What you can do about the ‘sophomore slump’

by Lauren Acurantes28 Nov 2016
Experts call it the ‘sophomore slump’, the workplace phenomenon where an employee suffers a drop in motivation and productivity in their second year at work.

As a new hire, they may have been bright, eager to learn, and ready to take on challenges but come the second year and there’s a sudden dip in their output.

“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,” wrote Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of recruitment and staffing firm, LaSalle Network, at The Wall Street Journal.

Gimbel said there are six ways employers can help employees get over the ‘sophomore slump’.

Address the issue
Some employees don’t see that they’re in a slump, he said, so the best thing you can do is make them aware of it. Don’t be afraid to have that tough conversation, he added. 

“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.”

Provide ‘variety’
Change things up a bit and add variety to their workday, he said. Something as simple as changing where they sit or having them work on different projects with different team members can help re-energise unproductive employees.

“If nothing is changed about employees’ responsibilities, you can’t expect them to get better,” he said.

Encourage them to network
Help your employees connect with others that might help them gain a different perspective about their job. This could be anything from a formal mentorship program or a simple sit-down lunch with more experienced employees that have gone through what they are experiencing.

“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,” said Gimbel.

‘Create a plan’
When you have that tough conversation with the employee, end with creating a plan that outline a step-by-step process on ways that can help them improve. For example, you can outline workshops they can attend, books they can read, or people they can talk to. 

But Gimbel said it is most important that you do the planning with the employee not for them, “so the employee can offer input and ultimately be more invested and willing to execute it”.

Hold the employee accountable for each step and meet regularly to discuss their progress, he said.

Acknowledge their work
If an employee was used to being praised for his or her work during their first year, the sudden loss of recognition might also be a cause of their slump. Help them regain their confidence and motivation by praising them for even small victories, he said.

‘Back to basics’
“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,” said Gimbel. 

Related stories:

Do financial incentives really boost performance? 

What is the best way to motivate your staff?

How to unlock a ‘magic moment’ of motivation


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