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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Mentally Checked Out Employee

Do you know a Mentally Checked Out employee? My guess is that you probably know quite a few. You may even be that employee. As a headhuntress, I come across this species quite often. Checked Out Employees (let’s call them COE’s) are pretty easy to identify and are becoming more and more common. Here are a few variations of the COE (and keep in mind there are cross-breeds):

The Disappearing Act – To this COE, lunch is code for 2 free hours to vanish
The Time Challenged – Funny how this person’s clock runs late in the morning, but come the end of the day, it runs early
The Master of Verbal Illusion – By populating workplace conversation with vague phrases like “It will be done soon” and “I’m still working on it,” the COE gives the impression of doing work
The “What Not to Wear” candidate – For this COE, Casual Fridays are an everyday event
The Roamer – This employee stealthily roams the work area looking to ensnare others into chitchat
The Smurfer – This COE is constantly clicking as soon as anyone comes near; but it’s really the back button being hit after visiting their favorite websites

Laugh, but mentally checked out employees are a serious cause for concern in corporate America. According to a recent poll in the Gallup Management Journal, 56% of respondents claimed to be “disengaged” or not involved in their work. These are the people who have by most standards quit their job, but continue to sit at their desk everyday and collect a paycheck.

And here’s the killer: Management often notices the mediocre behavior, but keeps the COE on the payroll. In fact, some managers are even intimidated by them. I say, “Get with it!” Are they waiting for the COE to change by osmosis or are they trying to avoid confrontation? Or, does the bogus threat of a lawsuit loom?

Having to make change is uncomfortable for most people. They fear change to their lives. Here, straight from the Queen of Change, (as I am often referred to by my friends), are some ideas on managing the Mentally Checked Out employee:

Inquire - Find out what they need to regain their “rock star” status. Be positive and refrain from telling them they are sucking the energy out of everyone. Be frank about their sub-par performance and try to get to the root of the problem. Reassure them that their contributions are appreciated and that you are willing to work with them, but not cover for them.

Offer Positive Challenges – Provide inspiration by giving the COE an assignment that is different from their daily work and showcases their value. Being checked-out may be a sign that the employee was getting stale with the same old-same old...and quite honestly, who of any creativity and critical thinking power, wouldn’t.

Be engaging yourself – Yes, you! As a manager, keep the door open to communicating with your employees. Twenty-four percent of all U.S. employees stated that they would fire their boss if they had the chance. (GMJ) You don’t want to create an “us versus them” atmosphere. By fostering two-way dialogue, employees are more apt to tell you something is amiss, rather than waiting to write it in their resignation letter.

Be ready to pull the plug – We all hate this part, but the reality is, if all else fails you need to give a written warning. (Be sure to follow your companies policies and procedures for disciplinary actions) Some people just lose their edge. Disengaged employees bring down others and their attitude can be contagious. You’ve got to nip this problem in the bud before you have a small epidemic. Warnings can jumpstart performance or send them jumping for the door. Either way, it is better than continuing to tolerate negative behavior.

I would love to hear your thoughts about checked out employees, or how you’ve dealt with these situations. Please feel free to comment and stay tuned for our next installment of “The Checked Out, The Burnt Out and The Disengaged.” (Real life - not a mini series)

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