How to identify a disengaged employee

About the speaker

Jenny Ware is Citation’s HR Business Partner. She has a BSc (Hons) in Psychology, is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (MCIPD), and has over 20 years’ experience in driving positive work cultures and environments.

The impact

Disengaged employees can be dangerous for your business. They can be contagious and impact overall morale, they can impede your productivity and reputation, and they can cost you time and money – all of which will inevitably feed into your business’ bottom line.

Before we get going, remember, displaying any of these signs doesn’t automatically mean an employee’s disengaged. They could be experiencing a mental health condition or out-of-work issue, for example, so be careful not to jump to conclusions.

The main thing to keep an eye out for is a change in their behaviour, or the behavioural difference between your high performers and your other colleagues.

So, here are our 16 tell-tale signs…

1. Lack of enthusiasm

Disengaged employees tend to have less enthusiasm for their job and the business in general. Frankly put, they can simply stop caring. If they’re in a customer-facing role, for example, this might become evident in the quality of service they provide. In other industries, it may come to light in the quality of the work they produce.

2. They don’t ask questions

Because they’re less invested, disengaged employees might ask fewer questions when assigned tasks or in group meetings. Quite simply, this is because they probably don’t overly care about anything over the bare minimum.

3. They’re easily distracted and regularly procrastinate

Another trait of a disengaged employee is procrastination. They’ll find any excuse to delay doing their actual job, and will become easily distracted by those around them. If you don’t see this with your own eyes, it may come to light by the quality and volume of work they produce compared to normal.

4. Lack initiative

Engaged employees thrive off using their initiative and proposing new ideas – disengaged employees don’t. They’ll stick to doing solely what’s asked off them and will rarely – if at all – use their initiative or go beyond what’s expected of them.

5. They don’t help others or go beyond their remit

Tying in with this, disengaged employees don’t tend to voluntarily help their colleagues out. If it’s not part of their core job remit, they don’t go out of their way to do it. In this aspect, engaged and disengaged employees are easy to separate. Engaged employees are team players, are happy to help those around them, and flourish with new challenges and responsibilities.

6. They become quiet and less involved in general chit-chat

It’s important not to generalise with this next one as everyone’s personality differs, but while some disengaged employees might find every opportunity to chat and avoid work, others can become quiet and less involved. This sign might be easier to spot in employees who were previously quite outspoken and chirpy.

7. They have a bad and negative attitude

Disengaged employees almost always have a bad attitude. They’ll drag their feet, slow things down, and often try to bring others with them. This can be particularly dangerous if their attitude starts to affect the morale of their colleagues.

They’ll also put a negative spin on things that really aren’t that bad, and may be instigators of office gossip.

8. Avoids their manager

Because they’re likely achieving less, disengaged employees might actively try to avoid their manager, in a bid to fly below the radar. This one’s particularly pertinent in instances where managers are the reason an employee’s feeling disengaged, which is why great managers are so important for your business.

9. Avoids social activities with colleagues

Avoidance of out-of-work activities could be another trait of a disengaged employee – bear in mind that some employees will have legitimate reasons for not attending though, like childcare, for example. For employees who are genuinely disengaged though, often, they just want to clock in, clock out, and then completely isolate themselves from anything work-related.

10. They complain about menial things

Disengaged employees can start complaining about things that don’t really matter, just to be awkward. For example, they might make a fuss about the fact that the business has switched to a cheaper brand of complimentary teabags to save money, while it’s water off everyone else’s back. Broadly speaking, disengaged employees tend to be adverse to change in general.

11. There’s an evident change in mood – for the worse

If you’ve an employee who previously bounced into the workplace and greeted everyone with a smile on their face, and all of a sudden quietly slouches into their seat, it could be a sign that something’s not quite right. This could be related to something completely separate though – like financial problems or a relationship, for example, so it’s important not to jump the gun and assume they’re disengaged.

12. You see them pop up on job boards

Disengaged employees are often on the hunt for a new job, one where they hope to be engaged. An obvious telling point for this is if you see them pop up on job boards.

13. They’re off sick more than usual

Another tell-tale sign could be more sick days than usual. Employees who’ve been disengaged for a long time may start to dread coming into work, and resort to calling in sick to avoid the work environment full stop. If this is the case, return to work interviews provide a good platform to try and get to the root of the problem.

14. They regularly turn up late for work

To delay the inevitable, disengaged employees might start regularly turning up late for work without a valid reason, and not appear apologetic – or to even care for that matter. This can cost your business both time and money, and impact the morale of team members if someone’s seen to be slacking.

15. They never work a minute over their contracted hours

This is another that mustn’t be generalised, but our penultimate sign of a disengaged employee is never working a minute over their contracted hours, which naturally ties in with doing the bare minimum. For this one, it’s more about looking out for a change in behaviour.

For example, if an employee has started and finished on the dot from day one, it might not be anything to worry about. Or if they’ve children to drop off and pick up, that obviously can’t be helped. But if an employee who was previously happy to hang on until the job’s done suddenly starts dashing out bang on time, there’s a chance there could be an underlying engagement issue.

16. Their performance deteriorates

Last but not least, all of the above will inevitably result in a deterioration in performance. Things to look out for could be an increase in complaints made against the individual, more mistakes, missed deadlines, and less creativity and output, for example.

So, that’s our 16 tips to help identify a disengaged employee. For more information or help on any areas of your business’ HR, get in touch.

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