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Lost That ‘Love Working’ Feeling? How to Reignite the Flame with Burned Out Employees

Well, it’s official: the recession is over – and has been for quite some time now (shocking how we could’ve missed that), according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which means now might be the time employers start worrying about the possibility of a talent exodusBut while employers might be worried about which employees are going to leave their organization, instead, they might want to worry about those employees who actually stay.

That’s because, according to Peter Barron Stark and Jane Flaherty in their book, “Engaged! How Leaders Build Organizations Where Employees Love to Come to Work,” employees quit their jobs in one of two ways:  The first is physically, where an employee moves on to another job.  Though unfortunate, at least this method is manageable because there’s a definitive next step: hiring a new employee.

The second way an employee quits – the one that “strikes fear into the heart of every manager” – is mentally. Unlike a physical quit, when an employee mentally quits an organization, it’s not always clear what an employer’s next steps should be. You can’t, after all, simply hire someone new, but at the same time, the same old engagement tactics you’ve been doing all along clearly aren’t working anymore, either.

Stark and Flaherty idenfity five red flags employers can use to identify these disengaged workers who are no longer invested in their work or the company.

Five Signs Your Employees Have Mentally Quit Their Jobs

  1. Evidence of a “whatever” attitude. The employee is not confrontational, but clearly is not motivated.
  2. Minimal contribution that produces a mediocre level of performance. The employee shows up right on time, leaves right on time, and does just enough to keep his/her job, and no more.
  3. Absenteeism. The employee uses up all sick, vacation, or PTO (paid time off) time on a regular basis.
  4. Loss of enthusiasm. The employee may have been a motivated contributor, but now withdraws and contributes little.
  5. Little or no interest in the future. Whether you are discussing a vision for the future or your office holiday party, this employee is clearly only interested in what’s “here and now.”

Unless employers act quickly to manage those employees who’ve ‘checked out,’ it could literally cost organizations: The Gallup Organization recently reported that, at the end of 2009, more than 25 million people were actively disengaged with their jobs, costing U.S. employers $416 billion in lost productivity.

What Can We Do To Make It Right Again? Salvaging the Broken Employee EngagementIt’s really no wonder employees, especially now, are disengaged: The recession left so many workers with heavier workloads thanks to organizational layoffs and slashing of resources, they’re simply burning out.  One of the first things employers can do to salvage an increasingly overwhelmed workforce is to give employees back control…with flex-time offerings, such as reduced or non-traditional hours and telecommuting, according to a recent Human Resources Executve article.

Speaking of giving back control – and what companies can do to re-engage employees – I recently came across this recent interview with Mark Hirschfeld, co-author of Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times, in which he identifies the two steps any employer can easily and immediately take to significantly benefit employee engagement:

  1. The first is to “listen intently and deeply to your associates about what would be helpful to them in creating a more engaged place to work.”
  2. And the second is to “Make sure you follow up on anything you commit to do.”

Hirschfeld’s second tip stood out to me as being absolutely crucial to re-engaging employees. After all, how many times do we see organizations administer employee surveys…only to see nothing come of them?  More often than not, employees understand that leaders can’t realistically act on every suggestion, but according to Hirschfeld, “They do want to have a sense that their opinions matter. The ability to feel genuinely heard can be very empowering, and if employees see actions being taken based on their feedback significant growth can result.”  While getting employee feedback is important for improving retention rates and productivity, it means nothing if employers don’t actually use this feedback to make a noticeable change. Otherwise, it could be even worse for morale.

(For more ideas on re-engaging employees, check out my earlier post on Peter Barron Spark’s presentation from SHRM 2010, wherein he addresses 10 Ways to Get Your Employees to Say “I Love My Job”.)

Have you noticed more employee burnout of late, and if so, what are you doing about it?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
9 comments
Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

That's a good point about low turnover, Karen. Have you personally seen that in places where you've worked?

As for the 3Rs, I think even companies that get this formula right most of the time can see a slump in engagement, but certainly, it is those companies that stand a better chance of getting their workforces to bounce back, don't you think?

Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

That's a good point about low turnover, Karen. Have you personally seen that in places where you've worked?

As for the 3Rs, I think even companies that get this formula right most of the time can see a slump in engagement, but certainly, it is those companies that stand a better chance of getting their workforces to bounce back, don't you think?

Karen Schmidt
Karen Schmidt

I have always been of the opinion that low turnover is not necessarily a good thing because it can mean you are keeping the wrong people.

If you get the 3Rs (right person, right job, right manager) in place you are well on your way to creating that engaged workforce.

Karen Schmidt
Karen Schmidt

I have always been of the opinion that low turnover is not necessarily a good thing because it can mean you are keeping the wrong people.

If you get the 3Rs (right person, right job, right manager) in place you are well on your way to creating that engaged workforce.

Donna
Donna

I was under the impression that this is how everyone always works. I'm 37 and all the time in every job I worked exactly like that... And everyone I know that's in my social circle, also is the same... When I go to work, I do it for money, not for fun... Otherwise I would be staying home, why to work when there is more fun to not work...

Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

Good points, Donna...Certainly, there are more ideal places to be than at work, but if you HAVE to be at work, what are the things that factor into why you stay in certain positions or with certain companies over others?

Perhaps the people you work with, the types of benefits you get, the respect you get from your manager, the challenge of trying new things...Or maybe just stability? I'd love your feedback!

Donna
Donna

Sure, there still were differences between companies, that made impact on my decisions. Personally to me very important was "types of benefits you get, the respect you get from your manager, the challenge of trying new things".

Donna
Donna

I was under the impression that this is how everyone always works. I'm 37 and all the time in every job I worked exactly like that... And everyone I know that's in my social circle, also is the same... When I go to work, I do it for money, not for fun... Otherwise I would be staying home, why to work when there is more fun to not work...

Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

Good points, Donna...Certainly, there are more ideal places to be than at work, but if you HAVE to be at work, what are the things that factor into why you stay in certain positions or with certain companies over others?

Perhaps the people you work with, the types of benefits you get, the respect you get from your manager, the challenge of trying new things...Or maybe just stability? I'd love your feedback!

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