What should you do when a team member mentally checks out, missing deadlines and dropping the ball on critical projects? Whether the employee is acting out because they’ve been passed over for a promotion, feeling overwhelmed by new tasks or even dealing with a personal issue, your main job is to find ways to support them, says a recent Harvard Business Review post.

Start by gathering evidence and clarifying the problem. Ask yourself, “What are the requirements of the job that this person is not meeting? In what specific ways is this person negatively impacting the organization?” Consider how you learned this information. Did you observe it personally or hear about the problem from others? Are customers complaining? Reflect on the timeline. Is this a recent problem, or have you seen a steady slide in this person’s performance?

Also think about what might be triggering your employee’s lack of engagement. Consider your company’s work culture and reflect on any difficult team dynamics that might be taking a toll on this individual.

When it’s time to speak to the employee about the issue, be compassionate. Let the employee know you aren’t there to cast blame or write them up. Make it clear that you just want to understand what’s going on and to offer your support.

Offer individualized support and work closely with the employee to come up with a solution that works for you both. For example, if the cause is personal stress, offer flexibility—remote work, shorter hours, reduced responsibilities—for a fixed period. If it’s due to lack of skills, offer training. If the employee is feeling burnt out, you might need to reconsider whether the job requirements are reasonable.

It’s important to remember that changing the employee’s behavior won’t happen overnight. You’ll need to be patient—to a point. If no progress is made on getting the employee to re-engage, it may be time to admit that the fit just isn’t right.

Source: “What to Do When Your Employee Is Totally Checked Out,” Harvard Business Review, March 5, 2021


Your team members are dragging their feet completing their tasks and failing to proactively address problems. Your first instinct is probably to ask, “How can I motivate my team?” But that’s the wrong question. Instead, you should ask yourself, “How can I create an environment for my team members to motivate themselves?”

Get to know your team. To understand what motivates your team members, you first need to get to know them as individuals. During your next one-on-one meeting, ask questions such as:

  • When has been a time when you’ve felt most motivated in the work that you were doing? Why? What project was it? Who were you working with?
  • What would you want to say is true about your life five years from now for it to feel meaningful?

Individualize everything. We often unintentionally project our own preferences onto others, but motivation is personal. You need to specifically align projects, goals and incentives with what motivates each team member.

Create choice. Your team members will feel more committed to their tasks if they are allowed to make meaningful choices, such as how to approach a project or even being allowed to determine their own goals.

Stop surveillance. Peeking over your employees’ shoulders and keeping track of their time can have a negative impact on their intrinsic motivation, as can setting arbitrary deadlines simply to create a sense of urgency.

Source: “How to motivate employees? Don’t.” Know Your Team, Sept. 6, 2019