Withdrawn employees are going to cost your business. Here’s how to re-engage them

withdrawn employees

In recent conversations with business leaders, I’ve noticed a standout concern: collective fatigue and how to combat it. While organisations are keen to ‘get back on track’ and return to pre-pandemic KPIs and profitability, leaders are also expressing shared concern about widespread exhaustion and overwhelm that’s permeating both their personal lives and their organisations.

Recently, businesses have needed to rapidly problem-solve challenges to income streams, logistics and business continuity. This has placed many organisations and their people under stress. It’s no wonder we’re all feeling at best tired, and at worst, burnt out. 

As we continue to troubleshoot the effects of natural disasters, economic upset, and the ongoing pandemic, while also planning a return to profitability and growth, leaders are right to be concerned about how extended fatigue can exhibit itself in the workforce.

Employee disengagement is one of the greatest concerns in this area. Extended periods of uncertainty and burnout can lead to employees disconnecting from day-to-day tasks and withdrawing not only from responsibilities, but also from the business as a whole.

Ultimately decreased productivity and performance is going to cost your business — whether via the bottom line, stakeholder relationships or brand reputation. Business leaders know and understand the importance of having staff engaged in their work and the potential costs to businesses when they are not. Not to mention the very lengthy and time-consuming process required to replace top talent. 

Re-engaging a workforce is a challenge that should be taken up immediately. You can’t successfully build, sustain or grow a business if your workforce is hurting.

The role of organisational resilience

Organisational resilience and growing the capacity to cope with change and uncertainty is essential to preventing and combating withdrawal in the workplace. Resilient people enable resilient teams, leading to better cohesion and morale, greater psychological safety and increased job satisfaction. Therefore building (or rebuilding) resilience should be the first step in safeguarding against disengagement.

Importantly, resilience needs to be cultivated at the top and slowly rolled out through an organisation. In other words, it must start with the C-suite. Resilience building workshops can help leaders structure a personal resilience program and provide a framework on how a resilience practice can be seamlessly embedded into the culture of an organisation.

How to spot withdrawn employees

When trying to spot the signs and symptoms of disengagement, leaders will need to be highly observant of their workforce and empathetic in their support.  

Disengagement can present as both absenteeism and presenteeism. Regular reviews of organisational attendance can highlight if there’s a broader cultural problem regarding absences. But leaders shouldn’t forget that presenteeism and the reduced productivity that occurs when employees are ‘always on’ should also raise concerns.  

Colleagues who were once prolific communicators might be showing signs of disengagement if they stop sharing their support, thoughts and ideas with their colleagues. Lowered motivation and morale amongst individuals or teams, an increase in mistakes, and a lack of proactivity or discretionary effort are all signs that colleagues are becoming detached and in need of support.

There are also signs to look for in those working remotely. Not being readily available during agreed working hours, appearing tired or bored during Zoom meetings or leaving the camera off entirely, or simply not meeting deadlines can all be indicators that something is amiss. 

Re-engaging your workforce 

There are ways to re-engage employees — both at an individual and an organisational level — and in doing so, to rebuild productivity, motivation, innovation and fulfilment.

First and foremost, check in with employees — both individually and as whole teams — to find out how they are coping and how engaged they currently feel. This could be done as a 1:1 check-in or through larger-scale company-wide surveys at a macro level.

Speaking directly with people or analysing data from well-constructed surveys will allow you to identify individuals, or pockets of your organisation, in need of extra support and help you better understand what the immediate needs are.  

In some cases, employees will simply benefit from rest and time away from the demands of work. Consider a company-wide ‘switch off’ day and encourage employees to regularly use paid time off and mental health days. 

Reconnecting with colleagues also has great benefits. Team building and off-site days allow people to interact outside the usual work setting — this is also a great way to include remote workers. By taking time to foster connections and reiterate company values and purpose, employees can begin to reconnect with the reasons they chose to join the organisation and reacquaint themselves with the role they play in achieving a shared goal.

On an individual level, implementing strategies to boost job satisfaction can have great benefits. This may be informed by individual conversations around achievable goal setting, possibilities for development, new challenges, or increased flexibility.

For organisations that have been adapting to rapid change, it’s likely that employees are feeling fatigued in the current environment. Leaders should remain alert to the sings of withdrawal and be ready to work both individually and across the organisation to support growth in resilience and reengage those who are at risk of withdrawal.

The health and wellbeing of your workforce should be a key priority for any leader — one that’s just as important as meeting traditional business goals. 


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