High performers are a critical piece of your organization's success. They're more productive, motivated, and can raise the effectiveness of nearby coworkers. But several studies have found that talented employees can also be your biggest retention risks if they feel disengaged or burned out.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Richard Clark, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Technology at the University of Southern California, and Bror Saxberg, Vice President of Learning Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, describe the four most common reasons talented employees lose motivation—and how managers can re-engage them.
Reason #1: Your employee's values don't align with the task at hand
The re-engagement strategy: If a task doesn't connect with or contribute to something your employee values, he won't be motivated to complete it. So to re-engage your employee, determine what he cares about and relate it to the task at hand, advise Clark and Saxberg.
Clark and Saxberg add that there are four different types of value you can tap into: interest value, or how "intellectually compelling" a task is; identity value, or how your employee's work contributes to what he considers to be a central part of his identity or role; importance value, or how important a task is to the team's mission; and utility value, or whether the task contributes to the employee's larger goals.
"When an employee doesn't value a task at the outset and the values mismatch may not be apparent, a manager's best bet is to try to appeal to multiple values," write Clark and Saxberg. "One or more of them may resonate with the employee."
Reason #2: Your employee doesn't believe he has the capacity to carry out the task
The re-engagement strategy: When your employee lacks self-efficacy, spend time building his sense of competence and confidence, suggest Clark and Saxberg. For instance, point out examples of times when he overcame a similar challenge or explain how the task at hand can be broken down into more manageable chunks.
"Often, employees who lack self-efficacy are convinced that succeeding at a particular task will require the investment of far more time and energy than they can afford," write Clark and Saxberg. So assure your employee that he may have misjudged the effort required or that the extra effort will lead to success. And offer extra support as needed.
Reason #3: Your employee is overcome by negative emotions
The re-engagement strategy: When an employee is consumed by anxiety, anger, or depression, the best thing a manager can do is to try and understand why, write Clark and Saxberg. "Tell them you want to understand why they are upset and engage in active listening," they suggest.
Clark and Saxberg add that disruptive emotions may stem from different causes. For instance, an employee who feels angry likely believes that someone or something has intentionally caused him harm. And an employee who feels depressed likely believes he is inadequate in a way he cannot control.
Listen to your employee and offer your help, advise Clark and Saxberg. After all, "when people feel they have been understood, their negative emotions soften a bit."
Reason #4: Your employee doesn't know why he is struggling
The re-engagement strategy: When an employee can't figure out why he is struggling with a task, he might find excuses to avoid it, such as calling in sick or pawning off the task on another employee.
So if your employee is struggling, try to help him think clearly about the cause of his struggles, suggest Clark and Saxberg. And if he identifies a cause beyond his control, such as a coworker's ineptitude, encourage him to adjust his thinking to identify and fix something that's under his control, such as his ability to plan ahead (Clark/Saxberg, Harvard Business Review, 3/13).
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