The Workplace Sophomore Slump—And What Bosses Can Do About It




Year one of anything is new and exciting. Whether it’s freshman year of college, a new relationship or marriage, or the first year of a job at any stage of someone’s career. Then year two hits, and what was once new starts getting repetitive. Things start to get stale and aren’t as exciting. This is known as a sophomore slump.

Being in the staffing and recruiting industry for two decades, I see this all the time in the workplace. New hires join a company and in their first year they’re aggressive, motivated and going 100 mph. They’re asking questions to get better, and are excited to learn more about their roles and the business. Then year two comes along, and it’s not fresh anymore. That initial excitement is gone, and as a result employees become less engaged, leading to a dip in productivity and confidence.

Realistically, we can’t go 100 mph every day of the year. At some point we all have a temporary slowdown, but it should be just that – temporary. At some point things have to rebound, but managers need to step in and help. Here’s how:

First thing is having that tough conversation. In a great scenario, employees already know they are in a slump, but other times they don’t see it. Managers can’t assume employees will approach them about it. If you notice that an employee is in a slump, talk to him or her about it and share specific examples, whether it’s about the employee contributing less during team meetings or not showing excitement when put on a career-building large project.

Add variety to the workday. If nothing is changed about employees’ responsibilities, you can’t expect them to get better. As the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. You’d be surprised what can re-engage somebody. It could be changing where the employee sits or putting him or her on a project with different people. A new project with new co-workers could help the employee get competitive again.

Encourage slumping employees to talk to others. That could involve a formal mentorship program or simply asking another person who has gone through something similar to take the employee to coffee or lunch. The more-experienced employees can share how they overcame the slump and stayed motivated throughout the process. For anyone who is in a rut, it’s encouraging to hear the rebound stories of others who have come out of it and became top performers.

Work with the employee to create a step-by-step process of what he or she can do to improve. This plan could include workshops to attend, books to read or people, internally or in the industry, to speak with. It’s important to do this withthe employee, not for them, so the employee can offer input and ultimately be more invested and willing to execute it. Then, hold the employee accountable to doing each step and meet weekly to discuss what progress has been made. Open and frequent communication is necessary.

If an employee was working hard in year one and had no praise or acknowledgment, that could be one reason for the dip in year two. Employees may not be motivated if they aren’t recognized. It’s crucial that managers celebrate the small wins publicly. It will help the employee regain confidence and stay positive.

Sometimes going back to what once worked can fix the problem. If there was a process that the employee steered away from over the year that used to produce results, go back to it.

In the end, the effort you’ve made to identify the slump and reach out to the employee can, in itself, help correct the problem. It signals not only an appreciation of their previous hard work, but your belief in their ability to do better, setting high expectations for their continued success.


Origially posted in The Wall Street Journal and on LaSalle Network blog.


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