How to Help Your Employee Bust Out of a Slump

employee slumpThe employee who hits the ground running when hired, quickly reaches peak productivity, and remains there without even an occasional dip in performance is rare. Even our best employees’ performance and productivity fluctuate from time to time. As a manager, you are in a position to help them when the inevitable employee slumps come, and your employees will appreciate your willingness to help, especially when you do so methodically.

Here are four steps to revitalize an employee experiencing an uncharacteristic slump:

Identify disengagement or lagging performance

I am seen.

Employee engagement levels vary from fully engaged to going through the motions, to completely disengaged. Only 34 percent of US workers are engaged and 54 percent are somewhere in the not fully engaged range, while just 13 percent are actively disengaged. When a high performing employee falls off, it is usually gradual, unless there is a severe personal crisis involved. Think about the employee’s normal level of engagement on a 1-10 scale. If the issue isn’t engagement, but performance, take the same approach in comparing present performance to the norm. If the employee is operating at two or more levels below the norm for either engagement or performance, take action before the situation worsens.

Show concern and have a dialogue

I am understood.

Great employees are often proactive in dealing with slumps and addressing issues with managers, but sometimes they don’t see a problem. Don’t wait for your employee to bring up the issue; think of yourself as a partner rather than a superior and talk to him or her about the things you have noticed. These may include coming to work late, a performance drop, or an apparent lack of enthusiasm. The source of the problem will help you to identify the right solution.

If the problem is coming to work late, not contributing as much in meetings, or a visible loss of drive, try to reconnect them with what they love about their work. Ask them what it was that attracted them to the industry and to the company. Remind them of what their stated career goals were, and explore ways to reconnect with that feeling again. This approach focuses on intrinsic (internal) motivating factors, rather than extrinsic. Most employees just want to feel like their hard work is justified, recognized, and that they are appreciated. Showing empathy by focusing on intrinsic motivators helps the employee to feel valued.

You may find during this conversation that the source of the problem is personal. If this is the case, refer them to counseling or other benefits available to employees, or to an HR manager who will be able to help them with the next steps. Express care and concern as you facilitate the employee seeking help.

You may also find that the employee no longer feels challenged in their role, or conversely, they feel overwhelmed by growing responsibilities. The former causes disengagement through boredom and the latter through stress.

Cultivate the relationship

 I am valued.

In the course of the discussion you just had, you laid the building blocks for the foundation of a solid relationship with your subordinate. Relationships with bosses correlate strongly with employee retention, especially among the younger generation of workers who want more open lines of communication. What you learned in the dialogue were your employee’s primary needs, which typically include the following:

  1. Need for empathy with what the employee values from work
  2. Need for concern for what the employee may be experiencing outside of work
  3. Need for understanding of desired functions and workloads
  4. Need to have mutual plans for making the job more rewarding and sustainable
  5. Need for practical, day-to-day guidance on handling work responsibilities

Managerial understanding of employees as individuals with unique needs is a pillar of a high performance culture. The more precisely you can describe each of your individual employees according to their needs, the more likely you are to develop stronger, more trusting relationships. You can then build on that foundation through regular praise, varying forms of recognition, and involving others in your dialogues to further enrich the relationship.

Create an individualized plan

My manager and my company are invested in my career.

Collaborate with your employee to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses their unique needs. This may involve connecting your employee with a mentor within the organization or industry experts outside of the organization that they can rely on for help or to answer questions. It will likely include a specific professional development plan that may be comprised of a reading list, workshops and seminars to attend, and training classes to take. Your mutually established plan will also include accountability through periodic meetings to discuss progress toward goals. These meetings are essential for maintaining peak performance and productivity, as well as the employee’s aspiration to develop within your organization.

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