Career Woman

You’ve got this: Dealing with a disengaged employee


Dr Froswa’ Booker-Drew answers your questions, putting her years of experience and practice into the goal of solving those knotty problems that beset us, and assuring us: ‘you’ve got this’. If you’d like Froswa’ to look at your particular problem, email it to [email protected].

Question:  I’ve recently been promoted to head up a different team in the business. One of the team members is a bit of a problem. She gets her work done, but it’s without enthusiasm or even any sort of engagement. She sits with her earbuds in all day and doesn’t communicate with anybody, and her work pace is glacial, to say the least. My new immediate boss says they have tried, and failed, to manage her out of the business, but that he is expecting me to succeed to either get her engaged or get rid of her. I feel I’ve been handed a bit of a poisoned chalice. Kerry.


Congratulations on the promotion!  What an accomplishment!  You Go Girl!  Initially, when I read your note, I was wondering, what’s the problem?  If Ms. Ice Ice Baby (just joking) is doing her job, isn’t that the goal but upon further examination, there are a number of questions that exist.

  1. Does her job include public/customer facing and if so, is this creating challenges?
  2. How does her lack of engagement impact the team and their ability to build rapport? Is there a team morale issue or problems with productivity because of a lack of her involvement?
  3. Is there a disability present that could affect her ability to engage such as a mild form of Asperger’s? Not sure if you know this and I’m not that kind of doctor but if so, this should be a discussion with HR because of the need for interventions to assist in the workplace.
  4. What have been her experiences on the job? Has there been a situation (or situations) that has caused her to shut down and disconnect?  It might be important to get her point of view so that you have context and a better idea from her perspective.  Maybe she doesn’t feel heard and as a result, has learned to shut others out.  Great opportunity to build trust, if possible, by listening to her side of the story—if she’s willing to share.

Kerry, I am typically highly relational.  I love people even though there are moments that there are some in our species that really work my nerves.  Overall, I find myself elated because of the friendships and relationships I have developed over the years at work.  I’ve also witnessed in my career that there are those who do not feel the same way about people the way I do.  For whatever reason, they are not wired to enjoy relationships in the way that I do.  As a leader, I’ve had to offer grace, coach, and learn my staff over the years and those experiences have confirmed that people are different in not only how they see the world but the way they approach work and interactions.  I’ve also seen jobs take the life out of individuals and day to day, they just do bare minimum because they don’t feel valued.  Just as I’ve asked others to adapt, I know that on this journey, through self-reflection and mistakes, I’ve learned to make adjustments for myself and others.

This even leads into the way your boss handled the situation.  I find it interesting that despite your boss’s attempt to address the situation, you are now given the task to fix it. Could it be that your boss sees you as a person who can solve challenges or is your boss an individual who is conflict avoidant?  Although you didn’t ask this, I think this could offer insight on dealing with your new boss and how they handle situations as well.  Just fyi.

I think the best thing for you to do since you’ve been handed this challenge is to have a conversation with the employee and share your concerns.  More importantly, you should provide concrete examples of the behavior in question along with expectations and timelines to address it.  Instead of setting long term goals, create 30/60/90-day plans in collaboration with the employee to evaluate progress. This plan should also include an evaluation of the employee’s interfacing with team members, leadership and customers/clients.  Make sure that you are checking in often to provide consistent feedback that includes both praise as well as correction, if necessary.  If there is an HR Department in your company, they need to be informed with documentation on the progress of the employee.  Change isn’t immediate and if at the end of 90 days, if the goals have not been reached, then you have provided the employee a chance to make changes and offered feedback with opportunities for course correction.  At that time, you can make a decision on next steps.  I would strongly suggest you read one of my favorite books, Immunity to Change by authors Kegan and Lahey because in all honesty, you are managing a change process with a team member which has implications for the entire team.  Make sure you are documenting your conversation(s) with the employee and even providing follow up emails to recap conversations.  Documentation is important!  I just know that you have the tools to address this situation in an amazing way!

You. Got. This, Kerry!

About Dr. Froswa Booker-Drew

Dr. Froswa' Booker-Drew is a Partnership Broker. Relational Leadership Junkie. Connector. Author/Speaker/Trainer. Co-Founder, HERitage Giving Circle. She been quoted and profiled in Forbes, Ozy, Bustle, Huffington Post and other media outlets around the world. In addition, she has been asked to speak on a variety of topics such as social capital and networking, leadership, diversity, and community development to national and international audiences. This included serving as a workshop presenter at the United Nations in 2013 on the Access to Power. One of the most impactful life events for her was being a part of the documentary, Friendly Captivity, a film that followed a cast of 7 women from Dallas to India. Honors for her work include: Semi-finalist for the SMU TEDx in 2012, 2012 Outstanding African American Alumni Award from the University of Texas at Arlington, 2009 Woman of the Year Award by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and Diversity Ambassador for the American Red Cross. Graduating with a PhD from Antioch University in Leadership and Change, she also attended the Jean Baker Miller Institute at Wellesley for training in Relational Cultural Theory and completed facilitator training on Immunity to Change. She has also completed training through UNICEF on Equity Based Evaluations, and is the author of 2 workbooks for women, Ready for a Revolution: 30 Days to Jolt Your Life and Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last as well as a writer for several publications around the globe. WFAA Attention Series: Froswa Booker Drew on Vimeo

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