Employee engagement is a significant contributing factor to business success. Employees that feel motivated in their roles are likely more inclined to perform to a higher standard – often demonstrating higher rates of productivity, satisfaction, and happiness in the workplace. As a result, it is no surprise that employee disengagement can pose a major risk for businesses to manage.

Disengagement can have a vast impact on the employee individually but also on the wider team and company goals. Often disengaged employees have a higher likelihood of dissatisfaction with their role or with the business direction; leading to lower morale, drops in productivity, a disinterest in career growth or motivation to take on new challenges and, in some cases, a significant impact on their overall mental welfare in the workplace.

There are a range of ways a business can address disengagement, and this often requires a broader analysis of the factors that can impact engagement such as compensation, opportunities for growth, training, and workplace culture. However, how do businesses address when disengagement moves past an employee feeling dissatisfied and unmotivated in their role, and becomes an issue of their overall performance and conduct?

Disengagement, when allowed to continue and remain unaddressed by the business, can develop into much more serious employee issues. As an employee feels less inclined to succeed in their role, these feelings can begin to show as real concerns in their performance or conduct in the business. Whilst it is still vital for the business to consider the source of the disengagement, and there are a variety of strategies that can be employed to prevent disengagement from continuing and improve the employees work life – where this begins to manifest as genuine performance and conduct issues, it is important for employers to address this quickly and compliantly.

In our blog we outline the first steps to addressing disengagement in your workplace and assist getting your employee back on track in their role. Early intervention and informal management often can be more than enough to assist the employee in improving their overall engagement and happiness in the business. However, we explore what steps an employer might need to take where these methods may fail and disengagement begins to form a much larger issue of underperformance or misconduct concerns, and what risks an employer should be aware of.

Welfare check-ins

As a first step, we would recommend inviting the employee to a meeting to have a welfare check-in.

The meeting doesn’t have to be formal in nature, it can be an informal check-in with the employee where the manager can outline they have observed a change in the employee’s behaviour, providing some specific examples of what they have witnessed. It will be very important to try and understand the reasons behind their disengagement and to try to get to the root of why they are behaving in this  way. If, for example, they raise that they are having issues in their personal life, you can express sympathy for what is going on and remind the employee that the business is there to support them in any way they reasonably can. You can remind them of their ability to take personal carer’s leave if they do not feel fit enough to work, direct them to any resources the business can provide (such as an EAP service) and remind them of other help that is available in the community (such as their GP, services like Lifeline, etc).

If the disengagement is impacting their ability to properly perform the role you can confirm that the business is keen to work with the employee to keep things on track, noting this comes with responsibility on both sides. Ask whether there are any matters that the employee considers that the business could be doing to assist them. Think about emphasising that whilst the business will try and provide the support and tools needed for the employee to be successful in the role, the employee also needs to be taking accountability for their obligations to the business and cooperating with the business on implementing appropriate solutions where improvements are needed.

You can follow up with the employee in writing with a summary of what was discussed, including the  support you have offered and what expectations on the employee the business communicated (for example, you might have discussed that there needs to be an improvement in the way they complete their duties or the employee coming to work on time).

If, following your discussions there are continued underperformance or misconduct issues, these will need to be addressed separately.

Addressing underperformance

If appropriate, you can consider inviting the employee to a more formal meeting to outline the specific ongoing underperformance issues that the company not noticed (eg not reaching certain KPIS) and outline that your informal chats about these things have not produced sufficient improvements. You should make it clear why the business has to address this (eg of any risk it poses to the business or clients, etc.) and note any process/policy the employee is in breach of (eg given specific examples of how they are not fulfilling the requirements set out in their position description).

You can let the employee know that they will need to be involved in a formal performance improvement plan where the company will work with them to improve their performance over a set period of time, with regular performance monitoring and check-ins.

Following this meeting, the employee would be provided with a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) document.

It is important to ensure that the employee reads and comprehends the contents of the PIP, and that their understanding and commitment can be confirmed through their signature. Typically, the duration of the PIP will range from 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the specific issues at hand and the extent of the required training and development.

Following the passage of the PIP, the ideal scenario will be that the employee lifts their game and no further action will need to be taken. However, if there are still problems, the business can issue a a formal performance warning. Depending on how serious the issues are, the business might go through the PIP process again to make sure the employee gets a fair chance to improve before considering more warnings or (as a last resort) termination of employment.

We have a free guide on performance management processes available.

Addressing misconduct

Misconduct is different to underperformance. Underperformance generally refers to an employee doing their job, but not at a sufficient standard. Misconduct involves taking action which is not permitted. That could be coming to work late, being rude to colleagues or customers, etc.

If you find the disengaged employee is engaging in misconduct and your efforts to support them have not been successful, you may consider taking formal disciplinary action.

This will generally involve inviting the employee to a formal disciplinary meeting as a first step. Provide them a written invitation being clear about what the allegations are and the instructions / policies which have been breached. Give them at least 24-48 hours’ notice to prepare for the meeting and give them an opportunity to bring a support person.

Hold the meeting and start by again outlining the allegations and the direction they have breached and the impacts this has on the workplace. Allow the worker to respond. Listen to their answers. It is essential that you do not give an outcome of your decision in the meeting, instead thank the employee for their time, close the meeting, and document everything that was discussed.

Finally, make the decision on what the outcome will be, for example a verbal warning, first written warning, final written warning or (in severe cases) termination. This process may need to be repeated if matters don’t improve. We have a free guide on addressing misconduct in the workplace available.

Need further help?

Effectively managing disengaged employees through early intervention is an important step in maintaining a positive and productive workplace and preventing further issues. The key is to address signs of unhappiness or performance decline promptly with direct and empathic communication. If these fail the business does have rights to address performance or misconduct in a formal setting if required. 

If you need assistance understanding your employees entitlements or navigating your responsibilities as employer, reach out to our team to see how HR Connect can assist you and your business.


The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact HR Connect for advice.

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