8 Tips for Dealing With a Passive Employee to Promote Workplace Productivity

A survey by Gallup showed that only 32% of US workers are actively engaged in their jobs. So as a company manager or team leader, you’ll most likely encounter a few (or a lot of) passive employees. 

If you’re looking to improve workplace productivity, you’ll need to find ways to turn a passive employee into an engaged and highly motivated one. But how do you do that? I’ll go over 8 helpful tips that you can try out. But first…

What Is a Passive Employee?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists many meanings under the word ‘passive’. One is “not active or operating”. Another one is “lacking in energy or will”. Still, another explanation is “receiving or enduring without resistance”.

Well, a passive employee can be all three. They can be very disengaged (or not active) during meetings and in their responsibilities. They can be someone who has zero motivation and so lacks the willingness to perform well on the job.

On the other hand, it can be a team member who accepts everything without a single word. You might think this is a good thing, but you’ll find that they’re not willing to grow and go above and beyond in their work. They’re just that – passive. 

Yes, the passive employee meaning can differ from employee to employee. It’s your responsibility to figure out what kind of passive employees you’re dealing with and how to fix that attitude. 

How to Motivate Passive Employees to Become More Productive

OK, so you’re able to identify a few passive employees here and there. To help them out, here are 8 helpful tips on how to deal with passive team members:

  1. Set clear expectations and goals
  2. Create a positive work environment
  3. Encourage trial
  4. Be direct and clear
  5. Provide positive feedback
  6. Promote engagement
  7. Open up opportunities
  8. Be approachable

Read More: 7 Easy Tips For Coaching An Employee With A Negative Attitude  

1. Set clear expectations and goals

If you want a passive employee to become more productive, then you need to set clear expectations and goals. Sometimes, many employees seem “passive” or “underperforming” because they’re not sure what needs to be done. 

Not only that but having expectations and goals will help you determine the employee’s performance. This will make it easy to spot a passive employee and a highly motivated one. 

Alex Larralde from says:

Setting clear expectations helps employees focus their efforts, giving them clarity about their priorities and enabling them to work efficiently.

Read More: Writing Up a Passive-Aggressive Employee: 10 Best Strategies to Handle Them

2. Create a positive work environment

A study by Forbes showed that productivity boosts up to 20% if the employees are happy. Well, one way to make them happy is to create and promote positivity in the workplace. 

 But how do you do that? You can promote open communication to build trust. You should recognize and appreciate achievements (no matter how small). You can support a healthy work-life balance. You can foster a collaborative and inclusive culture. You should make the physical environment comfortable for workers. 

All these can help a passive employee become more engaged and motivated at work. It’ll be a great experience for all your current employees too (top performers and bottom performers alike). Remember, positivity is the key that can unlock the full potential of a workplace. 

3. Encourage trial

Need tips for dealing with passive employees who accept anything as is, never complain, and never go above and beyond? Well, you can encourage trial. 

This means that you’ll put them under a “trial” period in a different task. You want them to get out of their comfort zone. But since it’s only an experiment, the passive employee will not be afraid to try new things. If they fail, you can tweak and adjust the trial to make it easier for them. 

This is a great way to boost confidence, challenge their thinking, and make them work their way to success. Who knows, maybe you’ll soon have a passive employee who is willing to do more than asked. If so, then you’ll know that the trial was a success.

4. Be direct and clear

Many workers don’t even realize they’re passive employees. Since that’s the case, they don’t try to improve their performances. Well, this is the time to be direct and clear. Of course, you must do it in a friendly and encouraging way. 

John Larmour MSc, an Executive Coach, says:

Constructive criticism aims to provide helpful advice that enables people to learn from their mistakes and grow as individuals or professionals.”

Always implement constructive criticism instead of negative criticism when being direct with your passive employees. This will make them listen and respect you more. 

5. Provide positive feedback

You should provide positive feedback, too. Chances are, passive employees just get the job done. They don’t under or over perform. To encourage them to go above and beyond, you should regularly look for work well done and offer positive feedback. 

Here’s a real story about a company manager providing positive feedback to make a change.

The manager approached her employee and said, “Thanks for cleaning up your work area, it really makes a big difference.” The reaction she got was a grunt. However, after that exchange, his behavior started to turn around. He went from being a person with marginal productivity, always negative in company meetings and never willing to lift a finger to help anybody; to actually being positive, hitting his daily production targets and helping out his co-workers when they struggled.

Do you see how powerful positive feedback can be? In fact, a survey showed that 69% of employees shared that they’d be more motivated to work harder if their efforts received more recognition.

Read More: 10 Successful Tips for Dealing With Easily Offended Employees

6. Promote engagement

It’s so easy to pay attention to the loud and hard-working employees and ignore the passive ones. This is not good. It will only encourage the passive employees to continue being passive. 

To help them, you should promote engagement. During team meetings, have them speak out. Direct your attention to these individuals and see how they’re doing. Dedicate some time to each employee, the active and passive ones. 

OK, a passive employee might not like this at first. Pretty soon, however, they’ll start to get used to it and will start to engage more. The bottom line is that passive employees will become more motivated if they are seen and heard. 

7. Open up opportunities

When asked to list some reasons for feeling unmotivated at work, lack of opportunities was one of the top answers. An employee who is passive at work might feel like there is no need to go all out. They’ll just be doing the same thing for the next 5-10 years anyway. 

Don’t let that thinking get to your team members. You can open up opportunities by implementing internal recruitment. This will provide promotions and new responsibilities within the workforce. The best candidate will then be selected for these new positions. 

Don’t you think that will help passive employees and the rest of the team become more productive, effective, and efficient? Since there’s a chance to grow, they will put their name forward as much as possible. 

8. Be approachable

Don’t be a boss, be a leader. You can’t fully tell what a passive employee is thinking. Well, you can have them open up to you so you can know how to better help them. 

That will never happen if they see you as a “boss”. This will make you look unapproachable. If you want to be approachable, you need to be a leadership figure. Always be supportive. Open up casual discussions. Make yourself available to everybody (yes, even the quiet, passive workers). Looks for ways how to engage passive employees.

Plus, this will help the staff like and respect you more and more. When that happens, they’ll be motivated to make you happy by doing well in their jobs. 

Final Words

You can spot a passive employee if they are disengaged at work, unmotivated to do well, or just do the tasks that they’re asked to do (without any word or any more effort than what’s needed). If you find these types of workers in the workplace, don’t give up on them. 

Instead, work to implement the 8 tips that I provided here. This is a great way to get everyone engaged, motivated, and willing to go the extra mile. It will be worth all the time and effort as you’ll see a boost in workplace productivity. 

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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