6 Tips for Managing Passive Employees

Great insights from RecruitLoop this week.


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Megan Thomson from NSK Consultants. Her opinions are her own.


Recognising there are weak links in your team chain may sometimes be the best thing for your business. Why? Well, weak chains are often just rusty. A little bit of polish and attention and they can be just as strong as the rest. Rather than following the old hat tip of removing the apparent ‘weakest’ members of staff, there needs to be more nurturing involved in team building, starting right in management.


You may think that your team could do with some new blood, but think about your current staff first. Do you really need new staff, or do you just need to invest a little more time in those ‘passive’ employees? It is never easy to realise we have flaws in our own management skills, but there is hope for managing your passive employees to nurture a better working environment.


1. Open up opportunities

One of the top reasons why employees turn passive in their roles is that they do not feel they have any opportunities for progression. An employee could settle after a few months, realise they may be nowhere closer to a pay rise, and start to become a little lacklustre in their performances. Where the overzealous promoters of your business will lap up opportunities, the passive employee is already contemplating if they will stay stagnant in their position for much longer.


Instead of rolling out the red carpet to new candidates when a new job role arises, take a chance on in-house recruitment. You may be surprised who will put their name forward, and think about it! You know this person, know what their standard of work can be, and they require little to no training to be brought up to speed with the business’s goals. Opportunities for growth could be just the thing to spur them into productivity.


2. Keep your eyes and ears open

One thing that a number of employers do wrong is not listen to or actively engage with all employees. It is easy to pay more attention to the loudest of the group, and notice the shortcomings of those at the weaker end of the scale, but what of those in-between? The passive employee in the middle of the group may be that way for reasons you are not seeing.


Some of the most common reasons for passive employee behaviour stems from:

  • Concerns with the project
  • Disheartened emotions
  • Disillusionment in the team

Addressing personal and professional problems with an understanding nature can make you a far more attractive employee to open up to, and could alleviate pressure from their shoulders and your own.


3. Create tasks ahead of schedule

Passive employees will rarely look like they aren’t busy. In fact, they may simply sit and quietly work in a ‘busy bee’ manner where the more intuitive employee may stand and talk to a fellow colleague for a few moments, engaging elsewhere in the business. You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that they had enough to do!


Passive employees are notoriously good at looking busy when they have very little to do. They will find menial tasks to complete rather than work on larger projects with the rest of the team. To target this behaviour, you should create tasks ahead of the next working day. A week in advance is even better! Tasks that are outlined in advance often fall under team projects that require planning, and general deadlines. Making employees aware of just how much – or little! – time they have to complete daily and team projects could be the difference between passivity and proactivity.


Do you have employees who could use a little boost in the administration department? Line up some tasks to analyse the data being collected over the next week to establish the business’s budget. Active development teams, on the other hand, can be kept busy with larger projects requiring more team conversation. Pay attention to each department and devise productive activities your employees can do on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.


Work calendars help to give a passive employee more to do, and using calendar or project management software, you can actively track their progress and view which tasks have been completed. Daily tasks can even help push them to do more on a daily basis!


4. Be a leader, not a ‘boss’

The passive employee can often seem to be the shy one of the bunch. This is not true, however. They may simply not have the confidence to approach you, nor the motivation to bring up what they feel with you.

By opening yourself up as a leadership figure, rather than a work dictator, you can improve more than one relationship in your workplace. Trust me, you need to open up and let your employees know you value them to get the work ethic you need.

Open up the floor to casual discussion and make yourself available for everybody. Simply letting your employees know you are being supportive of them could be the difference between you being a leader and a boss.


5. Hold team meetings and engage passives

They may not like it at first, but having expectations of committed discussion from all team members during a team meeting. Don’t make it too long, as nobody is going to pay attention for it all, and you and the passive employee both value time.

Keep it short and sweet.

Direct attention to individuals, and praise contributions. They might just become more willing to contribute, which is exactly what you want.


6. Look for potential

Managing your employees focuses a lot on the potential your team has to take on more strenuous tasks. You might think that your best employee is the loudest, but what about the quiet, hard-working individual who is happy to just chug along and complete any task they are given at their own pace? They could be your best employee and you didn’t even realise it.

Being able to manage passive employees is about more than just managing them – it’s about managing yourself. Having attention put on changing yourself can lead to improvements for the entire team. Passive employees needn’t be the black sheep of your business – they can be nurtured into the top performers, with the right guiding hands.

Maybe you’ll even become the employer they will speak about in the future to friends as the one who opened up a door for them? That is quite the award in itself.