Here’s a Talk You Need to Have With Your Least Engaged Employee

Photo by

Here’s 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 No. 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 this is too 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 – because 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, your manager and I would be seeing this out of you: example, example, example.”

You:So, we have three 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 two lies in that small statement – Lee is lying and Lee probably won’t fix it without major help.)

Article Continues Below

You: “So, tell me why are you no longer engaged?” (Then shut up, wait, and continue to 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 know.”

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 bus, but either way, the conversation must be had to appropriately move in that direction.

Have you talked to Lee lately?

This originally appeared on the blog The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.