How To Spot And Combat Employee Disengagement

Working can be tiring. Even your most committed employees can lose interest in their work. To prevent disengagement in your team, detect the signs early and employ strategies to re-motivate your team.

Before we discuss the signs of employee disengagement and some approaches to fight it, it’s essential to understand the meaning of this term.

What is employee disengagement?

Employee disengagement illustrates the lack of interest in work. For example, instead of being proactive and up for new challenges, a disengaged employee chooses to wait until the manager assigns them some tasks. On the other hand, a poorly motivated worker is usually happy with what is given. Furthermore, a disengaged employee may be present physically, but their mind may wander somewhere else.

In today’s remote/hybrid work environment, it’s even more challenging to spot disengaged employees. The distance separating the team makes it easier to hide the low motivation to work during the unsupervised hours. But what’s the harm in employee disengagement?

What’s the negative effect of employee disengagement?

A study by Gallup in 2021 finds that 85% of employees are disengaged at work. This high number is alarming, especially after adding the expensive consequences of employee disengagement, both from the financial and non-financial aspects.

Poor motivation to work can cost US companies $960 billion to $1.2 trillion per year. Disengagement is also contagious and can disrupt work harmony. It is easy to become unmotivated when we see a colleague slack off. Consequently, it’ll decrease the team’s productivity.

Looking at the harmful effects of employee disengagement, we surely want to avoid this situation. But how can we notice these signs early? And how can we re-engage them? Let’s explore some signs of employee disengagement and tips to address them.

Nine signs your employees are disengaged

To identify employee disengagement, we should focus on three main components: changes in absenteeism rate, productivity level, and work quality. Here are some common signs to look out for:

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Taking more time off and more breaks

Breaks are necessary to keep the productivity level high, but frequent breaks without valid reasons could be one of the signs that your employees aren’t engaged in their work.

You’ll notice that they care very little if they take extra time for lunch or more breaks during office hours. Other motivated employees may then mimic this unproductive work habit, wondering: “Why should I put in the extra effort while others don’t?”

Also, when your team members take more paid time offs (PTO), it may signify they don’t enjoy their work and are probably looking to work elsewhere.

Poor attendance and lack of punctuality

Everyone gets urgent matters from time to time, but when your employees seem to lack punctuality at meetings or can’t fulfil deadlines consistently, it could hint they don’t feel responsible for their work.

Coupling this bad habit with arriving late at work and/or leaving early from the office is a clear sign that they become less and less motivated in their job.

If you believe this is the case, sit down with your employees and discuss what’s going on. Starting a discussion could prevent them from burning themselves out.

Poor quality of work

One common sign of disengagement is a drop in work quality. You can notice this if one of your committed employees is no longer bringing the same excellent output as before. For instance, if their great work used to meet the company’s quarterly goals, and now it doesn’t, there may be something that caused this to happen.

Of course, the disruption can come from many different sources. For instance, it could simply be a bad period for them, personal dilemmas (e.g., family, health, or relationship), job responsibility issues, or work environment problems.

If the cause is personal reasons, you can offer them some time off to recover. Don’t push them to work or even demand high-quality work if they don’t feel well mentally because mental health is as important as physical health. In this way, you also promote a healthy well-being culture in the company.

If the reason is related to the tasks or uncomfortable work atmosphere, have a one-on-one conversation with your employees and ask them how they feel about their roles. With their help, you can develop a personal and professional employee development plan that aligns with the company’s missions.

Remember, everyone can have bad days now and then. We can’t always give or demand 100% for the work.

Avoiding responsibilities and challenges

An engaged employee is more likely to take on responsibilities and be open to new challenges. They’ll develop new initiatives, ideas, and solutions for improving their work performance and processes. The advancement will help them achieve their own professional goals and the company’s targets.

On the other hand, the disengaged employees have no interest in learning new skills, taking on new challenges, or accepting extra responsibilities. They often lack curiosity and only do the bare minimum to get by.

If you are a manager, try to encourage your employees to plan their career growth plans and take up the learning opportunities. If you see an objection, it’s time to examine your employee engagement levels.

Poor communication

Observable signs of poor communication include decreased cross-collaboration, increased grumbling, and lack of innovation because employees aren’t communicating harmoniously.

You’ll notice these problems through emails, during team calls, and increased absenteeism in meetings.

Lack of teamwork

The workplace isn’t a social club, but a lack of good peer-to-peer relationships can indicate that your employee isn’t engaged at work.

If your employees enjoy doing their tasks together, they’re more likely to come to work every day and are happy to do group projects. On the contrary, if you notice that the rate of teamwork has decreased between your team, chances are they are disengaged.

Moreover, the lack of connection between co-workers can affect accountability, morale, motivation, and, worse yet, trust in the team, resulting in employee turnover.

Lack of focus

Employees who are disengaged are more distracted at work. They’re more likely to partake in personal activities during work hours, such as online shopping or scrolling on their phone, rather than focus on work projects.

As a result, they fall behind on their tasks and miss deadlines, costing your organisation a hefty sum of financial and progress loss.

To boost your employees’ focus on their work, develop an employee enablement strategy that ensures they aren’t doing the same monotonous work every day. For instance, give them some varieties in their tasks that are different from their everyday responsibilities or pair them with employees from other departments on a challenging project.

Increased criticism

A disengaged workforce often results in a poor attitude that can affect your overall company brand, professional relationships (externally and internally), and your organisation’s culture.

Disengaged employees can lead to increased criticism of other workers’ work. This could create a toxic work environment, preventing engaged employees from producing high-quality work or generating customer complaints about poor customer service because your employees aren’t serving them well.

Constantly asking for guidance

If your employees continually ask for instructions to accomplish their tasks, this could be an early warning sign you shouldn’t ignore. Several reasons can cause this:

  • You haven’t provided them with enough training and resources to accomplish their tasks independently;
  • They feel lost and feel unmotivated to be proactive and self-reliant;
  • Unclear roles, authority, and SOP;
  • Poor prioritisation of tasks by your management, and;
  • Personal problems at work or home.

Clarifying the responsibilities and workflows are crucial to generating practical work. Without a clear structure, employees can get confused and won’t perform well.

How to avoid employee disengagement

How to avoid employee disengagement

Five actionable tips to combat employee disengagement

Now that we’ve known some signs of employee disengagement

Spotting unmotivated employees is the first step to combat employee disengagement. The next step is to re-engage your team. Follow these steps to promote your employee engagement level:

Conduct a diagnostic test to determine the disengagement problem

To solve a problem, we must first figure out what it is. To carefully diagnose your employee engagement problems, create a survey for a company-wide assessment or hold an anonymous feedback session.

These two methods will help to discover the exact reasons that disturb the disengaged employees’ outstanding work and, at the same time, find out how to address the issues. Additionally, you’ll have an open and stronger relationship with your employees than trying to assess the problem from the managerial perspective.

Be an empathetic leader

After identifying what’s causing disengagement, do a self-reflect and try to see things from your team’s point of view.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I made sure my team has all the resources they need?
  • How would I react to certain situations if I were them?
  • What negative events have we faced that might affect certain people?

Have a one-on-one meeting with your team

Book a one-on-one meeting once you self-reflect and try to sympathise with what causes them to disengage.

You can use this to guide you during the meeting:

  • From an empathetic point of view, tell them you have seen a decrease in their work;
  • With more explicit examples, tell them the specific behaviour changes you’ve noticed;
  • Remind them of the potential they have and the value they bring to your company;
  • Allow them to tell you what the problems are, and;
  • Agree with them on how you’re going to handle the issues.

Encourage transparency in the workplace

Sometimes, honesty is the best policy, so foster a team transparency culture.

Your employees will feel appreciated if you listen to their concerns. Try to be objective in evaluating the matters at hand and don’t work alone to find solutions to the problems. Instead, ask your staff to work together.

Being transparent also promotes trust, and trust strengthens the relationships among your team members. It also removes any hierarchy and makes everyone equal.

Hold employees accountable

Set some realistic targets with the disengaged employees. By allowing them to define their own goals, they take responsibility for their work and see how their work matters to the company’s growth. Ensure that these targets are visible to them and regularly check up on the progress.

During the evaluation, you can ask:

  • How has the progress been so far?
  • What can the company do to make the goals easier to meet?
  • What new skills would they love to learn?
  • How can the company help them progress in their career in the coming years?

Use the answers as the base to create employee engagement plans that are on-target and practical for your team. By doing this, you’ll upskill your staff and improve their engagement level.

In Summary

Maintaining a good level of employee engagement is vital in every organisation. It ensures a high productivity rate from the team and boosts employee retention and teamwork.

Some common signs of employee disengagement usually include changes in work quality and growing absenteeism. However, we need to keep in mind that personal issues can’t be ignored in assessing the evaluation. In addition, every employee is different; thus, they may have unique ways to be productive.

Nonetheless, doing a regular survey, setting attainable goals together, and being transparent can help you re-engage the low motivated employees. By following the tips, you’ll create a welcoming environment for them to thrive and foster a healthy, productive, and happy workforce.


About the Author

Raisa Yogiaman is a content marketer at Zavvy–an employee enablement platform that combines employee experience with smart workflow automation. Her passion for HR and marketing can be found on Zavvy’s blogs.

Team 6Q

Team 6Q