Slackers: They’re dreaded by HR personnel and management everywhere. And despite everyone’s best efforts, you’ve probably seen one or two sneak their way into your office. They’re constantly grousing, they don’t do their work, and they’re just overall a drag on the team.
That’s the narrative we all know, but what if it’s more complicated than that?
In my experience, almost everyone wants to make a contribution. But sometimes motivation issues and management problems can make things unnecessarily complicated. And sure, some people just do not want to work, but that’s far less common than you might expect.
Let’s look at a new hire. They’re excited for a new job, they’re maybe making a bit more money, and they’ve generally got a good attitude. So what happens? Well, they come in and have HR talk at them throughout the first day, then they have “training” that’s more watching than actually doing anything.
Just because someone is good at their job doesn’t make them a natural trainer—and sitting through hours of poor instruction can dent the best attitude. Often new people are given the dogma without the reason, which can compound an already poor learning environment. Wouldn’t that take the shine off your nice, new job?
Instead, I like to bring people on by giving them an understanding of what we are trying to accomplish for our customers, the role they and their department play in making that work, and how we want the customer experience to feel. I then directly tell the new people that we don’t always hit the mark, and that they could play a strong role in helping us be better.
They’ll only have fresh eyes once, so I ask them to take notes their first couple weeks—anything that seems odd, counterproductive or just goofy. Then, I let them get to work. Because if I’ve hired somebody, then I know that they’re good at what they do. So why would I stand in the way and make them sit around before they can actually do the job I’m paying them for?
Once they’ve gotten acclimated, I circle back a couple weeks later to listen—really listen—to what they saw and heard. Then we work hard to find a way to implement changes based on their observations; something they can own and feel good about contributing.
Even if you are past the first day on the job opportunity with your “slackers,” you can still use some of this approach. The biggest solution to disengaged employees is to show them how they make a difference. Almost nobody comes into a job with the attitude of, “Oh boy, I can’t wait to do nothing with my time!” We all want to contribute and make impacts. But if management isn’t making it clear how each employee’s work helps the whole, then who can blame them for becoming disaffected?
So if you look around your office and see dead eyes and disinterested people, ask yourself what happened here. You don’t need to throw out the rule book, but find a way to engage your employees in their work. I’m not talking about a cheesy office party, either; I mean let them see the real, demonstrable difference that their efforts create. Then ask for their feedback; let them tell you why they’re unhappy, and make changes based on that information.
Sometimes it’s just a bad fit. But more often than not, people feel ground down by management processes, and that’s a killer for your team’s morale. My advice? Take these steps and figure out what you can do to get back those energetic, determined people that you hired. Because they’re still in there; you just have to let them be heard.