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How to Identify and Deal With Employee Disengagement

Learn how to spot signs of disengagement, plus a 7-step plan for increasing employee engagement. Learn causes, symptoms and solutions for disengagement.


By ActivTrak

Employee disengagement pictured as an employee looking off into the distance.

There’s a lot of talk about improving employee engagement. But does your organization watch for signs of disengagement?

Actively disengaged employees make up 16% of the workforce. They’re often great at their jobs but detached from employers and, over time, significantly impact productivity and morale. 

If you’re not actively monitoring disengagement, you need to start today. To help, we’ll explore the signs and causes of disengagement — plus a 7-step plan for increasing employee engagement when your levels are low.

What is employee disengagement?

Employee disengagement is a state where employees lack motivation, commitment and enthusiasm at work. It’s the opposite of employee engagement, where people are fully invested in their jobs, coworkers and company. In contrast, disengaged employees feel unfulfilled, bored and resentful. They’re not committed to company success and feel stuck in their careers.

Causes of employee disengagement

Sometimes disengagement is out of your control, especially when people suffer from burnout or discontentment due to issues in their personal lives. More often, disengagement stems from organizational issues. Common causes include:

  • Poor role alignment: When people don’t understand their roles and how their work contributes to your organization’s success, they’re less likely to be engaged.
  • Too much work: Consistently overworked employees will eventually burn out and start to resent leadership.
  • Not enough work: Employees who don’t have enough to do and don’t feel challenged will lose motivation and become less engaged.
  • Limited flexibility: Sticking to rigid schedules, rather than letting employees determine where and when they work best, hinders productivity and engagement.
  • Lack of recognition: Employees who are never shown appreciation may feel their work doesn’t matter.
  • Limited career growth opportunities: Being stuck in the same role with the same responsibilities year after year limits potential and causes resentment.
  • Poor leadership: Without proper guidance and support, employees become frustrated and unmotivated. 

Signs of employee disengagement

Disengagement happens in stages, from an initial dip in productivity to full-blown discontentment. Watching for early signs allows you to address issues before they lead to widespread problems. These include:

  • Decreased productivity: One of the most obvious signs of disengagement is a sudden dip in productivity, especially among high performers. 
  • Absenteeism: Disengaged employees tend to take more unplanned time off than engaged employees. 
  • Voluntary turnover: A high turnover rate is another telltale sign of disengagement, since disengaged employees are more likely to look for jobs elsewhere. 
  • Lower morale: A lack of enthusiasm from disengaged employees may impact team members, resulting in noticeable shifts to team dynamics. 

The costly impacts of employee disengagement

Research consistently shows disengaged employees not only perform poorly but also have a negative impact on workplace productivity. And according to Gallup, the costs are significant. Employees who are not engaged or actively disengaged cost the world a whopping $8.8 trillion in lost productivity.

That’s not all. Other studies reveal how disengaged workers create 60% more errors and have 37% higher absenteeism. For organizations with low employee engagement scores, the results are especially dire. These companies experience 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability and a 65% lower share price. 

The reason? The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees matters — a lot. Even a low rate of employee disengagement causes ripple effects. When one person is disengaged, it impacts the people around them. This creates a negative work environment defined by less collaboration, more conflicts and lower performance.

7 steps to spot disengagement and re-engage employees

Disengagement doesn’t have to be a permanent problem. Follow these steps to identify the earliest signs of disengagement — and prevent them from spiraling into bigger problems.

1. Identify disengaged employees

First, create a system for identifying when someone is disengaged. The easiest way to do this is with employee engagement software. These solutions are built to reveal early signs of burnout, quiet quitting and other indicators so you know when to investigate potential disengagement. Get into the habit of regularly monitoring key workforce metrics like productivity and workload balance. That way, you’ll always know when something is off. 

2. Analyze and discuss causes

Next, create an environment where employees can speak openly and candidly about what’s causing disengagement, without fear of retribution. This helps ensure you surface issues before they spread to entire teams. You’ll not only get to the root causes of disengagement faster, but also foster a company culture where employees feel valued — an additional win when it comes to boosting overall engagement levels.

3. Collaborate on solutions

Next, work with employees to identify the right solution. If your reports reveal unbalanced workloads, collaborate with team members to redistribute tasks. If too many meetings take people away from important work, take steps to reduce them. Whether your employees crave more training and development or simply need your support during a big transition, giving them a voice ensures you find and fix issues fast.

4. Foster a positive culture

In addition to addressing individual symptoms of disengagement, foster a healthy work environment to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Promoting work-life balance, acknowledging extra effort and prioritizing wellbeing are all relatively simple, effective ways to achieve this. The more you show appreciation for employees, the more satisfied and engaged they become.

5. Offer flexible work

Many organizations are expanding flexible work options — for good reason. Giving employees a say in where and when they work measurably impacts engagement. Studies show remote employees are 35-40% more productive than their in-office colleagues and make 40% fewer mistakes. Allowing people to choose the work locations and hours that work best for them leads to more job satisfaction and helps reduce your risk of disengagement.

6. Provide opportunities for growth and development

Investing in employee training and development programs is a great way to promote high levels of engagement. Opportunities to develop skills and advance careers not only offer a sense of empowerment, but also show you value peoples’ long-term success. It’s why 94% of workers say they’d stay longer at a company that invests in helping them learn. As an added bonus, employees who get additional training will be better equipped to thrive in their roles and help the organization achieve its goals.

7. Implement wellness programs

Employee wellness programs are another effective way to prevent disengagement. Nearly 59% of employees feel stress due to workloads or difficulties juggling work and personal life. Providing access to mental health resources, subsidizing fitness centers and offering other wellbeing incentives makes those issues more manageable — and shows people you care about them.

Find and support disengaged employees with ActivTrak

Employee disengagement poses significant challenges to businesses. Left unchecked, the danger to productivity, morale and your bottom line is very real — and very high. By understanding the signs of disengagement and implementing the strategies above, you can foster a culture of engagement and maximize the full potential of your workforce. 

Not sure where to start? ActivTrak’s employee engagement software identifies the early signs of disengagement for you, making it easy to take action. With insights into how work gets done, you can easily assess productivity and wellbeing to make more informed decisions. 

Request a demo to see why over 9,500 customers use ActivTrak to help teams thrive.

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