How to Spot and Fix Employee Disengagement - theEMPLOYEEapp

How to Spot and Fix Employee Disengagement

How to Spot and Fix Employee Disengagement

Last updated on March 7, 2024 at 10:37 am

Odds are, employee disengagement is costing your company money and talented employees. But it doesn’t have to. Focusing on creating employee engagement strategies to get to the root of employee dissatisfaction doesn’t have to be rocket science. In this blog, we’ll talk about how engagement got so bad and what we can do about it.

What is Employee Disengagement?

Employee engagement refers to the emotional commitment and level of involvement an employee has towards their organization, its goals, and their role. 

So on the flip-side, employee disengagement indicates a lack of enthusiasm, motivation, and connection to one’s work and employer. This can result in decreased performance, increased absenteeism, and a negative impact on team morale. 

Recognizing and addressing employee disengagement is crucial because it can lead to decreased organizational effectiveness, lower employee retention, and diminished company success.

example of employee disengagement. Man ignoring his laptop and throwing a paper ball through a make-shift goal.

Examples of Disengagement

No two employees are the same. You can’t expect disengaged employees to all act the same way and exhibit the same behaviors. Some employees are very loud about their discontentment and others might fly under the radar before they quit.

But here are a few examples of how disengaged employees might behave:

  1. Lack of initiative and innovation. Disengaged employees tend to avoid taking initiative or going above and beyond their assigned tasks. They might only do the minimum required amount of work (you might recognize this as quiet quitting). As a result, they’re far less likely to offer innovative ideas or suggest process improvements.
  2. Minimal interaction and participation. These employees may avoid interacting with their colleagues and managers and isolate themselves during team activities and meetings.
  3. Missed deadlines. Employees who are disengaged may miss more deadlines or submit work that lacks attention to detail.
  4. Negative attitude. A negative attitude toward their work, colleagues, and the company as a whole  can result from feeling disengaged. They might openly voice complaints, criticize decisions, or express cynicism about the organization’s goals, but they also might keep quiet.
  5. Absenteeism. Their lack of commitment to their role can result in increased employee absenteeism.
  6. Resistance to change. Even engaged employees might resist change (because change is hard and scary). But resisting change can also be a sign of disengagement.
  7. Reduced productivity. Disengaged employees may take longer to complete tasks, make more errors, and require more supervision.

Recognizing these behaviors and addressing them promptly is essential for preventing further disengagement and hurting team morale.

Gallup Research on Employee Disengagement at Work

Gallup research has found that engagement is the lowest it’s been since 2015. In 2022, only 32% of workers were engaged at work with 18% actively feeling disengaged. 

But this isn’t impacting everyone equally. Gallup’s research has found that certain groups are experiencing a greater decline in engagement than others. Women and younger workers both experienced larger than average drops in engagement levels.

Why? Because both these groups felt less cared about at work and less likely to have someone encourage their development. 

So, when we talk about employee disengagement we have to consider diversity, equity, and inclusion. The truth is that not all employees are having the same experiences at work. Not all employees get the same opportunities, treatment, and advantages.

Wooden peg, representing an employee, under a magnifying glass.

Causes of Employee Disengagement

How did we get here? How did the state of the workplace get this bad?

Too often, employees take a lot of the blame for not being engaged at work. We tend to treat them like there is something wrong with them.

And although everyone is responsible for creating a highly engaging workplace, there often are external causes that lead to high levels of disengagement. From toxic employees being tolerated to bad managers and poor executive leadership, there are so many reasons your employees might not be feeling their best at work.

Let’s talk about a few.

  1. Poor Leadership

Ineffective, unsupportive, or downright bad managers have a huge impact on how engaged employees are at work. 

In fact, Gallup has found that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. But this also extends to senior leadership who have a big ripple effect on how employees feel about work.

  1. Lack of Growth and Recognition

It’s discouraging for employees to work hard and then receive no credit, recognition, or chances to develop. This leads to not feeling valued and feeling taken advantage of. It’s difficult for people to want to keep working hard for an organization that doesn’t seem to care.

  1. Inadequate Training and Onboarding

This starts during onboarding, where only 12% of employees think their employer did a good job. 

If you fail to set goals and set employees up for success early, they are far more likely to want to quit. Not only is it stressful to feel unprepared, employees also worry about how working for a company that won’t invest in them will impact their future career opportunities.

  1. Lack of Clear Communication

When employees are not informed about company goals, changes, or expectations, they may feel disconnected and uncertain about their role within the organization.

This becomes even more dire during big changes or a company crisis.

And it’s not just about whether or not your internal communication campaigns are successful. It’s also about how well executive leaders and people managers communicate. And, often, they’re causing more of the problems by going off script, not knowing how to communicate effectively, or not caring enough to communicate in the first place.

  1. Workload, Stress, and Burnout

Are you burned out of hearing about burnout? Us too. But we have to keep talking about it. We have to find solutions.

Especially with the waves of layoffs in 2023, workloads and expectations can quickly become excessive for the “lean and mean” teams left behind. 

Not to mention, high stress levels without strategies to improve employee wellbeing can cause burnout, hurt employee’s overall health, and make it difficult for employees to show up 100 percent every day.

This mounting pressure becomes that much harder when teams also have inadequate resources, tools, and technology to do their jobs.

  1. Unclear Goals & Performance Reviews

It doesn’t feel good to not know where you stand.

When employees are unsure about their responsibilities, goals, or how their work contributes to the overall mission, they can become disengaged due to a lack of purpose.

And without regular feedback on their performance, employees may not know how they’re doing or how to improve, leading to disengagement and a sense of aimlessness.

Despondent employee sitting next to a box of their office possessions, holding a sign that says "I quit!"

Spotting Quiet and Loud Quitting

So, how do we spot disengagement in time to correct it so it doesn’t start impacting our overall cultures and bottom line?

This can be easier said than done because disengaged employees fall into two camps: Quiet Quitters and Loud Quitters.

Quiet quitters are the disengaged employees who still show up and do their work, but they don’t go above and beyond. They also don’t draw attention to the fact that they aren’t very engaged at work.

Loud quitters, on the other hand, are the employees who are much more open about their disengagement. They might even go as far as actively trying to derail things at work.

Obviously, loud quitting is far easier to spot than quiet quitting. But we can still look for signs of both types of disengaged workers.

Tips to Spot Low Engagement

Identifying signs of disengagement in employees who attempt to hide it requires a combination of keen observation.

  1. Regular manager check-ins. Encourage managers to frequently check in with employees. And then also conduct regular focus groups as a HR or internal comms team to learn more. Encourage open conversations and actively listen to employees’ concerns and feedback.
  2. Monitor trends in performance reviews. Track performance metrics and quality of work over time. A new decline in performance or missed deadlines could signal waning engagement.
  3. Survey employees. Use employee engagement surveys to gather anonymous feedback. Analyze the survey results to identify patterns of disengagement and areas that need improvement.
  4. Track employee turnover. High turnover rates within a specific team or department can be indicative of disengagement. Examine the reasons behind departures to understand potential issues.
  5. Collect peer feedback. Conducting 360 reviews can help you collect peer feedback. Peers who work closely with disengaged employees might notice changes in behavior or attitude. But don’t let this be the only signal. Please take measures to be fair to all employees and not base conclusions off of the assumptions of others.

A female employee smiling and engaged in her work on her laptop.

How to Address Employee Disengagement

Once you determine what factors might be contributing to low engagement levels, you have to take action. 

Ultimately, how you respond is going to rely on what problems you uncover at your company. If disengagement is more prominent on a specific team due to the manager, the solution is rather simple: re-train the manager or change the leader.

But often, engagement issues are more widespread and due to a number of factors. And resolving that is far more challenging.

Keep in mind that often your employees will have suggestions for how things could be improved. But you have to have the kind of culture where they feel safe sharing their ideas and what they need. You may not have the ability to collect that kind of honest feedback depending on how bad the situation is.

multi-color sticky notes arranged neatly on a black desk with smiley faces drawn on them

So, try your best to identify the root causes of disengagement at your company. Use every tool at your disposal, including tapping into your own experience at the company. 

Audit your channels, content strategy, and efforts at being inclusive and honestly rate how well you’re doing.

Talk to your people managers and constantly invest in training them to be better communicators and leaders.

Invest in training and development plans for your employees to make sure they feel valued.

Essentially, think of the things that engage people and make them feel cared for and make that your priority. By taking a holistic approach, you can effectively address employee disengagement and cultivate a more motivated, committed, and productive workforce.



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