A Conversation: with your Least Engaged Employee

You: “Hey, Lee (Least Engaged Employee) – how are you doing?”

Lee: “You know, working hard, hanging in there, one day at a time” (winky face)

You: “We need to talk.” (this is what all HR Pros say, it’s #1 in the “What to say when you’re in HR” handbook)

Lee: “About what?” Now, somewhat nervous because HR never talks about positive stuff.

You: “You know, it just doesn’t seem like you’re real excited about your job, or the company, I’m not sure.” Classic HR beating around the bush – also in the handbook

Lee: “No, really (deadpanned) I love it here.” Voice trailing off as he looks for a way out of this nightmare

You: “Well, that’s a relief because we love having you here.” Being able to effectively lie to yourself and employees – Handbook page 27.


It’s funny because it’s to close to the truth for too many HR Pros and Hiring Managers.  We want engagement, but we have no idea how to talk to a person who isn’t engaged.  Let’s try one more script between you and Lee.


You: “Lee, I need to talk to you about something that I’m very concerned about.” Set the tone immediately – it is serious – Lee’s position hangs in the balance.

Lee: “Sure. What is it?” No one ever turns down talking with HR – what choice do they really have…

You: “I’ve noticed that your lack of engagement with your job, with the organization is starting down a path that isn’t going to end well.”

Lee: “What do you mean!? I love my job, and the company.” This is what low engagement employees say, because they aren’t showing it.

You: “No you don’t.  If you did, I and your manager would be seeing this out of you: example, example, example.”

You: “So, we have 3 choices: 1. Continued lying to each other until we fire you; 2. Continue lying to each other until you leave on your own; or 3. We fix it.”

Lee: “I’m not lying – let’s fix it.” Lee just told you 2 lies in that small statement – Lee is lying and Lee probably won’t fix it without major help

You: “So, tell me why are you no longer engaged?”  Then shut up, wait, wait an uncomfortably long amount of time for Lee to speak.

Lee: “Lame reason I think you want to hear to get you off my back, and back to my desk so I can update my resume on Monster.”

You: “No, really, why?” More uncomfortable silence

Lee: “Something closer to the truth you both already knew.”

You: “Now, let’s come up with how we can turn this ship around.”

You and Lee: “Plans, promises, measures, next meetings followup dates, morning hugs, etc.”


We tend to treat our least engaged employees like a virus.  Stay away, wash our hands of it and hope it goes away.  Rarely do we ever really go out and “engage” our least engaged employees.  Seems like too much work, too much time, too much of headache.  It is.  It is also the only way to move in the direction you want to go, the fastest.  That direction might be to turn the employee around, or it might be to kick them off your buss – either way – the conversation must be had appropriately to move in that direction.

Have you talked to Lee lately?

4 thoughts on “A Conversation: with your Least Engaged Employee

  1. Also… Just because I don’t go out to company ball games, etc. does not mean I’m not engaged. I give my all at work! (Am a star performer with great performance reviews). But my private personal time with my family, is just that – Mine! Companies should really step back and realize this too.

  2. I feel this, Tim. I’m certainly engaged, but in a few jobs, I’ve watched people who were champions for the company turn into people who used business hours to hunt for jobs and I was amazed that each time no one said ANYTHING to the employee falling through the crack … until they were fired … or found something else.

    There should be honest conversations with people who at least at one time gave everything to their role …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.