Higher Logic Blog

How to Spot a Disengaged Employee in Your Association Staff (And What to Do About It)

Written by Christina Green | July 6, 2016 at 12:30 PM

The State of the American Workplace report from Gallup estimated that 70% of American workers are not engaged. That's a troubling statistic. Employees who are not engaged cost employers more money, reduce productivity, and decrease the morale of others around them.

If there's a bright side to this statistic, it's that this number is about those who are actively not engaged, not disengaged, and that is a very important difference. Whether you have new employees who are not engaged or a few veteran staffers who may have become disengaged over time, here are a few tips on finding and reaching out to them in order to boost morale and productivity.

Finding Disengaged and Not Engaged Employees

Spotting a Disengaged Employee

A disengaged employee is one who has mentally checked out. They may be actively pursuing other opportunities, but most often they're not. They're stagnating and they're bringing your team down. Recognizing them is the first step to dealing with the situation. Disengaged employees are usually:

Complaining. Nothing's right. Strategic projects are a waste of time and they don't make enough money to put in the extra effort.

Making excuses. Management doesn't give them enough direction. Their co-worker doesn't give them the information they need. It's not their fault.

Gossiping. Their job no longer interests them, so talking about everyone else is a good time filler. 

Going it alone. They can't work in groups so they decide to do assignments on their own. This isn't the same as taking the initiative. They're a part of the team in name, but then withhold needed information to complete the project alone, away from teammates.

Toxic. Disengagement isn't someone having a bad day. It's someone who is unhappy and, intentionally or not, spreads that unhappiness. No matter how devoted you are to engaging your employees, disengaged employees do turn up, and they can bring your team down.

Spotting an Employee Who is Not Engaged

Unlike a disengaged member of your association's staff, an employee who is not engaged has a problem that might be easily fixed. A lack of engagement is largely a result of a workplace event, change, or personal shift in priority or interest. An example might be an employee who needs stay in the office to finish up an important project when everyone else is at the annual association meeting.

Not being engaged can also be the result of something that did not occur, like not receiving enough feedback or adequate mentoring. An employee might not be engaged because of something stressful going on in the home or other non-work reasons as well. This lack of engagement is largely conditional. If that problem or inattention is straightened out, their attitude will be too.

Association employees who are not engaged are easy to identify. If you find yourself saying things like, 'he was so reliable before' or 'she doesn't seem all here these days,' they probably fall into this category. There's been a change in their behavior that can be resolved.

Finding the Cause of Low Morale at Your Association

If you believe you have a problem with morale and employees who are not engaged, the first thing you need to do is find the cause. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Are there people who don't fit well with your culture or lack the skills they need to succeed? Have those issues been affecting your team as a whole?
  • Has something happened that is upsetting employees? A lay-off, or a few employees leaving that haven't been replaced? Is the rest of the team picking up extra work to compensate?
  • Are member numbers down, causing everyone to feel stressed?

Go through these questions and identify other changes that could be influencing how your staff feels about their work. Once you've found the root cause of low morale, whether it's a team member who doesn't fit in or recent staff changes, you can take steps to resolve the problem.

Action Steps to Improve Morale

Step 1) Sort It Out

Find out who is bringing your team up and who is weighing it down. A disengaged employee needs to be nurtured, as do employees who simply aren't actively engaged. Try to make the situation more comfortable for them, or find out if they have different career goals and need to pursue something different that they love more than their work at your association.

Remember that a disengaged association staffer is unable to represent your association with professionalism and demonstrate the level of member service you want to be known for. That takes energy, and disengaged employees often aren't willing to make the effort. Talk to your employee and get feedback on what can be adjusted to make them feel more engaged and fulfilled at work.

If, after connecting with a disengaged employee, you cannot sort it out, then it might time to part ways.

Step 2) Be Competitive with Companies

It's hard for associations on limited budgets to compete with tech companies that keep video games in the break room and sponsor a Beer Day on your birthday, but you can offer other incentives. Consider the type of mentoring and professional growth that you offer. Sell new employees on your softer benefits like the professional connections they will establish, career pathing, and one-on-ones with the boss or other leaders.

At the same time, tell them about the independent work and responsibility you expect of all employees. Make sure they know that your association offers them the chance for personal fulfillment and professional growth.

Step 3) Clarify Your Mission

You may not pay as much as corporate America, but you have a great mission. Make sure it's clear to everyone and it remains at the front of their minds. Having a clearly defined common goal goes a long way in uniting a team.

To make this even more effective, highlight your association's successes, as well as the employees and members who helped make them happen. Every time you recognize individuals and groups who have done well, you show employees that individual contributions are important. Their work is making a difference every day.

Improving Employee Morale and Engagement Takeaway

One of the easiest ways to improve morale is to keep employees engaged and happy from the very beginning. This means hiring people who are passionate about your mission. It means helping those who are not, and whose disengagement can affect others, to find fulfillment. Set expectations, clearly communicate them, and reward desired behaviors publically.

Finding struggling employees and actively working to improve morale will do wonders for your team's productivity, and improve your ability to exceed your members' expectations as well.