Sometimes it’s just not feasible to throw in the towel when things get tough at work. When disengaged employees come to you asking for help, here’s what you should do.
We’ve all been there at one point or another – dragging ourselves into work begins to feel like a special kind of torture. And while there are countless articles advising disengaged employees about how to reconnect with work or survive a hated job, things can be a bit trickier when you’re on the other side.
Whether you’ve noticed an employee dragging their feet, delivering half-baked work that’s merely ‘good enough’, or – at the extreme end – bursting into tears in your office, it’s important to have the tools at your disposal to help.
So if you’re faced with a situation where an employee comes to you tells you that they hate their job, or even that they want to quit, here are some best practice approaches to consider.
Understanding the root of the problem
“There are so many different reasons a person might be unhappy in their job,” says Sonia McDonald, CEO and founder at Leadership HQ, a human resources and leadership consultancy based in Brisbane. “It could be the leadership. It could be the culture is not aligned with their values. Or it could be the work itself.”
In her recent experience, she’s seen an uptick in disengaged employees due to a lack of development opportunities, as well as the perennial issue of managers having a negative influence on an employee’s work experience.
However, the most important thing HR can do is be a neutral shoulder for them to lean on.
“I think the best thing to do is to just listen and find out what the key issues are, and that comes from asking open-ended questions.” Questions along the lines of “Tell me a little bit more about why you’re unhappy here,” or “Give me some examples of what you’re unhappy with” can go a long way to getting an employee to be honest about the reasons they’re struggling. If “a problem well-stated is a problem half-solved,” as inventor Charles Kettering stated, then fully articulating the problem gets you that much closer to an answer.
Taking steps to find a solution
Once you have a good handle on your employee’s problem, McDonald advises the next step is to work with them on ways they can find meaning in their work again. She also recommends that HR have the necessary tools to provide support, or know where to find support should they not have the skills themselves.
“In terms of HR, it’s really important that they have coaching skills,” she explains, “so that HR practitioners are able to help their employees take an analytical and proactive approach to the problem.”
If the issue is to do with the work itself, one option would be to speak to their manager about considering the employee for projects that fall within their interests, or discuss a pathway to a new role within the business.
“Sometimes you might find that a side-step to a different department or a different role can be a really great energiser or motivator,” she says “It’s really about looking at your options.”
If there is no short-term solution, she recommends helping employees to focus on the positives of their role, like any marketable skills that they can hone for their next position, or focus each day on enjoying the things they do like the job.
Communication is key
At the end of the day, HR’s most powerful strategy is to ensure honest and open channels of communication – with managers and employees alike. Quite often, she says, disengaged employees didn’t realise how many options were available to them at their previous employer until they have already made the switch.
“Time and time again I hear stories of people who have resigned or accepted a position at another company, and then during the exit interview they are asked ‘Why didn’t you tell me that you weren’t feeling challenged at work? Because we could have actually found something for you’.”
It’s good practice to communicate to employees that they can and should raise these concerns with HR, especially if it’s a case of their manager not … well … managing them effectively.
McDonald says her key piece of advice is to tell employees “Don’t immediately look externally. Put your hand up if you’re looking for a challenge and ask, ‘What can you do to help me?’.”