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Helping A Discouraged Employee

When employees are discouraged, they can be cancerous to the workplace. As their own production goes down, they will often attempt to contaminate others around them as well. Discouraged employees can be easily identified.

by F. John Reh
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An employee who has become discouraged will not perform at the level he or she is capable of achieving. In addition, they can begin to draw others down to their level. It is important for a manager to know how to recognize a discouraged employee and to know what to do to help them return to their former level of production.

How To Recognize A Discouraged Employee

There are many reasons an employee might be discouraged. The symptoms can be as varied as the causes. Here are a few of the signs you can use to help you identify a discouraged worker who might be at risk and in need of your help.

  • They complain that work is not fun anymore
  • They overreact to minor hassles and are easily irritated
  • They complain about being overwhelmed
  • They question the value of tasks they perform
  • They are lethargic and often comment about feeling empty at work

Find Out Why The Employee Is Discouraged

After you have identified discouraged employees, and before you can effectively help them, you have to find out why they are discouraged. Sometimes they don't want to tell the boss, so you may have to be persistent or innovative. Sometimes they don't know themselves why they are so discouraged. Usually they try to hide it.

Here are some ways you can try to find out why the employee is discouraged:

  • Ask them. Try to pick a quiet time. Keep it private.
  • When they make a comment about the job, really listen. And try to "listen between the lines". Listen for what they are saying, not just the words they say.
  • Ask their colleagues. The other employees on your team may be more aware of the condition and the reasons than you think.
  • Ask the Human Resources (HR) Department to get involved. Someone the employee sees as a neutral third party may be able to get more information than you can.
  • In a severe case, refer the employee to your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) if your benefits plan includes one.

Helping The Discouraged Employee

The employee may be discouraged because of burnout, may suffer from a lack of confidence, or may have discouraging problems outside of work that are bleeding over into work hours. The cause will guide the steps you can take to help the employee, but here are some common suggestions.

  • If they are burned out, and you can't reduce the load, try to vary it. Give them different tasks or give them more latitude in how they do them.
  • If they lack confidence (courage), give them tasks they can do. Set them up with a couple of tasks that are challenging for them but not too difficult. Let them "win" a few.
  • Encourage them to talk with you. This motivates them. It gives them a safety valve for their frustrations. And it helps build their confidence.
  • Don't be afraid to refer them to the EAP if they need professional help. Your job is to keep them a productive member of the team, not cure potential mental health problems.

Preventing Discouraged Employees

Rather than discovering discouraged employees and figuring out the cause and cure for their condition, it is always preferable to prevent it when possible. Here are some things you can do proactively to reduce the likelihood of discouraged employees in your department.

  • Keep them motivated. The bottom of this article contains links to specific articles on this topic. If you keep them motivated, they won't get discouraged.
  • Communicate openly and freely with your employees. Let them know what is going on in the company and why. Let hem know why what they are doing is important and how it contributes to the overall success of the department and the company.
  • Listen and keep listening. Listen to what the employees say and what they don't say. Listen to what employees say about each other, about the job, about the company. Let them know you are listening and will take action on what you hear to the extent you can.
  • Get out of your office and wander around. The best way to keep employees from getting discouraged is to be among them. Yes, you have a lot to do and you need to be in your office working, but the time you spend out in the department, listening and observing, will more than make up for the effort it took.

Bottom Line

You can do a lot to prevent discouraged employees, but you can't prevent it completely. Be alert for symptoms of the problem and take action to help the employee as quickly as you can. It will benefit both the employee and the rest of the team.