What Happened to The Disengaged Employee?

Think back to all of the people you know who have left a job to go to work somewhere else.  What happened to cause your once grateful employee to become a disengaged employee?

They may have two reasons: one that they shared in their letter of resignation (if they wrote one); and a second (real) one that they may have shared with you.

Here are some of the most common (real) reasons employees leave:

  1. No sense of rapport
  2. Boredom
  3. Frustration
  4. Lack of Value

Are You Paying Attention to the Signs of Disengagement?

It’s easy to see these traits if you pay attention.

However, sometimes the symptoms of a disengaged employee are not that obvious— these include taking more vacation time than they used to or leaving immediately when their shift is done.

But whatever the sign may be, it’s a form of ‘disengagement.’

To elaborate further, a disengaged employee may be:

  • Less productive
  • More argumentative or prone to complaining
  • Seemingly less interested in pleasing their boss
  • Showing less interest in career advancement
  • Giving little effort beyond minimum requirements
  • Less active during meetings
  • Offering fewer new ideas or suggestions
  • Reluctant to commit to long-term projects
  • More reserved and quiet
  • Avoiding social interactions with management

However, if we aren’t paying attention, the first sign of a problem is when the disengaged employee gives their notice to leave the company.

The Exit Interview

Does your organization talk to such a disengaged employee before they leave?

Is there an exit interview conducted?

For too long, exit interviews have been considered a discrete event focused on organizational failure.

I think that’s a big misstep.

The exit interview should be the culmination of a series of regular retention conversations, focused on organizational learning and relationship building.

In other words, the exit interview should not be the organization’s first conversation focusing on the employee’s feelings and ideas.

Instead, employees should be asked individually in regular conversations about why they choose to stay with the company and why they might consider leaving.

Three Areas To Consider for why A Disengaged Employee Might Leave

These retentions (or ‘staying’) conversations should primarily focus on three areas:

  1. What can we do to help you be effective in your current role?
  2. Please name things we can do to help you build a successful career?
  3. Is there a way that we can help you have a fulfilling life?

Oftentimes, a retention meeting can bring professional and personal issues to light before they lead to a letter of resignation.

Let’s take a look at some questions to ask in such a meeting:

Questions for the Exit Interview

Question #1

“Is there feedback or recognition would you like to be given about your performance that you aren’t currently receiving?”

Question #2

“What opportunities for self-improvement would you like to have that go beyond your current role?”

Question #3

“Are you looking for flexibility that would be helpful to you in balancing your work and home life?”

Question #4

What talents, interests, or skills do you have that we haven’t made the most of?

Question #5

Have you felt good about what you have accomplished in your job and in your time here?

Question #6

If you could change one thing about your job, team, or company, what would it be?

Imagine the amount of useful information you can glean as a result of these questions!

How the Employer Benefits from the Exit Interview of a Disengaged Employee

At the very least, it gives the employee an opportunity to share any problems or issues they might be having that wouldn’t get discussed at a performance review meeting.

The best retention conversations help your employees understand that:

  • You recognize and appreciate their loyalty
  • You care about more than just their performance
  • You’re open to making changes that would bring them more satisfaction

And they help you discover:

  • Warning signs that indicate an employee needs more support or direction
  • Ways to keep your employees from resigning

After all, you have invested time and resources in your employees and replacing them can be time-consuming and costly.

If you’re still not convinced that retention meetings are for you, consider this story…

The Story of Abraham Wald

Abraham Wald was a mathematician who contributed to decision theory, geometry, and econometrics, founding the field of statistical sequentialAbraham Wald analysis.

His most famous contribution to statistics dealt with reviewing damaged aircraft returning from Germany in the Second World War.

Abraham found that the fuselage and fuel system of returned planes were much more likely to be damaged by bullets or flak than the engines.

Considering this information, the question was: What should he recommend to his superiors?

Wald’s brilliance suggested an unconventional solution that ended up saving countless lives:

Don’t arm(our) the areas that sustained the most damage on planes that made it back— after all, the fact that the plane returned shows that these areas can sustain damage and still function properly.

Instead, Wald suggested to REINFORCE all the other areas of the plane.

This idea came about when Wald realized that his data came solely from bombers that survived.

In other words, the undamaged areas on the surviving planes consequently showed where the lost planes must have been hit.

It’s this type of logic that further supports the idea of retention meetings.

The disengaged employee who leave your organization without telling you the real reason why are just like the planes that didn’t return. You can’t analyze the evidence of why you lost them since they are no longer with you.

But you do still have your current employees as a resource.

By analyzing why employees may want to leave or what grievances they have (the sustained damage), you can see what areas to reinforce.

And if you listen and act on what you hear, you stand a much better chance of your employees remaining “intact” and ready to keep flying…