How to deal with disengaged project staff

by Greg Bailey / 2/26/2018 2:20:24 PM

Extensive research conducted around employee engagement has uncovered similar results. A survey by Dale Carnegie and MSW, for example, found only 29% of the US workforce to be engaged—while 71% remain unengaged or actively disengaged.

You may have spotted the symptoms of a lack of engagement in individuals or entire teams in your own organization: employees are disinterested or distracted in the workplace. They minimize social interaction. They take more time off, arrive into the office late or leave early. They show a lack of desire to improve, avoiding opportunities for training and development and look to get by on ‘the bare minimum’.

If any of the above sounds familiar, it may well mean your business isn’t getting the most from its people and is missing out on the benefits a fully-engaged workplace can offer. With 71% of the workforce not actively engaged at their workplace, you’re not alone.

Problems with disengagement

As a project manager, the limitations of a disengaged workforce may be present without you realizing and could affect your project. Before you can solve the problem, you need to find the cause.

The following are some of the main reasons an employee may lack engagement in the workplace:

  • Poor work/life balance
  • Unrealistic job expectations
  • Inadequate resources to complete the job
  • Mismanagement of employee time and skills
  • Lack of advancement opportunities
  • Lack of reinforcement


  • For employees, disengagement can result in low morale. They do not feel like they are getting enough (or anything) from their workplace. This will almost always result in a decrease in productivity. 
  • For project managers, a lack of willingness to get work done means projects take longer to complete. If disengagement is going on without your realising, this will result in unrealistic project goals that the manager ultimately gets blamed for. 
  • For the business, overdrawn projects and low productivity can cost the business money, clients, customers, and their reputation.

Project managers need their resources working optimally to deliver projects on time and to budget. So, it’s important that you help ensure your workforce are as engaged as possible.

How to deal with disengaged project staff

Detrimental factors to engagement like inadequate tools and the overutilization and underutilization of employees are particularly apparent in project management. You need to solve these issues to maximize your project effectiveness. Let’s look at how.

Better communication

Employee disengagement can be caused by external factors like the structure or culture of the organization. That's why communication is always key to engagement. Talk with your employees to identify what is making them disengaged, so you can find solutions to boost their engagement.

Better visualization

Even if you can spot the symptoms of poor engagement, it’s another thing to diagnose the cause and reach a solution. Visibility—over both your people and projects—is a key component of battling employee disengagement.

Let’s take the underutilization and overutilization of resources (i.e. your workers) as an example. If there is an imbalance, employees will have either too much or too little work to do. Too much work will drain the energy of your resources—which can result in an increase of stress and decreased productivity.

Disengagement can also come from being bored or feeling like they’re not being appreciated or trusted enough—problems that stem from resource underutilization.

Improved visibility over your resources can solve these problems, as you are better placed to balance the allocation of your team. By distributing work evenly across projects—and assigning tasks to the people most equipped for the job—you mitigate the risk of under or overutilization. 

Using resource management to deal with disengaged staff

Resource management concerns the optimal allocation of your resources, using models and simulations to help you plan the best approach to your projects. This results in more granular views into how your staff are working and their capacity for work, as well as better visibility into project timeframes and deadlines.

This ultimately makes it easier to plan your projects around your workers, ensuring they are getting work most suited to their skills and availability, so they are less likely to become disengaged.

This is the kind of visibility you can’t get using Excel spreadsheets or even PPM software. So, if you haven’t already, you may want to consider investing in a cutting-edge resource management solution to help you deal with disengaged project staff.

Greg Bailey

With over 25 years’ experience in the project management sector, Greg Bailey is Vice President Resource Management at ProSymmetry. He writes about tech trends, with a focus on resource management. 

For more of Greg's views on resource management, you can visit the ProSymmetry blog or follow the company on Twitter - @ProSymmetry.



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