Recognizing Disengaged Employees: The Top 5 Signs

September 26, 2015


Employee disengagement is a major challenge in the U.S. workforce. In all likelihood, a disengaged employee occupies a cubicle or workstation in every office across the country.

An oft-cited Gallup poll from 2014 showed that only 31.5 percent of U.S. workers are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their workplace.” Though that percentage represents a slight bump up from 29.6 percent in 2013, it’s still a startlingly low figure and one that means that nearly 70 percent of workers are disengaged.

Related reading: Looking At the Big Picture to Deal With Reluctance to Employee Training

Even more ominous, Millennials were the least engaged, mostly due, the Gallup study surmises, to feeling unfulfilled in their job.

Make no mistake, those disengaged employees can have a major impact on profits as well productivity and office morale. Gallup estimates disengaged workers cost U.S. companies between $450 billion and $550 billion a year due to lost productivity.

What is an engaged employee and what does having one mean to your company?

Kevin Kruse, consultant and author of Employee Engagement 2.0, defines an engaged employee as one who fully and enthusiastically commits to the company’s goals and consistently works to achieve those objectives, oftentimes willingly going beyond the stated boundaries of his or her particular job duties. Rather than merely being satisfied at their job, they have a true emotional attachment to their work.

“When employees care, they give you that discretionary effort,” Kruse says. “Sales people generate more sales. Service people provide better levels of service. Programmers are faster and create bug-free code. Whatever it is, engagement improves results.”

Related reading: 3 Aspects of Employee Training You Can't Afford to Ignore

Having an engaged workforce is especially important when employees interface with clients and customers either as a customer service rep or trainer. Disengaged employees lead to frequent complaints and customer churn. It’s not a stretch to assert a disengaged employee poisons the bottom line of any customer-service business.

The Five Signs

Yet it doesn’t take a psychology degree to spot a disengaged employee. The signs are numerous and easy to detect, sometimes showing up in concrete numbers. Here are the top five red flag warnings that a goldbricker roams your office:

They’re often invisible. Every employee needs to take an occasional sick day or cannot make it into the office due to a family or medical emergency. However, a frequently absent employee — someone who pushes the limit on the number of paid days off or who has a liberal definition of comp time, for example — signifies a person with little or no interest in the job.

They consistently produce subpar work. A high-performing salesperson can book a bad quarter. Even the best of employees make an occasional mistake. That’s normal. And some people just lack the skills to succeed in a particular role. But you’re probably dealing with disengagement when you see repeatedly missed deadlines or routinely shoddy or incomplete work.

They withdraw from the team. Though some employees work independently within a larger corporation, most serve within a team. When one team member detaches from his or her colleagues either by skipping meetings, not doing assigned tasks or cutting off all communication with fellow team members, they are checking out from the team and therefore checking out from work.

They display an “I don’t care attitude.” Engaged employees typically leap at the chance to tackle new assignments and learn the latest skills for their job. A disengaged worker, on the other hand, is generally apathetic and does only the minimum requirements of the job while watching the clock until quitting time.

They’re always negative. Even the best of employees has a bad day. A difficult situation outside of work distracts them from workday tasks. In those instances, a manager can cut the employee some slack. But if an employee constantly complains, participates in nasty office gossip or is snappish toward co-workers, chances are the employee is disengaged. What’s worse, their negativity influences others.

Consistency is key

Whether you think of them as goldbrickers, slackers or clockwatchers, what separates a truly disengaged employee from one merely having a bad day or week is the consistency and explicitness of their behavior. They are repeatedly absent from the office and produce poor quality work. They frequently ignore other team members, make minimal effort or are openly disdainful of their co-workers. If that’s the case, then that individual is definitely disengaged.



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