Reyer: What's behind new worker's lack of engagement?

  • Article by: LIZ REYER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 4, 2012 - 11:00 PM

Q We've recently added a new analyst to our staff. She just graduated from college, has some of the right skills, but is somewhat lackadaisical in her approach to her work. What can we do to increase her engagement?

A Plain talk is needed to make your expectations clear and to be sure she's in the right role.

The inner game

Set aside any frustration, settle into a grounded state of mind and prepare to think about the situation. If necessary, take some deep breaths and focus on getting calm.

Taking the emotions out of the situation, think about the actual events. It's easy to exaggerate, or to see things as "always" or "never." Be sure that you can specifically describe the issues that you're concerned about. Also think about the positives in her work.

Then take your employee's point of view. If she were to describe her new position, what might she say? Consider whether she really has clarity on what she should be doing, what to do when she finishes her tasks, and ways to move forward.

Also think about your culture, and how it might be supporting her or falling short. For example, does your organization have a "sink or swim" feel? If so, people who are less assured might struggle with asking for the support they need.

Get feedback from others, as well. Do other teammates share your point of view? Perhaps they have different perspectives or ideas to help bring her along.

On the other hand, an underproductive employee can bring down morale, so determine whether that dynamic is at play.

Finally, clarify your expectations.

What would you like to see in three months? Six months? After a year? Know where you could compromise, and what is not negotiable.

The outer game

Recognize that direct communication will be the key to success, either through ongoing mentoring to help your new team member fit in her role, or in helping her realize that the job isn't the right fit.

Set up a time to meet with her. Lay out your observations, and ask for her perspective on how the job is going. To draw her out, ask about a variety of aspects, such as her specific responsibilities or her relationships with co-workers. Then let her know your expectations. Even if you feel that you've communicated them before, it's worth restating them.

If she seems hesitant about her position, try to determine whether she is still adjusting to a professional role, or if the position doesn't fit her skills and goals. If you feel that there's potential for her, set up a schedule for regular meetings, and be sure that she develops a support network that extends more deeply into the company.

Also, accept that she just may not be willing to step up. Her temperament may not fit, she may lack the work ethic you expect. Sometimes you'll need to be willing to make a hard decision so that you can bring in the right kind of person.

The last word

Be direct in addressing your new employee's approach to work so that she can either step it up or move on.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at

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