Wake up call: What to do when your team are checked out

Does your team check out before the day is over? Do you feel like the people on your team are falling asleep on the job? Recognise the signs of disengagement. Reflect for a moment on how often you observe talented people in your business fail to reach their potential. Do some have the capability and yet choose to behave in ways that undermine their success?

No matter how capable people are unless they choose to invest their talents and energy in their role they are unlikely to succeed. If the people on your team are checked out, chances are your businesses performance is suboptimal.

Recognising the signs of disengagement

Five common signs people are ‘checked out’ include:

  1. Absenteeism. When people lack motivation even the challenge of getting out of bed and into work can feel insurmountable. Observe when people are taking an unusual amount of unplanned time off. Look also for common patterns such as regularly been away either side of weekends.
  2. Lack of discretionary effort. When people start doing only as much as they feel they have to, chances are they are disengaged. People who are fully invested in their role voluntarily go the extra mile, don’t have to be asked to support other people on the team and willingly strive to reach goals or deadlines.
  3. Absence of teamwork. Disengaged people tend to focus on what they need to achieve and avoid participating in the group. They are more likely to palm off responsibilities and fail to step forward when the team needs them to.
  4. Suboptimal productivity. Notice how focused people are and how well they use their time and resources to get their job done. Working at a slower than reasonable face, distraction and disorganised work habits are key insights to the extent to which someone no longer has the desire to do their job well.
  5. Poor quality work. It’s not uncommon for people with the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to fail to deliver a reasonable standard of output. Errors, incomplete actions, mediocre presentation and lack of follow-through are common performance challenges that arise when people ‘check out’.

Lifting engagement takes a deliberate approach focused on each person and your team as a whole. While the steps you take as a leader are critical, so to is each individual’s willingness to work toward a better standard of contribution. Expect every member of your team to take ownership for his or her own success and happiness at work. Unless people have the desire to re-engage and come with you on a journey, they wont. Put simply if people don’t want to be there, they need to move on.

Critical steps to take when your team are checked out

  1. Talk to people. Take the time to talk to each person on your team about how they feel about their role, your business and the future. Begin by exploring the extent to which people enjoy their job and its inherent tasks or requirements. It’s common to meet people who simply don’t like what they do. Maintaining engagement and performance in a role we don’t enjoy is unlikely.
  2. Energise your teams spirit. Understand the things that energise and drain your team of the energy needed to succeed. When people have plenty of positive energy in reserve they are entirely more likely to choose effective thoughts, emotions and ways of behaving. When drained of energy, however, most people are likely to respond in ways that undermine success.
  3. Share an inspiring vision for the future. Help people to see a clear picture of the future. Inspire people to want to be a part of it by sharing what you believe the team is capable of achieving and why. Influence a strong sense of belief in the future and people are more likely to be energised by the challenge. When people see little point in what they are doing or hope of success, they are likely to disengage.
  4. Influence a strong sense of personal value. How we feel about ourselves as well as how we believe other people feel about us plays a significant role in energising our spirit and influencing our engagement. When people feel valued, capable and respected they are more likely to give things a go. When they feel disrespected or undervalued they are more likely to minimise their contribution. Reward and recognise people – even a pat on the back can make a big difference.
  5. Value relationships. Build an environment in which people are expected to nurture healthy relationships that allow the team to thrive. When people trust and respect the people they work with, they are entirely more likely to feel emotionally invested in your business. Consider carefully the people you invite to join your team and the impact they are likely to have on the group. Take action to address conflicts that arise and behaviours that adversely impact how people feel about coming to work.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A practical guide to getting the best from people and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people


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