1. Home
  2. Recruitment & HR Blog
  3. Company culture
  4. Identifying employee disengagement in your business (and how to fix it!)

22.09.2022 Company culture

Identifying employee disengagement in your business (and how to fix it!)

Identifying employee disengagement in your business (and how to fix it!)

A company is only as good as its employees. This is a statement you’ve probably heard time and time again.

There’s a good reason for this saying being so popular… and that’s because it’s true! A motivated, enthusiastic team can easily take a business from good to great. So, with new terms like quiet quitting (we’ll mention this later!) arising, and movements such as the great resignation dominating headlines, employers may start to worry. 

But, should you be worried? The truth is, if your employees are starting to seem unmotivated or disengaged, then your concern may well be warranted. However, often times less serious situations can be diagnosed as employee disengagement. 

To help you better understand how to spot employee disengagement and, of course, give you some pointers on engaging your employees again, we’ve put together this article. Read on for some expert tips!

What is the difference between engaged, disengaged, and actively disengaged employees?

Firstly, you need to understand the levels of employee engagement. Understanding who is an engaged employee, and who isn’t, will give you a better overall picture of employee experience within your business. In turn, you’ll more easily be able to improve your employee retention and employee engagement.

What is an engaged employee?

An engaged employee is an individual working for your business who has a positive attitude toward your company’s mission and values. They will take active steps to exceed targets and encourage your business’s growth.

These employees will often be involved in initiatives such as employee resource groups and have a high drive towards furthering their career development.

What is a disengaged employee?

A disengaged employee is (unsurprisingly) the opposite of an engaged employee. You may notice a slip in the quality of their work, the quantity of their work, or their willingness to bring new ideas to the table.

The disengaged employee will often do just enough to get by in their role, with no signs of enthusiasm for the business, its growth, and often no interest in growing themselves.

What is an actively disengaged employee?

An actively disengaged employee will often take the traits of a disengaged employee one step further. While a disengaged employee will usually do enough to get by in the role, the actively disengaged employee may be past this stage.

Actively disengaged employees will show a lack of communication with their colleagues, often ignoring emails and messages until situations are critical. They may show a lack of punctuality by showing up late and leaving early, and taking a high number of breaks. These employees may also hand in projects and work after deadlines (if at all!)

The difference between disengagement and quiet quitting

We mentioned quiet quitting earlier in this piece. And, with the popularity of the term rising on TikTok and other social media platforms, there is a chance you’re wondering whether your disengaged employees are quiet quitting.

It is worth mentioning here that not all employees who quiet quit are disengaged! Quiet quitting is more about doing the job an individual is paid to do, and nothing more. This means an employee who has decided to quiet quit will likely still perform their role to a good standard while maintaining a good relationship with their co-workers. 

However, disengaged (and certainly actively disengaged employees) are more likely to let their standard of work slip, and will likely slip out of contact with their co-workers and business values.

This isn’t to say that employees who you suspect are quiet quitting aren’t at risk of becoming disengaged later. If there has been a dramatic change in their work ethic or enthusiasm, you might not be providing them with something they need. Check out our article on why your employees might be quiet quitting for more on this subject.

Signs of a disengaged employee

So, now you know what an engaged and a disengaged employee is, let’s delve deeper into the symptoms of a disengaged employee. Knowing what to look out for in greater detail will make catching employee disengagement earlier possible, which obviously makes solving the problem quickly easier too!

Signs of a disengaged employee include:

  • Reduced communication with teammates
  • Lack of interest in career development talks or activities
  • Turning up to meetings unprepared
  • Not proposing new project ideas
  • Lack of interest in work social events or team building
  • Noticeable reduction of completed tasks
  • Taking more breaks than usual
  • Slipping level of punctuality
  • Increased avoidance of responsibility
  • Delegating more and more tasks
  • No desire to learn more skills or share knowledge with the team
  • An overall increase of negative attitude

Noticing a number of these points in an individual on your team should start alarm bells ringing, as they can often signal disengagement in an employee.

It is worth noting that a few of these points can just be part of who your employee is. For example, autistic employees may not communicate in the same way as other team members. So, this list should be measured against your employees’ previous behaviours, too. If there is no change in their way of working, it shouldn’t indicate a problem!

What is the cost of disengaged employees?

It has been reported previously that disengaged employees cost a business around 34% of their total salary. Despite this, it is hard to calculate the exact monetary cost of disengaged employees, as this will largely depend on their role and how disengaged they are.

However, one thing we can say for sure is that disengaged employees will have a huge impact on the productivity of the whole team, as well as cause blockers in communication, and increase the likelihood of missed deadlines. Therefore the above figure of 34% could actually be a lot higher, depending on the size of your team!

What can cause employee disengagement (and how can you re-engage disengaged employees)?

Once you’ve confirmed an employee is disengaged, you might wonder, “how did we get here?!” While there are several things that can lead to this, some situations are quite common. We’ll run through these below, as well as offer some steps you can take to re-engage these disengaged employees.

Disengagement due to overworking 

One of the most common causes of employee disengagement is giving the employee more work than they can realistically handle. 

Seeing countless tasks pile up can quickly lead to an employee feeling like fighting this mountain of work is helpless (not to mention, tackling it could lead them to burnout). Having an overwhelming number of tasks to do can often cause an employee to rush through the tasks with minimal effort, or avoid doing them at all.

How do I solve this?

Re-engaging employees who have disengaged due to overworking isn’t as simple as just giving them less work. Often, the trust between employer and employee will be severed if they’ve been overworked for a while.

Having a conversation with the individual, mentioning you appreciate their efforts thus far and helping to readjust their schedule is a great start. It is also worth putting an action plan into place to ensure the issue leading to overworking is solved, and letting them know about this plan. This can involve anything from hiring a new employee, to reassessing the overworked employee’s role within the team.

For more advice on tackling overworking, check out our article on combatting overworking.

Disengaging due to a weak team bond

If your employees feel like they can’t communicate with each other, trust each other, or feel as though they’re not working towards a common goal – they will quickly become disengaged. 

Why should an individual feel like they need to communicate with a team member who they barely know? And, if they’re aware their colleagues’ views don’t align with their own on a project, they might feel like they’re better off working independently (or not working at all).

The most worrying part about this type of employee disengagement is it can be pretty contagious. If other team members feel as though they’re picking up the slack for another team member, or sense that communication within the team is lacking, they can become disengaged too.

In short, the faster you fix this, the better!

How do I solve this?

The best solution to this is a serious team-building strategy. First, figure out whether this is a problem isolated to a small team or, as is often the case, whether it is a wider company culture problem.

This allows you to plan accordingly. For wider cases, buy-in may be needed from C-Level executives, for instance. Fixing disengagement due to poor team bonds will require a range of steps, from team-building activities to help strengthen trust, to improving current communication processes to be more clear. It is also important to speak to your team individually, and in a group setting, to find out where exactly they feel the weaknesses in the current set-up are.

If you’re a remote-first company, this can be even more challenging. Our article on building a stronger remote culture in your company can give you some pointers on where to start. 

Disengagement due to a lack of investment from the company

If an employee feels as though a business isn’t invested in their development, ideas, thoughts, or contributions, then they will struggle to invest in the company. 

Personal and career development are highly important to your employees, especially the younger ones. In fact, 76% of Gen Z workers see learning as key to their advancement. So, if you’re not investing in your employee’s future and development, or helping them to train their skills, then you’re practically asking them to disengage. 

How do I solve this?

At the risk of stating the obvious… it’s time to invest in your talent. There are so many ways to do this, that the best way to start would be to actively ask your employees what you can do to re-engage them. Scheduling a career review will give you the opportunity to ask employees directly and individually what they’re doing now that they don’t enjoy, and what they’d rather work towards.

If you’ve got the resources, a workplace coach is also a great way to overcome disengagement due to stagnation. These professionals will help an employee work towards becoming the best they can be, as well as really showing you’re a business that cares about their employees’ development. 

Disengagement due to unfair remuneration

It almost goes without saying that if your employee doesn’t feel they’re fairly rewarded for their work, they’re quickly going to disengage. One of the most common causes of this will be an employee who has often been seen as a ‘key player’ in a team.

It can be all too tempting to give more and more work to an individual who you know can complete it at a great speed, a high quality, and will always go above and beyond what you asked. You may also want to pile more responsibilities onto team members who you know can handle them. And of course, this is fine, as long as you’re paying them for their work.

If an employee can see their responsibility growing and their workload piling up alongside it, but their salary remains the same, or their title hasn’t changed since they started, then problems will follow.

How can I solve this?

Re-engaging unfairly remunerated employees will depend largely on the individual situation. If you’ve simply been piling tasks onto an employee who doesn’t really want them, see the overworking section of this article.

However, if your employee is willing to take on their new tasks and use them as a growth opportunity, then it is time to renegotiate their remuneration package. This can come in the form of a promotion, meaning they get a new title and a higher salary, in which case be sure to research the market rate to avoid still underpaying your staff.

If you believe the individual isn’t quite ready for a promotion, increasing their salary is still an option, or you could offer a different kind of employee benefit or employee appreciation token as a form of employee remuneration. This could be a bonus, an extra holiday day, or something more creative!

Avoiding employee disengagement in the future

It is essential to understand that solving one employee’s disengagement doesn’t future-proof you from future employee disengagement.

The tips above are great for solving existing disengagement problems, but it is a great idea to take some steps to avoid being in the same situation a few months down the road. This can include some (or all) of the following points:

  • Implementing yearly salary reviews to ensure you’re still paying your employee what they deserve
  • Conducting stay interviews to identify any problem areas in your team
  • Providing employees with an individual training budget to allow employees to grow within your business 
  • Regularly conduct employee engagement surveys

For more tips, the following articles can help you out:

Easily post your job ads to 10+ job boards

Find your next hire - for free!

logo ad misc glo en

Related articles

How to get feedback from employees (with example questions)
Company culture How to get feedback from employees (with example questions)

When you manage a team, it can be difficult to get genuine and truthful feedback from your employees. Find out how to get feedback from employees with these questions and techniques.

Frans Lelivelt Aug 19, 2022
20 employee appreciation ideas to show them you care
Company culture 20 employee appreciation ideas to show them you care

Do you want to show your team you value the hard work they put in every day? Find inspiration with these 20 employee appreciation ideas!

Frans Lelivelt Mar 03, 2022
How empathetic leadership can benefit your organisation
Company culture How empathetic leadership can benefit your organisation

Empathy is often overlooked or underestimated as a leadership skill, but it’s arguably the trait that brings the most benefits to the organisation, leader, and the rest of the team.

Hannah Squire Feb 15, 2022