5 Signs Your Employees Have Checked Out and 3 Ideas to Engage Them

By April 23, 2024 April 29th, 2024 No Comments
5 signs your employees have checked out

If you even have to ask if your employees have checked out, then you probably have a problem.

The tricky part about this is that things might seem to be going well. Work is getting done, you don’t have problems. But while things seem to be going well, your employees are doing the bare minimum and not bringing their best to the job. You are just a paycheck and not fulfilling in any other way. This is not a good place to be if you value your employer brand, employee satisfaction, productivity, etc.

There are a lot of reasons having employees who have checked out might be an issue. This article, at Harvard Business Review, is a must-read if you find yourself in this situation.

Here are five signs to look for to determine whether your employees have checked out already:

Your Employees Have Checked Out: They Don’t Give You Feedback

Whether they don’t respond to employee surveys or they don’t open up in one-on-ones, this is one of the best signs that your employees have already checked out. They might still be nice and cordial. They likely still do a good job. They don’t show disrespect. But when they won’t share their ideas on what the problems are, what possible solutions are, etc., they are communicating that they don’t trust you anymore. They don’t trust you’ll listen to them. They worry their input might lead to retaliation. They are just biding their time hoping you don’t ruin the organization, or their position (read: paycheck).

I know it can be hard to hear criticism about the organization, management’s decisions, the direction you are going, but you have to realize that when your employees share their frustrations and ideas, they are still invested in you, the organization, and their jobs. When that stops, they are just there to put their time in, do as good a job as they need to, and not expect much more than a paycheck from you. This is not “employee engagement.”

Your Employees Have Checked Out: They Change Their Schedules

I’m a huge advocate for work-life balance, and all of that stuff. I care about how employees are doing, in and out of work, because everything in their life will have an impact on what they bring to their role. If they are exhausted at home (mentally, physically, emotionally, etc.) then they are going to have less they can bring to you.

If you have someone who usually comes in early or stays late, or is otherwise very dependable regarding their schedule and/or availability, and then they all of the sudden seem to be missing all the time, you have a problem. This can happen for a bunch of different reasons… maybe they are having a crisis at home and they need to spend more time there. Maybe they are working on an awesome project as a community volunteer.

Or, maybe, your employees have checked out and they just don’t care anymore. They don’t feel seen or heard. The extra time and effort they were putting in was not being recognized or rewarded in any way. Maybe they realize that, even by putting in extra time, they will never catch up or get ahead. They are discouraged. Why try if you are never going to get ahead, or if your boss doesn’t care.

I think this can be really, really healthy. Come to work, get your job done, and go home. If you have too much work, renegotiate (higher salary, hire other people to help, move projects to other people, etc.). But if there isn’t any renegotiation, or communication, and they just stop putting in the effort, your employees have checked out… or started down that path.

Your Employees Have Checked Out: They Complain About the Small Things

I hope you know by now that I like open, honest communication at work. If something is bothering you, or them, please talk about it. But when your employees complain about little things, things that they didn’t complain about before, things that are actually normal or okay, you might have a problem.

Sometimes, expressing dissatisfaction about little things is the canary-in-the-coalmine communication you need to be aware of. Here’s a seemingly silly example: Let’s say you host a monthly luncheon for your employees. For some reason, it’s sandwiches and chips, every month, for years. It’s just what you do. You think it’s a nice gesture. But you have a group who complains that their friends at other companies get pizza every month.

No big deal, really. You could break tradition and get pizza, right? But then they complain you got the wrong kinds, or pizza from the wrong place. No matter what you do, try, or change, people complain.

Of course, people are going to complain. I’m not saying they can’t complain. What I’m saying is to listen to what they are grateful or ungrateful for. What are the things they are noticing? What are the things they talk about? If you have a strong culture with engaged employees, you’ll have a different conversation. Once you hear bickering and complaining about the little things you should know you have some serious work to do.

Your Employees Have Checked Out: Work Isn’t Getting Done Like Before

If you notice metrics are being missed, or scorecard results are lower than normal, and this is becoming a pattern, you might have a problem with employee morale and employee engagement. If people are apathetic about goals or objectives, they may have already checked out. Of course, this could happen for other reasons, like the goals are unreasonable and unattainable, and they have given up even trying.

But if this is a pattern, especially across a team, or throughout your organization, you may be in a situation where your workforce is communicating with one another about some level or ridiculousness they don’t want to deal with anymore. Or they don’t like a certain manager, or management methods. Perhaps they are disillusioned by what you are offering them vs. what a competitor is offering.

You might pay higher than market rate but when they find out the competition offers a much better work/life balance, or better perks, they might be daydreaming about hopping to one of your competitors.

Monitoring employee performance and output can be a great way to understand how invested your team is.

Your Employees Have Checked Out: Too Much Time on Social Media, etc.

We’ve all seen that one colleague who spends a lot of time on Facebook or some other social site. I’m all for taking breaks, checking in with friends and the rest of the world to see what’s going on. But if they are constantly on non-work sites, including local or national news, or job boards, you might have a problem.

Of course, just because someone has Facebook open all the time doesn’t mean they are on it all the time. Some people might feel they need some kind of mental distraction to recover from an intense project. But you can create a culture where, when at work, you focus on work. I worked at a company that did this very well. They were adamant that we not spend too much time at work, rather we spend a reasonable time at work and then leave. Please leave, they encouraged us, and go do non-work things. Get on a kayak, play games with family, travel… but get away from work. Get refreshed, recharged.

The message we all got, loud and clear, was that they fully expected us to be 100% present at work, do our job, and then go enjoy life. I saw the results of that intentional culture and it was pretty awesome. People were excited to be at work, bring their best, and then get the heck out of the building. When you were off work, or on vacation, you were heavily discouraged from answering  or writing emails.

If you find your employees spend a lot of time on non-work things, you have a problem. They are bored, discouraged, or something along those lines. Figure that out and then encourage them to bring their best to work and to also have a fulfilling life outside of work.

If Your Employees Have Checked Out, Help Them Feel Heard/Seen/Valued

At Snowfly, we are advocates of “employee recognition.” This cute little phrase can be an HR checklist or it can be an inconsequential, cool idea that gets lost over time. Or, it can be a deep part of your culture.

When you create and use an employee recognition system that is actually used, supported by executives, and rolled out and maintained correctly, you have the chance to make employee recognition more than just nice words but something that is part of your DNA.

Employees have to believe that employee recognition is real and genuine. Having some kind of reward tied to recognition reinforces the message that this is who you are, how you do things, and this isn’t just another HR initiative that will likely not survive to the end of the year.

If you need help understanding what this means, what this should look like, or how to maintain a successful employee recognition program over years, reach out to us. We’ve been doing this for decades.

If Your Employees Have Checked Out, Communicate with Them About It

Sometimes, when employees have checked out, it has little to do with you. For example, during the COVID pandemic, when the government shut down many aspects of our lives, people were upside-down. Everyone was checked out to some degree because no one knew what the immediate future held. How could you go to work and do anything while wondering what today, or tomorrow, or this weekend would bring?

Also, sometimes checking out has to do with them, and circumstances outside of work. You can’t fix that, but you can perhaps point them to resources, and in a direction, so they can get more engaged at work. Here’s another excellent Harvard Business Review article that might be helpful for them to read, or for you to read with them during a one-on-one: You Checked Out at Work. Here’s How to Check Back In.

I realize reading this article might be triggering and offensive. I’m not suggesting reading the article will be the key. I think the information is really good. The key, though, will be excellent communication and a genuine show of empathy.

Again, help them feel heard, seen, and valued. When they realize you care about them, more than just what they produce, they can start to feel more included and more invested.

If Your Employees Have Checked Out, Reevaluate Your Goals and Policies

People see their jobs differently today than they did a few decades ago. They see how jobs fit into their lives, and their personal goals/values/objectives differently. I think this is a great time for us to reevaluate our organization’s goals and policies.

Take, for example, the social movement that TOMS Shoes reinforced, and perhaps made more popular: Buy a pair of shoes and we’ll send a pair of shoes to a disadvantaged country. I was at a store this weekend and saw a sock company had the same message: buy a pair of socks and you’ll get warm fuzzies knowing that we’ll send another pair of socks to someone who can’t afford them.

People want to know that their time, effort, and dollars are actually helping the world be a better place. This could be completely in-line with your products/services, or it could be through a charitable arm your organization creates or supports. This could help you attract a certain type of employee, and help your team feel good (warm fuzzies are powerful) about working with and for you because they know they are helping others.

If you have policies that are outdated, change them. Be purposeful about the rules your team has to abide by. People want to know what you expect but they don’t want to do stuff for silly or unexplainable reasons.

Snowfly Is the Culture Company

Everything we’re talking about in this post has to do with organizational culture. At Snowfly, we have various tools to help you create an intentional culture that your employees don’t want to check out from.

Want to learn more? We’d love to chat, learn about your situation and needs, and share how we might be able to help.

Contact Us

Jason Alba

Jason Alba

I'm passionate about building great cultures. I love respect in the workforce, especially respect that is earned. I love strategic management, leadership, and vision. I love healthy companies through profitability. I love employee engagement, employee performance, and employee satisfaction. I love how Snowfly can help YOUR organization work towards all of these things.

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