Every company strives to keep its employee retention rate high, for obvious reasons. You don’t need to be spending excessive time interviewing people, training people and bringing people along in new jobs when you could have just kept the people you already had. So, if you haven’t lost a lot of people, you’re probably quite pleased with your retention rate.

 

But is your retention rate really as good as you think it is?

 

When an employee quits and leaves, that’s disappointing, but at least the situation is clear and you know what you need to do. But what about the employee who quits . . . but doesn’t leave?

 

I’m talking about the employee who is still physically present but has mentally checked out. I’m talking, of course, about the employee who shows up for the job every day but doesn’t really do the job anymore.

 

You might describe these people as bunnies, as distinct from wolves. Wolves are easy to pick out. Not only do they stop performing, but they also come to work with a horrible attitude. They’re easy to spot and impossible to redeem, so if they don’t quit pretty soon you will surely show them the door.

 

Bunnies are different. The bunnies are very cute but are basically useless because they don’t do much of anything – apart from hopping around and seeming pleasant. Many companies have employees like that too.

 

These employees might maintain a very positive attitude toward the company and its mission. They might embrace the company’s values. They might absolutely love their colleagues. They might even love the boss.

 

But they’re accomplishing nothing. And you’ve got to do something about it.

 

This problem is unusually common in the fog of 2020, but it’s nothing new. People become disconnected from their assigned responsibilities for all kinds of reasons. If you’re paying attention as a corporate leader, you should notice it quickly. And you must address it directly.

 

This is about accountability, but it doesn’t have to be a harsh process. When someone has a decent attitude but isn’t performing, that’s obviously not acceptable. But it is often a problem you can solve. It starts with confronting the issue candidly and then trying to identify the disconnect.

 

If the person likes the company and wants the job, you need to home in on why they’re not doing the job. It might be something completely unrelated to business. It could be a problem at home that’s making it hard for them to focus. It could be, particularly this year, because life in general is frustrating and they’re struggling to stay motivated. It could be that they’ve lost their sense of how their job fits into the company’s larger picture. Or it could be that they’ve been miscast in the role they’ve been given, and they’d really like you to take a fresh look at it with them.

 

Most of the time it’s not that the person is lazy. Most people don’t want to sit around and collect a paycheck for doing nothing, although you certainly find your share of people who think they’re “working” by playing corporate politics and the like. But people don’t want to just sponge. They enjoy doing something if they do it well and they know it’s making a positive contribution.

 

So when you find yourself dealing with a bunny – one of those people who has essentially quit but is still hanging around – you need to get them to tell you honestly how they got to that point.

 

This is uncomfortable for a lot of bosses because it’s never pleasant to hold people accountable. And make no mistake, that’s what’s going on here. I have all kinds of sympathy for people who feel lost or out of place in their jobs. But ultimately people have to perform. And they have to be gone if they don’t. Confronting them about their lack of performance is absolutely necessary if they’re going to have any hope of remaining employed by you.

 

Having said that, a constructive approach could lead you to a positive outcome. The person who has a positive attitude, but poor performance is easier to save than the high-performing person with a negative attitude. The bunny, who still likes and believes in the company, is going to be a lot more receptive if you say, “Your performance needs to improve and I’m happy to help you make it happen.”

 

Sometimes this will lead the bunny to admit a hard truth: “I don’t know what to do. I’m not good at this job any longer.”

 

That would explain a lot about why they’re not performing. They’re probably avoiding tasks because they figure they’ll be worse off screwing up than just not doing anything. But of course, that doesn’t get the company anywhere. You need people producing.

 

So, you dig into how things got to the point. Was the employee poorly trained? Is his or her job description unclear, or nonsensical? Is the person in the wrong seat on the bus, and in need of a reassignment?

 

It’s always possible that a person isn’t performing because the person’s skills don’t suit what you need. If that’s the case you need to assess how that person got hired in the first place, but in all likelihood you’re going to have to let them go. Hopefully, in most cases, you can work with the employee to redeem the situation. If that happens, you get an additional producer without having to spend any additional money.

 

Either way, the problem of the employee who quits but doesn’t leave has to be resolved – one way or another. The presence of such a person is toxic for productivity as well as team chemistry, and it ultimately undermines your leadership if you let it persist.

 

So don’t.

 

 

 

Written by: Wade Wyant, Red Wagon Advisors