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When Good Employees Go Silent and What to Do About It


Although new hires often charge into work bright-eyed and motivated to succeed, it’s normal for the novelty of a new job to slowly wear off. However, there’s a difference between adjusting to the normal routine of the workplace and losing the drive to achieve. When the latter happens, it’s known as employee disengagement. And it can be a detriment to your company if not addressed early on.

It is especially harmful when one of your good employees suddenly shows signs of being disengaged. You may have noticed a once motivated and involved employee beginning to be more withdrawn and distant. These changes do not usually happen for no reason. The good news is that there are things that can be done to help the employee get back to being their old self in the workplace. In this article, we’ll explain what happens when good employees go silent and what you can do about it.

Signs an Employee Is Disengaged

51% of workers report feeling “disengaged” with their jobs. This staggering statistic reveals the reality of the modern workforce. The reality is that most employees experience a disconnect from their company’s mission and thus have lost their passion. 

There are many reasons why an employee might begin to disengage from their work. Sometimes, even the most hard-working, talented employees can lose their spark. In some cases, this is caused by burnout or being overworked, while other times it can be a result of personal problems or a simple disconnect from your company’s mission and values. There’s no way to know unless you ask.

Whatever the reason may be, it’s important to nip the problem in the bud before your company’s productivity declines. At worst, an employee who remains disengaged for a long period of time may leave your company altogether. Here are some warning signs that an employee is becoming disengaged at work:

  • Decline in Attendance- When an employee fails to show up on time – or at all – it can indicate a loss of initiative and drive, hallmark signs of an employee who’s losing interest in their work.
  • Drop in Work Quality– When an employee has become disengaged at work, the quality of the services they provide may drop significantly. Similarly, you may notice that they spend less time working in general, and may instead try to “fly below the radar”.
  • Withdrawal from Team Efforts-Employees who formerly took charge and tackled problems head-on might now cling to the sidelines as their peers overcompensate on their behalf. 

Despite the alarming implications of that number, your company doesn’t have to fall victim to this pattern of decreased ambition and engagement. With the right strategy, you can encourage and inspire your employees when that slump starts to kick in.


Reasons Why Good Employees Become Silent

There are several reasons why a good employee could become silent and distant. It is important to understand those reasons. Understanding what may be causing the change in behavior may help you better understand the employee. 

  1. Work Overload: If an employee is overwhelmed with their workload, they might become silent. They may be hesitant to communicate their concerns out of fear of appearing incompetent or not being able to handle their responsibilities.
  2. Personal Issues: Personal challenges outside of work can lead an employee to become more reserved. For example, things like health problems, family concerns, or other personal crises. During such times, they might prioritize dealing with these issues over engaging in office chatter.
  3. Conflict With Colleagues: Experiencing conflict with colleagues or being the target of workplace bullying can result in an employee retreating into silence. They may avoid conversations to prevent confrontations or further negative experiences.
  4. Change in Work Dynamics: A change in team structure, management, or company culture can lead an employee to become silent as they try to adapt. They might be uncertain about their position in the new setup or feel unsure about how to navigate the changed dynamics.
  5. Lack of Job Satisfaction: If an employee starts to feel that their efforts aren’t valued, or that their role no longer aligns with their career goals, they may become disengaged and less communicative. This can stem from not being recognized or not seeing growth opportunities.

People react differently to different life and work situations. Perhaps some of your employees are unaffected by some of these circumstances while others are. Keep in mind that everyone is different. You should not expect each employee to respond to these circumstances the same. But, you should be aware of the potential underlying reasons for the employee’s change. 


How to Get Back on Track

A disengaged employee is not always a lost cause. It’s important that as a supervisor, you do everything in your power to encourage and motivate your employees. As a leader, they look to you for support and inspiration. Here are some things you can do to help encourage your employees to find that spark again.

Start a Dialogue

Initiate a one-on-one conversation with the employee in question. Host the discussion in a private setting, ideally a “neutral space” where neither party has explicit authority. Encourage your employees to open up by using neutral language and offering your support as their supervisor and colleague. Sometimes, a little pep talk can go a long way.

It can be helpful to directly ask what they need from you in order to succeed with your company. Don’t be afraid to explore options with them. After all, an employee who feels valued and included is more likely to work with you on changing their behavior. 

During the conversation, be an active listener. Allow the employee to share their thoughts without interruption. Sometimes, merely providing them with an outlet to express themselves can lead to resolution. It’s also beneficial to ask open-ended questions. This not only shows your interest in understanding their perspective but also encourages them to delve deeper into their feelings and concerns.

Address the Cause Directly

Once the underlying issue has been identified, collaborate with the employee to find a solution. Whether it’s adjusting their workload, providing additional training, or resolving interpersonal conflicts, it’s essential to ensure that the resolution aligns with both the employee’s needs and the organization’s objectives. Remember, the aim is not just to address the immediate concern but also to create an environment where every team member feels valued, understood, and motivated.

Also, after addressing the cause directly, continuous follow-up is crucial. It reinforces the notion that you, as a leader, are committed to their well-being and success. By consistently checking in, you can ensure that the solutions implemented are effective and that the employee remains engaged and satisfied in their role.


Create a Culture of Engagement

Although work isn’t always the most exciting place to be, there are ways to cultivate a more energized and inspired atmosphere. Workplace culture has a major effect on employee retention; in one survey, 72% of workers cited workplace culture as a factor influencing their decision to work for (or leave) a company.

Creating a culture of engagement means cultivating a workplace that inspires your employees and challenges them to seek success in unconventional ways. Grey office cubicles and repetitive routines are going to kill your employees’ ambition and energy. Rather than bore them and expect results, challenge them, stimulate them, and provide them with a working environment that gets them thinking outside the box.

Google, widely reputed as one of the most successful companies in the world, is famous for its unconventional and creative workplace culture. Google employees are encouraged to pitch new ideas to executives, brainstorm during on-site recreational activities, and contribute to team projects.

You don’t have to install a volleyball court like Google to generate excitement about work. However, that type of principle remains. Creating a fun and creative work environment can do a lot for your workforce’s morale. Start small with team-building exercises, weekly group challenges, and occasional brainstorming sessions. You’re likely to notice an increase in engagement and motivation all around.


Implement Productivity Incentives

Employee disengagement sometimes stems from the sense of being unappreciated. There are many ways this experience can come about. Employees who frequently pitch ideas that are flat-out rejected or assigned to other individuals may stop offering contributions altogether. Similarly, employees who consistently perform well but receive little to no recognition might feel that their efforts are wasted, and thus may begin under-performing, if the response is the same either way.

This is why it’s so important to recognize and reward your best employees on a regular basis. When an employee goes above and beyond or shows initiative, it’s your responsibility as a good leader to recognize that effort and encourage them to continue the good work. That’s how you get consistent results from your top talent.

That being said, it never hurts to implement productivity incentives to light a fire under your disengaged employees. Here are some examples of effective incentive programs you might want to consider:

  • Monetary bonuses
  • Increased compensation
  • Additional PTO
  • VIP experiences
  • Periodic awards ceremonies
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Gift cards
  • Celebratory company outings
  • Public recognition

Not sure where to begin? Organize a group meeting, wherein you can ask your employees directly what incentives offer the most appeal. Try casting a vote and coming to an agreement together as a team.


Good employees are hard to find. If your employees are beginning to show signs of disengagement at work, it can be an indicator that it’s time to adjust your company culture. Although there are many reasons why disengagement happens, the most important thing to know is that it can be fixed with patience, persistence, and support from an open-minded supervisor who truly cares.

Ari Bratsis
Team Writer: Ari is a writer, blogger and small business owner based in Washington state.

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Team Writer: Ari is a writer, blogger and small business owner based in Washington state.

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