5 signs that your staff and volunteers are disengaging, and how to fix it

5 signs your staff and volunteers are disengaging - with some practical suggestions from Eleanor from Atkinson HR Consulting on how you can fix this.
senior leaders around a board room table

5 signs that your staff and volunteers are disengaging, and how to fix it

5 signs your staff and volunteers are disengaging – with some practical suggestions from Eleanor from Atkinson HR Consulting on how you can fix this.

Committed, enthusiastic staff and volunteers are critical for charities to be able to achieve their goals. Disengagement at any scale can get in the way of progress, reduce impact, and have a negative effect on wellbeing and morale.

In this article, we’ve outlined 5 common signs of disengagement as well as some practical strategies for re-engaging your team.

1. Decline in Productivity

This is often the first sign of a disengaged employee or volunteer. Tasks take longer to complete, they lack creativity, quality of work declines, they avoid decisions, and you might have to chase them for things – suggesting that they are no longer fully invested.

2. Less present

A disengaged employee or volunteer may be absent more often, arrive late, take more time off than usual and avoid social events. When they do show up, they are withdrawn, less proactive about providing updates or attending meetings, and contribute less to discussions. This behaviour not only disrupts your organisation’s work, but has a huge impact on morale, leading to a ‘tense’ environment and more disengagement.

3. Lack of enthusiasm

In other words, they’re doing the bare minimum, and showing less enthusiasm for your mission. When there are opportunities to be proactive, they are nowhere to be seen, and have stopped asking for extra responsibility or learning opportunities.

4. Less accountability

With reduced proactivity, you may also notice behaviours associated with a ‘victim’ mindset. This can quickly spread to create a culture of low-accountability and even blame.

5. They leave

If someone has become so fed up that they no longer want to work with you, it’s probably too late to save them. It’s common for increases in staff or volunteer turnover to impact team morale, as well as your bottom line – so the earlier you can intervene, the better.

How to Fix it

Once you spot the signs of a ‘checked out’ employee or volunteer, here’s what to do:

  • Be curious. Don’t assume you know what’s going on. If you spot these signs in a previously engaged individual, the first step should be an empathetic conversation. Regular check-ins, pulse surveys, focus groups and exit interviews will help you intervene before disengagement starts to derail your work.
  • Get the basics right. Clear responsibilities and inclusive people-policies aligned with your organisation’s values are essential. People want to know why they are there, what behaviours to expect, and how you’ll manage poor behaviour. A values-based recruitment process can ensure new employees, volunteers and managers bring the right values to your work.
  • Busy volunteers will push you to the bottom of their priority list if working with you is frustrating. Respect the time and energy of volunteers and employees by ensuring they have realistic goals and flexibility. Processes should be well-organised, and meetings should have a clear purpose and agenda.
  • 49% of volunteers continue in their roles because of their connection to the cause. Connect people with your mission by empowering them to work autonomously towards meaningful goals, involving them in decisions, and celebrating successes.
  • Leadership communication is crucial to performance. Ensure clear, consistent, and open communication that is linked to the charity’s strategy.
  • You don’t need a huge budget to invest in the growth and development of your people. Encourage people to make the most of their strengths, share knowledge generously, try new things and reflect on experiences.
  • The most engaged people receive feedback every week. Encourage everyone to share feedback and appreciation openly, so that it flows up, down and sideways.
  • Create opportunities for collaboration to strengthen relationships and promote belonging. How could you make your organisation feel more like a community, and less like a company?

Positive engagement is essential to the success of any organisation, but is especially important in charities, where resources are limited and there are greater expectations on employees and volunteers to be agile, resilient, and committed to a shared purpose.

Although disengagement isn’t a challenge that can be resolved overnight, taking the time to listen to feedback from both staff and volunteers can have a significant impact on your culture and performance.

Eleanor Walker

Eleanor is a Senior Consultant at Atkinson HR Consulting.

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