How to Deal with a Disengaged Employee

By Kevin on April 25, 2015 in Best Of, employee engagement, leadership

What do you do about that one negative team member who just doesn’t want to get engaged?

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Probably the one question I get more often than any other is people emailing in saying, “Kevin, I think I’m being a good leader. I get good overall engagement scores on my team, but there’s that one person who just seems so negative. It’s that Debbie Downer person who says, ‘I just don’t want to be engaged. I’m here for a paycheck. Just leave me alone.'”

This is going to sound harsh but you should probably fire that person.

Now let me explain it a little bit. First of all, we know that the majority of engagement comes from external factors, extrinsic motivation. You as the leader, as the team leader, most of it is on you to engage that team member, but about 40% comes from internal drivers, intrinsic motivation, intrinsic engagement. You can lead the horse water but you can’t force them to drink. It’s the same thing.

If you think you’re doing the great leading for engagement behaviors, and in fact you have great team scores for engagement, then you know you’ve created the culture where people can be engaged at work. If they’re not engaged, then that’s probably their issue.

When I say you should probably fire that person, engagement does start in the hiring process. This was a mistake. This is a mismatch on you or the person that hired this person and brought them into the organization. It could be that this person just isn’t happy in their career. They made an early poor career choice. Maybe they’re in the right job type but the company cultural fit isn’t right.

Whatever the reason, something got missed in the hiring process or something changed, and now it’s unlikely that you’re going to ever get them engaged.

The best thing you can do is really talk to them about it. Be open about it that engagement is everybody’s job. We are all leaders whether we want to be or not. Our emotions are contagious so you need everybody to be fully engaged at work. If they can’t see themselves getting there in their role, on your team or in that company, then perhaps you could help guide them into a new career path on a different team or in a different company.

Good luck. You can always hit me with your questions at info @

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Check out Employee Engagement 2.0, by Kevin Kruse, and discover how leaders turn apathetic groups into emotionally committed teams.

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