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COACH’S CORNER: What to Do When Employees “Check Out”

August 14, 2015

“The problem isn’t the employees who leave, the problem is the employees who have ‘checked out’ but stay.”  This provocative quote from an organizational leader is an honest expression of the impact of a strained workplace culture. So what does “checking out” look like? It’s that person who shows up to work as scheduled but lacks any spark or sign they are experiencing pleasure. They don’t do anything that qualifies for termination by typical standards, and yet they don’t really engage in the daily life of the workplace either. These are not “problem employees”; rather, this is an indication of a problem in the workplace.

It is a bit of a vicious cycle. The new employee enters into the workplace eager to make a difference in the life of elders or individuals living with disabilities. Often they work in short-staffed, under-resourced situations that leave them no choice but to cut corners to make it through a shift. As this happens over and over again, this employee no longer feels they are making the difference in a person’s life — the very element of the job that drew them to the work in the first place. As they slowly give up hope that anything they do will actually make a difference, their spirit withers until eventually they “check out” emotionally. This then impacts the culture of the work environment, contributing to additional turnover of individuals who decide to leave before falling victim to the same syndrome.

Does this sound at all like your workplace? If so, we recommend opening some honest dialogue. Take the time to hold small learning circles with employees and ask them what they like best about working at your organization. In a learning circle each person gets to speak — uninterrupted — one at a time, until each employee has been heard. Starting with a positive question helps people remember the positive core that exists, even on challenging days, and raises the energy in the group. Once you know what works well, you can do more of it and build on that core strength.

Next, using the same learning circle technique, ask employees what word they pick to describe the “culture of the workplace.” Explain that just means “the way it is here.” Once each person has shared one word open the conversation for them to explain why they chose that word. If your employees pick words that are thematically negative, you know your workplace culture needs attention. Words like “stressful,” “frenetic,” or “overwhelming” are indicators from staff that your culture is vulnerable to employees checking out.

— by Susan Misiorski, PHI National Director of Coaching & Consulting Services

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