Disengagement in the workplace is a problem that's all too common these days, and disengaged employees have a negative impact on both their coworkers and businesses as a whole. A Gallup poll found that fewer than 31 percent of American workers felt engaged in their jobs, while 17.5 percent were “actively disengaged.” Because these workers can wreak havoc on productivity and morale, you need to be able to recognize the signs of disengagement so you can address it as it happens.
Signs of disengagement in employees
- Withdrawal from participation: An employee who suddenly begins to miss meetings, starts leaving early, or takes extra days off may be disengaged. Likewise, a significant withdrawal from normal work conversations may also indicate a problem. As a manager, you should watch for changes that stray from an employee’s long-standing behavior or routine.
- Undermining and gossiping: Employees who feel disconnected from their workplace can also develop grudges against coworkers or managers. They sometimes engage in gossip that undermines company goals, and they may even intentionally spread misinformation.
- Apathy and poor follow-through: Disengagement typically results in employees who are no longer aligned with organizational goals. For this reason, you may notice that they don’t care about the quality of their work and that they substitute excuses for task completion.
How to rehabilitate a disengaged employee
Start by reaching out to a disengaged employee to see how they’re feeling. They may be facing issues or obstacles that you can help solve. Human resources and team leaders can work together on this goal, interviewing the employee to discover their concern, be it a family need that makes a current schedule unworkable or a conflict with an immediate manager. Active listening is crucial here, and so is a willingness to make changes. Team reassignments, flexible scheduling, extra training opportunities, and other types of reorganization should all be on the table when mitigating issues with employee motivation.
While individual employee concerns can be specific and situational, proactive solutions to employee disengagement require an awareness of demographic trends. An extensive report on disengagement by AON Hewitt notes that the leading aspects of job engagement for millennial workers are career opportunities, good manager performance, company reputation, pay scale, and good communication. That means that the engagement programs you’ve had in place for one generation of employees might not be as powerful for a different generation. Determine what kinds of company-wide systems you need to have in place to reduce disengagement, whether it’s more manager training, better onboarding, employee recognition and rewards, or a more meaningful company mission.