Two women sitting in front of a laptop, talking.

We’ve seen it before as business leaders. There’s the star employee starting to miss deadlines, a manager who fidgets too much during a weekly check-in, and the rest of a team staff that seems to withdraw from everyone. Work seems to be going ok, but it’s pretty uninspired. 

What you’ve got here is a disengaged workforce that’s possibly led to fractured leader-employee relationships and low productivity. And your business is starting to suffer because of it.

Helping staff re-engage with work is a monumental task for any business leader. Yet, if you want your business to succeed and achieve long-term success, you’re going to have to solve it and fast. To help you repair those broken relationships or maintain them before they break, here are five things business leaders can do to revive and maintain good relationships with employees. 

1. Talk Less and Ask More Questions

When employees don’t feel like their voices are being heard at work, they start to disengage from work and bosses. Resolve to listen more at every opportunity and ask open-ended questions whenever possible.

The flipside of this is that leaders must resist the urge to any empty silences with your voice. Give employees every opportunity to answer and speak up, and listen to what they have to say. 

Some employees will never speak up in group meetings, so pay attention to them and book one-on-one conversations with them. Make a point of asking for their opinion in these meetings and keep it casual. You want staff to open up, not feel pressured to speak. 

2. Remind Employees You’re In It Together

Life outside of work can affect our work lives, which may be why staff are acting more withdrawn at work. They might also feel unappreciated at work and so are uninspired to do more than the bare minimum. 

A leadership approach that often solves this is to ask, “What can we do to help?” If it’s a work issue that’s the problem, there might be something you can do as a leader to help them. If they raise the issue during a team meeting, other employees may have suggestions to alleviate their teammate’s load or who can pitch in to help. This approach turns it into a partnership rather than an individual problem caused by the staffer. 

Merely asking the question may kickstart some staff and make them feel cared for and supported by their team and the company. 

3. Be Open With Staff

There’s nothing like a manager who hides corporate news or only shares information with part of the team. Keeping employees at arm’s length is one of the fastest ways to alienate them, so don’t do it!

That means leaders should share all relevant information with them and be approachable by employees with ideas, questions, and anything else. Leaders should do everything to keep the lines of communication open so staff can come to you at any time about anything. 

4. Actively Manage Your Team

Disengaged employees may not care anymore because they don’t feel like anyone is watching. They’re unhappy because they’re not getting recognized or praised for their work, so they let things slide. 

Leaders can re-ignite staff productivity by actively managing their teams without micromanaging. Offer feedback and guidance, both positive and negative, to staff. Help refocus their efforts by making them an active participant in project planning and management. 

Get together to brainstorm a list of tasks or items they can do in the next 30 days. Check in with them regularly during the 30-day window to determine their progress and offer guidance where needed. Start a fun contest and offer a prize to see which team member can complete the most items on their list in the 30 days.

Holding staff accountable to a performance standard that’s not tied to performance reviews and bonus payments can help re-ignite their engagement and your relationship.

5. Reacquaint Yourself With Your Team’s Work

Finally, leaders should take a moment to reacquaint yourselves with your team’s work and each employee’s role. Things might’ve changed since the last time you reviewed it with them, causing them to be dissatisfied with work and leading to a decline in performance. Employees may also start to resent you because they think you know how much they do and aren’t supporting them in getting them the pay they think they deserve for it. And it’s all because you don’t know exactly what they do!

Hold individual meetings with your team to go over their current roles and responsibilities. Dovetail it into a discussion about their career aspirations and plans to find out more about them. Leaders may be surprised to hear about where employees see themselves in the next 5-10 years. 

Even if your team isn’t sure about what’s next for them and has no clear plan for how to proceed, the fact that they could discuss it with you can make all the difference. Employees will feel seen and heard, improving their morale today and engagement going forward.

Employee-leader relationships can break down pretty quickly if leaders aren’t careful. By taking accountability and being open to listening to your team, you’ll be able to repair them before they are too far gone. Employees are willing to help, but only if leaders show you’re open to putting in that work.