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What to Do About Disengaged Employees

Posted by Danielle Yoon

Jul 7, 2020 10:30:00 AM

Tired businessman sleeping at the table over white backgroundWhile definitions of “employee engagement” abound, they all come back to an employee’s emotional and psychological investment in their work. When employees are engaged, they are willing and able to contribute to the company’s success. That is why companies with engaged employees are 21% more profitable than those without.

It’s important to note that employee engagement and employee satisfaction/happiness are not the same. An employee can be happy with their salary, working conditions, perks, and even management, but they still may not invest discretionary effort to achieve the goals of the organization. This means that addressing problems with engagement requires more than a bonus, extra holiday, or company picnic.

So what should you do if you suspect one or more of your employees are disengaged? Every situation is unique, but here are some good ways to address the issue.

Recognize Signs of Disengagement

Employees will most likely not tell you that they are disengaged (they might not even recognize it in themselves), so you’ve got to keep an eye out for the symptoms of low engagement. Watch out for:

  • Social withdrawal and lack of participation in discussions
  • Declining productivity and/or quality of work
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Hostility toward the achievements of others
  • Refusal to acknowledge company objectives

When you notice these symptoms, there is a cause for concern.


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Find Out if Something Has Changed

If a fully engaged and productive employee starts to appear to be disengaged, try to find out if something has changed. Do they have new coworkers, a new assignment, or different working conditions? The problem could be that the new arrangement is causing unseen problems.

It is also possible that the lack of engagement at work is due to unrelated problems at home or with the employee’s health. Keep an open mind as you talk to your employee about the changes you’ve noticed in their behavior. If you approach the conversation from a place of wanting to help, you’ll encounter less resistance and defensiveness.

Uncover Obstacles

The next step is to find out what obstacles are preventing the employee from doing their best work. Perhaps the employee is frustrated by a lack of resources or too much red tape. Maybe they are under added stress that a change to the schedule could help. Work with your team member to identify and address any challenges that are contributing to burnout.

Ask for Feedback and Act Upon It

According to research, 90% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that asks for and acts on employee feedback. Research also shows that dissatisfaction with one’s direct supervisor is another reason that employees disengage. Have an open conversation with your employee to determine if there are any changes you can make to your management style to help promote a higher level of participation.

As a side note, asking for feedback and collecting employee ideas for improvement should not be a one-time endeavor. The most successful organizations are continually inviting employees to submit opportunities for improvement.


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Assess Goal Alignment

One sure way to foster disengagement is to have employee goals that are out of alignment with the company’s main objectives. Another is to keep employees in the dark about the overarching strategy. A disengaged employee may be someone who does not understand their place in the greater scheme of things and therefore does not feel empowered to do anything beyond their route tasks.

Assign a High-Value Project

Giving a disengaged employee a high-profile task or project to manage is a bit of a risk, but the risk could pay off in the end. When people can accomplish a stretch goal, they start to think about their potential differently. An important assignment also allows you to recognize the employee’s success. Research by OC Tanner shows that 79 percent of employees who quit their jobs claim that a lack of appreciation was a major reason for leaving.

Disengagement is cause for concern but not panic. If you intervene quickly, you may be able to work cooperatively with the employee to create a change in attitude. The collective level of employee engagement has a huge impact on the general culture, so it’s well worth the effort to address problems as soon as they crop up.

Topics: Employee Engagement

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