachment lies within the work itself. If someone who was at one time known for being vigilant, detail-oriented, and having high standards commences a new pattern of completing assignments late, putting less care into projects resulting in noticeable slips in quality, or blowing off tasks altogether, you know something is wrong. The sooner you speak to the employee about this issue the better, so you can help him or her get back on track as soon as possible.

From personal problems to burnout from being overworked, there are a lot of reasons why an employee might become emotionally detached from their job. Taking the initiative by opening a dialogue with them is the key to gaining insight on the root cause of the issue and determining what can be done to make them feel motivated and engaged again. You never know what kind of personal battles your workers are fighting, so it’s always helpful to apply a compassionate, patient, and honest approach – doing so won’t only reflect well on your businesses’ success, but more importantly, the morale and wellness of the individual and the employees around them.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences on employee engagement.