How to Get the Best Out of Low Energy Employees

Posted on July 13, 2016 by Ascanio Pignatelli | 0 comments

"GOOD LUCK!" If you're managing an employee like me. 

It wasn't that long ago that I was a nightmare employee: distracted, lethargic, apathetic, disconnected and completely disengaged. 

I took everything personally, had an explosive temper and reacted to situations impulsively.

On top of that, my self-esteem was very low, I had no confidence in my abilities and I had a putrid disdain for the concept of freewill. AND worst of all, not only did I think success was impossible, I didn't think I deserved any. With this mindset failure was all but inevitable.

Then in 2012 everything changed.

I took a leadership coaching seminar and in less than three days my negative mindset and limiting self-talk were completely shattered. I finally realized I could respond instead of react to situations and that the only thing that stood in the way of my success was me. 

For the first time in my life I felt completely liberated; I knew anything was possible. My performance skyrocketed, my relationships improved and I started having success in every area of my life. 

I then learned what caused my transformation. Known as Core Self-Evaluations (CSE) psychologists have discovered that our opinions about our worthiness, competence, and abilities are directly related to our performance at work.

Generally speaking, those with high core self-evaluations are optimistic and confident in their abilities and perform their jobs well. Those with low core self-evaluations (like me in 2011) typically lack confidence, view things negatively and aren't as productive. 

The good news for leaders is that Core Self-Evaluations can be quickly assessed and raised. If an organization wants to build a better workplace and create a culture of engagement they need to start with their leadership:

1. Managers need to recognize the locus of control

Where is the control? Internals vs. Externals:

Internals believe in free will. Externals believe that no matter how hard they try things are really out of their hands.

Internals believe they control their futures. Externals believe in fate or destiny.

Internals are happier, more empowered and far more productive. Externals feel disempowered, disengaged and are more likely to be a burden on management.

Want to find out where your employee's locus of control is? Ask them:

"What’s responsible for the success in your career?"


"How often do you feel you aren’t in control of your work?"

If they answer luck, or circumstances, or don't feel in control of their career, you'll know they have an external locus of control. But you can move the needle with some simple but awesomely effective questioning:

"How does believing success is out of your hands support you?"

Followed up by

"How would things be different if you knew you were in complete control of your success?"

Then bite your tongue as they come to grips with their immense, self-imposed limitation. 

2. Leaders need to focus on emotional intelligence 

By now, most of us are familiar with the work of Daniel Goleman or Dr. Travis Bradbury, and know the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) in leadership. It's a key contributor to performance, especially for more socially oriented tasks like managing teams or motivating others.

Workers that get anxious, angry or easily depressed can have a very negative impact on your entire office. Their tendency to react instead of respond, puts everyone on edge- especially those they supervise!

AND employees with lower EQ have a much harder time understanding, influencing and connecting with others. If they're a manager or executive in a high level leadership position, their need for emotional stability is even more important: they set the tone for their employees' morale.

So what can you do with your highly-reactive, emotionally stunted workers? Help them become more aware of the impact their emotions are having on themselves and others. For example:

If they get upset with their colleague Frank ask them

"How do you think Frank felt when you berated them?"

Or if they get completely stressed out when it comes to speaking in front of a crowd you can ask

"What are some things you can do to not get so stressed out the next time you have a presentation?" 

3. Supervisors need to boost employee self-efficacy

You've seen him before; the bright, young, self-assured go-getter who thinks he'll go climb Everest after making to the top of his first mountain. Sure you might want to slap him back to reality once in a while, however, keep in mind that confidence and a strong belief in your ability to accomplish goals and challenging tasks are the hallmarks of self-efficacy.

Employees with high self-efficacy are more likely to take on that demanding new assignment rather than "write it off" as impossible. They'll also be more determined and persistent when dealing with adversity, and see a new challenge as an "opportunity for growth." The greater they believe in their own power to influence an outcome the more likely they are to succeed.

Here's how you can boost an employee's self efficacy:

Build their confidence

Sometimes people lack confidence because they have a limiting belief buried in their psyche. As their manager it's time to put your coaching skills to use and find out what's really holding them back. Start by challenging beliefs that might be limiting their performance. For example, if an employee says they're not sure they're experienced enough to manage the project you can remind them of their unique strengths and capabilities.

Have them model

Have inexperienced employees watch other colleagues with similar skills perform more advanced tasks. Seeing others with comparable abilities succeed at a task will help raise their self-efficacy.

Dish out the positive feedback

Rewards, recognition and positive feedback are key to helping your employees feel more competent, motivated and open to growth. Negative feedback will devastate those with low self-esteem, as they almost always take it personally. 

Leaders should leverage their employees' strengths

Find out what your staff is good at. Gallup has an online assessment, StrengthsFinder, that helps employees discover their five greatest talents. 

You could then make some one-on-one time to sit with your direct reports and find out exactly what drives them; what are their values; what are they most passionate about? Then don't forget to ask "How can we best utilize all of your strengths?"

4. Managers need to raise self-esteem

Self-esteem is the approval we have of ourselves and the extent to which we see ourselves as capable, significant, successful, and worthy. It's that voice inside our heads that sometimes says "I got this" or "I know I can do it if I fully commit." However, most of the time that voice is the inner critic that's whispering "I'm too old for this", or "I'm not ready for that." As a leader it's your job to challenge those beliefs if it's limiting a direct report because: 

"The productivity of workers with low self esteem is often stunted due to their indecisiveness, fear of making mistakes or striving for perfection."

Furthermore, these employees are often highly irritable and pessimistic and will drain the positive, enthusiastic energy from their more self-assured colleagues. What to do?

Challenge limiting beliefs 

Listen for self-deprecating talk. You'll hear this when an employee is fearful of repeating a past failure, doubts their ability or underestimates their strengths. A simple "Where did you get that belief?" or "Just because it happened before, what makes you think it will happen again?" can be incredibly effective at dislodging even the most stubborn beliefs.

You could then follow that up with an empowering question such as "Which of your strengths will help you succeed here?" or "How can you get the support you need?"

Make them feel valued

More than two out of three employees are disengaged- many due to the fact that they don't feel that their managers appreciate their efforts. Here are some quick tips to make your team members feel important:

  • Publicly acknowledge how they are impacting the organization. 
  • Recognize, praise and celebrate their successes when the opportunity arises.
  • Be a model servant leader making sure your team knows they have your support whenever they need it.
  • Treat them with respect. 
  • Make time to get to know them personally and really listen to them so you can find out what's really important to them. 
  • Be as kind and compassionate as possible- even when you're right!

Keep these in mind and you'll not only bridge the self-esteem gap, you'll also see an improvement in productivity, creativity and energy.


Employees with high CSE levels are not only more satisfied with their jobs and perform them better, they are also more confident, motivated and enthusiastic about their work. They're also less stressed, have less conflict, cope more effectively with setbacks and are better at capitalizing on opportunities. You can significantly improve employee engagement and performance by raising employee core-self evaluation levels. Or you can try and deal with the old me. 

Find out what your Core Self-Evaluations are HERE.

About the Author

Ascanio Pignatelli helps Fortune 1000 companies unlock the full promise, energy and creativity of their millennials. Ascanio is an award winning speaker, workshop facilitator, coach, and author of the forthcoming book “Engaging Millennials.” His company E3 Solutions helps executives improve their leadership and communication skills to create more engaging workplaces. Call Ascanio now to book your complimentary strategy session at 310.913.2313.


Judge, Timothy A. (2009) Core Self-Evaluations and Work Success Current Directions in Psychological Science

Khokhar, C.P., Tulika Kush (2009) Emotional Intelligence and Work Performance among Executives Europe’s Journal of Psychology

Oyler, Jennifer D. (2007) Core Self-Evaluations and Job Satisfaction: The Role of Organizational and Community Embeddedness Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University





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