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A short story about the engaged disengaged worker.

The dictionary definition of employee engagement: engaged employees work passionately and feel profound connections to their company which moves the entire company forward. They innovate, they create, and they are valuable contributors in the work environment.

A disengaged employee would be the exact opposite: checked-out, putting in their 8 hours without any passion for how their work relates to company goals. But more than that, they undermine the work that valuable, engaged employees contribute. They monopolize their managers' time and can pollute a passionate group with their negativity. It is our job as HR professionals to encourage employee engagement and to steer disengaged employees in the right direction, but a third type of employee, the engaged disengaged worker, presents an interesting case for managers.

Let me introduce you to Steve: he is exceptionally important to the company because he greatly contributes to the financial success of the company on a daily basis. He manages millions of dollars and is able to analytically see the big picture. He manages successful departments within the company and has been in his position for over ten years. He understands the business extraordinarily well and has longevity that makes him irreplaceable. However, he shows up to work whenever he feels like it, comes and goes as he pleases, will sit in meetings and text while others are speaking, moves from cubicle to cubicle distracting and derailing other employees from their work. He sees no value in any other employee, and he has trouble working with other departments because he thinks he is better than anyone else. In short, Steve is exceptionally smart, entirely irreplaceable, and forcefully arrogant.


This employee is critical to the company, so how do you engage them positively in the company so that their contributions extend beyond monetary gain? How do you transform their negativity into passion and productivity? You guessed it – HR!

  1. Engage with the employee - the best way to begin is to validate these employees' worth, contributions, and significance in careful crucial conversations that make these employees feel heard and valued. In Steve's case, HR was able to listen to him so that he felt confident and trusted enough to trust others and depend on them to engage with him.

  2. Understand where the employee is coming from - when he felt heard & validated he went off the offense. He realized the benefits in collaboration and saw the value in working alongside, rather than against, his coworkers and employees.

  3. Inclusion with the rest of the team - HR created a culture of inclusiveness rather than distrust that permeated through even the most negative aspects of the team.

By using these steps, HR was able to facilitate a genuine win/win situation for Steve, the team and overall the company.

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