How Trainers Can Help Spot Sidelined Employees and Return Them to the Starting Lineup

Businesses must do more to prevent dedicated employees from feeling alienated to the point that all they do is the minimum at work while waiting for their shift to end. Here are 5 specific ways trainers can help motivate and engage sidelined employees.

I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” —Albert Einstein


When an employee feels that his or her efforts are not valued at work, not only does that employee suffer but so do many others—and the company.

Gallup recently published an employee engagement report that found only 32 percent of American employees were engaged at their jobs in 2015. A full 50.8 percent were “not engaged,” and 17.2 percent were “actively disengaged.”

Why is this high level of employee disengagement so important to trainers and managers? The 2016 “Steelcase Global Report: Engagement and the Global Workplace” discussed the impact employee disengagement can have on the bottom line: If employees don’t feel they are taken seriously at work, they become disconnected, unmotivated, less enthusiastic, and often demoralized. Talent is squandered and productivity suffers. Deadlines are missed, resources are wasted, productivity falls, and profits decline. Employee turnover rises.

Building lasting relationships with employees will help keep them happy, motivated, and working hard and prevent them from leaving six months after being hired. Seasoned, experienced trainers are an integral part of helping to build employee loyalty and turn around sidelined workers. Not only do trainers teach workers how to do their jobs, but trainers with exceptional leadership skills also inspire, empower, and encourage people working under them to give their best and do their best. Good trainers inspire trust in the employer. Good trainers foster longevity in the workplace by helping identify and train the next generation of company leaders.

In my career, I have learned a lot about what good—and poor—trainers look like and have written three books on leadership, including my most recent book, “Truth, Trust + Tenacity: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Leaders.” Leaders in what I call “winning organizations” do not minimize their employees. Minimizing employees means that hardworking employees are not encouraged to advance, aren’t mentored to prosper within the organization, and often are taken for granted because they are dependable and productive.

Women and employees of color frequently feel the most left out. Women, in particular, are left behind in the working world when it comes to issues such as pay equity, unpaid care work, job recruitment and training, and lack of opportunities to advance into leadership positions. The marginalization of women costs businesses in the United States —and our nation as a whole—dearly, according to a study published in April by the McKinsey Global Institute. The study, “The Power of Parity: Advancing women’s Equality in the United States,” found that America could add up to $4.3 trillion to the yearly gross domestic product in 2025 if women could meet their economic potential with gender equality.

Businesses must do more to prevent dedicated employees from feeling alienated to the point that all they do is the minimum at work while waiting for their shift to end.

Here are five specific ways trainers can help motivate and engage sidelined employees:

  1. Career development is a critical way to encourage employees. Provide professional development opportunities and make sure women and minority employees are included. Millennials will especially appreciate online training opportunities or the use of social media tools. Trainers should meet with supervisors and employees to develop specialized training plans that focus on developing employee skill sets and helping individuals meet career goals. The training program can include attending conferences, seminars, and workshops; shadowing a manager for a week; access to online courses; technical training; reading lists, leadership training, and cross-cultural training.
  2. Provide mentors for employees. Trainers could follow the lead of my friend, Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, a pediatric endocrinologist and senior vice president at Eli Lilly and Company. She coined the term, “mentor quilt,” for the notion that workers often need more than one mentor to help them develop different roles and skills in different areas such as business, community service, and personal skills.
  3. Give employees a new work assignment or new project where they can be challenged and excel. A formal rotation program could be part of their training.
  4. Have trainees explore the different aspects of your business, from manufacturing to marketing to operations to Human Resources. Have the employee accompany sales colleagues on calls or shadow Human Resource colleagues in meetings when appropriate. By understanding what occurs in many departments, employees are more likely to advance by expanding their observation skill sets.
  5. Show your appreciation! Nothing sends a message like a nice word face-to-face. Forget e-mailing and texting—electronic forms of communication are much less personal ways of reaching out to people who feel marginalized. Thank workers in person for a job well done. Trainers should praise people when they perform well or master a new skill. A monthly rewards program with a small gift card or a complimentary lunch to the “employee of the month” is one positive and low-cost way to acknowledge employees.

It’s human nature for people to want to feel valued at work. Ask your training staff to get personal, bring accomplished mentors on board, and be more innovative so your employees feel important while learning, meeting their career potential, and having genuine enthusiasm for their jobs.

Muhammad Ali, who captured workers’ attention all over the world, may have said it best: “I hated every day of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D. (Michigan), retired naval reserve captain, health-care executive, and current author, began his career in the peach orchards of northern California and worked on practically every ranch in Yuba and Sutter Counties. Eich has served in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, NATO, JCS, the Central Command, and elsewhere. He was also a Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association Fellow at Abbott Laboratories. Eich has served on more than 10 boards of directors and trustees of for-profit and nonprofit organizations, including chairing the board of his regional hospital and medical center. The U.S. Senate, the State of Indiana, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, and many professional organizations have recognized him. He has published more than 100 articles and three books on leadership, donating the proceeds of each book’s sales to important charities as follows:

  • “Real Leaders Don’t Boss” (Career Press, 2012) to organizations caring for wounded military men and women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan
  • “Leadership Requires Extra Innings” (Second City Publishing, 2013) to the Jackie Robinson Foundation for minority student scholarships
  • “Truth, Trust + Tenacity” (Create Space, 2015) to children’s hospitals and the Ronald McDonald House