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When Poor Utilization Happens to Good Employees


It can be easy to assume your top-performing employees don’t need much intervention. And for the most part, allowing for greater autonomy is a great way to help employees find passion and purpose at work.

But beware: Amidst your most autonomous, capable employees there’s a silent engagement killer that can creep in without you even realizing it.

It’s called utilization. Rather, underutilization, to be exact. Even your highest-performing people can become quickly disengaged if they don’t feel their skills are being utilized in the best way.

And what employer wants to see that happen?

What is utilization?

As one of 17 drivers of employee engagement, utilization plays a big role in how individuals approach their work.

This driver refers to how effective an employee feels the organization is at utilizing their abilities and skills. It’s an important one because the degree to which employees feel their knowledge and experience are put to good use will have a direct impact on how engaged they are with work.

For managers, it’s important to regularly evaluate roles and responsibilities to ensure employees are being properly utilized — particularly as they grow and develop new skill sets.

How will you know when employees feel underutilized?

There are any number of reasons a once-engaged employee can start to feel underutilized and, as a result, disengaged.

He might be bored. She might need a way to make more meaningful contributions to the company’s mission. It could be that an employee simply needs more outlets for creativity, or that he’s overdue for a promotion to a position that more closely matches skills he’s fine-tuned in recent years.

Whatever the reason, the impacts of feeling underutilized are the same. Employees who aren’t able to fully apply their best work will almost inevitably lose interest and become disengaged. Sure, they may fly through their tasks and produce high-quality work at impressive speeds. But everyone needs an element of challenge to truly feel a sense of accomplishment. Without it, it’s easy to work on autopilot and disengage from the larger purpose behind those projects.

Problem is, it can be difficult to recognize when this engagement driver starts to come under attack. Because underutilized employees tend to perform well at the tasks they are charged with, it may not be immediately evident just how many more skills are lying dormant.

There’s only one reliable way to uncover when this is happening. You have to ask.

Gathering data-driven employee feedback is the single best way to find out when particular teams or individuals are feeling underutilized — and quickly determine the best way to address each employee’s specific needs.

If you need a quick primer on what it takes to collect, measure, and act on valid employee feedback, take a look at these resources:

The Massive Potential of Employee Feedback

What’s the Best Cadence for Surveying Employees?

The Ultimate Guide to Employee Engagement Measurement

If you discover that underutilization is, in fact, an issue on your teams, there are plenty of actions leadership can take to address it. You might work one-on-one with individual employees. Or, if the issue of underutilization is impacting multiple teams, you may decide to take a more holistic approach and provide managers with the support they need to fully utilize their employees’ skills.

Looking for more insights on what might be driving disengagement at your company — and what you can do to remedy it? Utilization is one of more than a dozen critical drivers of engagement, and each one plays a role in how your employees approach their jobs. 15five’s engagement experts have worked with hundreds of companies to help tens of thousands of employees find more passion and purpose at work. We’ve compiled their biggest lessons learned in our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Employee Engagement Measurement, which I highly recommend as a starter resource for every leadership team.

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