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How to Find and Help Employees Who Are Disengaged at Work

Find out how to spot and assist employees who are disengaged at work. Enhance employee satisfaction and create a thriving workplace culture.

ActivTrak

By ActivTrak

An employee looking disengaged at work

Employee disengagement impacts workplace productivity and employee morale in serious ways. According to Gallup, disengaged employees cost the world $8.8 trillion in lost productivity. Businesses looking to maintain a motivated and high-performing workforce must recognize and address employee disengagement. In this post, we’ll share strategies to identify and support disengaged employees throughout your organization. 

What is employee disengagement?

Employee disengagement is when employees feel disconnected from their work. This detachment leads to decreased satisfaction, motivation and productivity. Employee disengagement appears in many ways in an organization, affecting individual performance, team dynamics and company culture. 

Common causes of employee disengagement

There are many reasons employees experience disengagement, from personal issues to organizational issues. Common causes include:

  • Lack of recognition: When employees don’t feel rewarded or recognized for their contributions, they disengage. What’s the point of working well if it goes unnoticed? 
  • Feeling unheard: If team members voice concerns or bring up constructive feedback but managers or leadership never address the issues, employees will soon disengage from the company. 
  • Lack of connection: Employees who feel their work is meaningless, whether based on company goals or their own ideals, are much less likely to feel engaged at work. 
  • No career growth or advancement opportunities: Employees who don’t have advancement opportunities or ways to get better at their jobs feel stuck in what they do.
  • Ineffective working environments: Office environments and company cultures often pull employees out of their flow with distractions like constant notifications, unnecessary meetings or inconsistent deadlines, leading employees to feel their work is futile and unending. 
  • Poor work-life balance: Jobs that cause chronic stress without any hope of relief drive down engagement levels among team members and quickly lead to burnout
  • Bad communication or transparency: When management and leadership don’t give employees a clear vision of goals or strategies, employees feel detached from the organization. 
  • Personal issues: Employees may go through personal issues such as health problems, family issues or relationship troubles that pull them away from work. Without support from employers, this can lead to a permanent feeling of disengagement. 

5 stages of employee disengagement

Disengagement is a process that runs from one stage to the next. Most disengaged employees go through the following stages:

  1. Discontent: Disengagement starts with unhappiness at work. A discontented employee may voice issues by complaining or show unhappiness in more subtle ways, such as lower enthusiasm or interest in work-related activities. 
  2. Decreased productivity: Actively disengaged employees inevitably experience drops in  productivity. This includes less efficiency, missed deadlines and lower quality work. Individual performance suffers, but so does the whole team’s productivity as other employees make up for the imbalance. 
  3. Lack of participation: Beyond lost productivity, disengaged employees will start to withdraw in other ways, such as not participating in team discussions or brainstorming sessions. By removing themselves from collaborative activities, disengaged employees also starve the organization of innovation and progress both short and long-term.
  4. Absenteeism: When employees start calling out sick or taking time off without warning, it’s a sure sign of disengagement. This absenteeism disrupts projects and workflows while simultaneously increasing the amount of work other employees have to do to make up for the missing employee. 
  5. Complete disengagement: In the last stage of disengagement, detached employees check out from work completely. They’re open about their disinterest and indifference, sometimes engaging in disruptive or counterproductive behavior. 

5 strategies to identify disengaged employees

Spotting disengagement is the first step in stopping it. Unfortunately, many employees are uncomfortable sharing feelings of detachment with their managers. Here are a few ways to proactively find disengaged employees: 

1. Use employee engagement software

Tracking employee engagement doesn’t have to involve guesswork. ActivTrak’s employee engagement solution provides organizations with quantifiable data to identify signs of disengagement before they become a problem. The software shows early indicators of employee disengagement, such as changes in productivity or efficiency, higher levels of downtime, low focus levels and changing utilization patterns.  

2. Observe changes in work performance

One of the key ways disengagement shows up at work is when an employee starts falling behind or stops producing high-quality work. Missed deadlines and high levels of error are both signs an employee has become detached, especially if they were previously a high achiever. Disengaged employees are also less responsive to emails, direct messages and phone calls.

3. Recognize shifts in employee behavior

Sometimes disengaged employees can’t help but show their lack of enthusiasm. Sarcastic comments, eye-rolling in meetings and complaining are sure signs of disengagement. But there are other, more subtle changes. For example, employees who don’t participate or offer opinions during meetings may be disengaged, especially if they used to be active. Other employees may also avoid spending time with disengaged employees as their negativity starts to spread. 

4. Note changes in employee schedules

Disengaged employees often call out sick or schedule time off without warning. They also decline or skip team meetings and company gatherings, whether they’re mandatory or not. And if an employee was previously interested in overtime or volunteering for additional work but stops raising their hand, this is also a warning sign they’re feeling disengaged. 

5. Collect employee feedback

Disengaged employees may not participate in employee surveys as actively as engaged employees, but it’s important to offer ways to express concerns without fear of retaliation. Give people multiple opportunities to share feedback, including anonymous surveys, town hall meetings and dedicated discussion channels. Empower managers and employees to openly discuss issues that affect engagement and listen to what they say. Employees may also express concerns about disengaged employees they work with, which plays a vital role in helping detached employees find what they need to succeed. 

Approaches to address employee disengagement

It’s best to create a work environment that discourages disengagement from the start, but even if you’ve identified disengaged employees in your workplace, there are steps you can take to bring them back to better engagement levels

1. Open communication and feedback

Establishing open communication with employees is a crucial first step in addressing disengagement. Meet regularly with employees to discuss their concerns, challenges and goals. Encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas freely. Sometimes employees who complain the most just want someone to listen to them. Other times, they have constructive feedback for building a better organizational structure. Gathering and addressing feedback helps identify the root causes of disengagement while also sending a clear message employees’ opinions matter. 

2. Employee recognition and reward systems

Recognizing and rewarding employees for their hard work and achievements goes a long way in boosting engagement levels. Implementing a formal recognition program, such as a monthly or quarterly employee award, acknowledges the efforts of high-performing employees and motivates others to strive for excellence. Of course, monetary rewards like promotions or raises can be a motivator, but even a heartfelt “thank you” goes a long way in letting employees know they’re appreciated. 

3. Professional development opportunities

Offering professional development opportunities to employees is another effective way to combat disengagement. Providing access to training programs, workshops and seminars enhances employees’ skills and knowledge and shows your organization is invested in their growth and success. In addition to boosting engagement, employers also benefit from more skilled employees who can do their jobs more effectively or even fill gaps for roles that require specific knowledge and experience.

4. Work-life balance initiatives

Promoting work-life balance significantly impacts employee engagement and allows people to manage their personal and professional responsibilities effectively. Encourage flexible work arrangements and remote work options for employees who need it. Provide ample paid time off, including company holidays, so employees can recharge away from work. Offer benefits for mental and physical health and empower employees to do what they need to do to take care of themselves. When employees feel their well-being is valued by the organization, they’re more likely to be motivated and engaged in their roles. 

Identify and address disengagement at work with ActivTrak

Business leaders who prioritize employee engagement improve workplace productivity and morale while fostering long-term loyalty and success. That’s why ActivTrak offers a comprehensive workforce analytics platform for deep insights into how work gets done — so you can optimize engagement. With our award-winning solutions, trusted by over 9,500 organizations and recognized in five 2023 Gartner Hype Cycle Reports, you can ensure your team reaches its full potential. Our customizable dashboards empower managers to:

  • Discover where employees need more support or help removing barriers 
  • Rebalance workloads based on who's over- or underworked
  • Track results over time to understand how each change impacts employee engagement

Don't let disengagement hinder your success. Contact our sales team today to learn how ActivTrak can help you identify and address disengagement at work.

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