When you’re the disengaged employee

A month or so ago I posted a blog about what to do when a highly engaged employee becomes disengaged. This led to some conversation on social media, and the question arose: ‘what if I’m the disengaged employee? How do I decide whether I should re-engage or if it’s time to leave the organization?’ I think we’ve all been there. There have been times that I’ve had to learn how to re-engage and find my passion for my job, and other times it’s been the signal that it’s time to look for a new opportunity. Let me also be clear – losing your passion for the job is not the same as losing your passion for the field. You can be a passionate HR professional, involved and giving back to the community, and still tap out in your current job for a variety of reasons.

The first question to ask is: is this me, or is this my company? Does the company experience a high turnover? Does senior leadership have unrealistic expectations of its employees? Is there a lack of direction as to where the organization is going? If this is the case, and you’ve given it your all to influence leadership and be a change agent, you may have to realize that the problem is bigger and more systemic than you can fix, and it’s time to move on.

Maybe the company overall is great, but your manager or department is in disarray. If the leader of your department is unclear on her objectives or is constantly changing the expectations, and you’ve tried to address this directly, it might be time to look for a new opportunity.

Is the job what you signed up for? Maybe you were told there was tremendous growth potential but it turns out there isn’t. Maybe you were told that administering benefits would be a small piece of your role, but it turns out that it’s the bulk of what you are doing. Whatever the case, if you thought you were taking a particular position and it didn’t live up to the promise, consider – if you knew what it would be before you accepted the offer, would you have? If the answer is no, it might be time to move on.

Sometimes, the job is exactly what we thought, but then the organization goes through significant change and the job changes. This can be a great opportunity to learn and grow, or it can be a time of chaos with no end in sight. Only you can determine what the changes mean for you.

But sometimes, we just get tired. Maybe you had a new initiative that you really believed in, but senior management shot it down. Sometimes we take that rejection personally and start to disengage. You’ve seen it in your employees; don’t think you are immune. If an employee came to you with this situation, how would you coach them? Would you encourage them to look at the company holistically and understand why their idea isn’t right for the company at this time, but that doesn’t mean that they should give up, or would you suggest that nothing is going to change and they might want to consider leaving? I’ve actually coached employees both ways. If someone feels that there is an element to their current situation that has become a deal breaker, and I know that specific element is integral to their position and the company, I let them know. If if means them leaving, then they get to find a better fit, and we get to find a better fit to replace them. It’s painful in the moment, but in the end everyone wins.

So you are disengaged. Think it through. Can the things that bother you be changed? If so, then change them. If not, are they deal breakers? If so, then start looking. If not, then put them to the side and focus on what’s working. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But if you’re struggling to decide, think about how you would coach an employee in your company who came to you with the same situation. That might be your own answer.

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