A Short Guide on Disengaged Employees

  • Kateryna
  • May 1, 2018
  • 13 min

Revenue, planning, budgeting, profits, measurements, expenses, and financial metrics. These are all familiar terms to business leaders and CEO’s. Yet, underlying all of these factors of company success is an essential foundation that is often overlooked: Employee engagement.

Few leaders take seriously the real financial impact of engaged or disengaged employees, but the difference they make in company success and workplace productivity can be shocking. As these statistics show, the importance of engagement is not to be overlooked, and the return on investment in engagement efforts can pay back high dividends.

6 Shocking Statistics on Disengaged Employees

  1. Most of your employees aren’t engaged.
    Employee engagement refers to the connection an employee feels with their workplace and company. Employees who are invested in their organizations deliver well above expectations, contributing extra time and effort to company goals. Unfortunately, according to a Gallup report, nearly 70% of employees are the exact opposite; they are disengaged. This statistical fact comes at a real-world cost to employers of $550 billion per year in the US alone.
  2. Up to 79% of voluntary turnover is attributed to lack of appreciation in the workplace.
    While managers often believe they lose employees because of more extrinsic factors like compensation and benefits, the truth is that there is little connection between money and engagement. Organizations should, of course, provide their team members with adequate compensation, but once this baseline is achieved, then the motivation to go the extra mile comes from somewhere deeper; it comes from employee engagement. The video at the bottom does a great job of exploring this connection in further detail.
  3. Mismanagement is a common reason for disengagement.
    As many as 75% of employees cite their manager as a leading factor in quitting. As Brigette Hyacinth, a prolific author on leadership, concisely states: “Employees join companies but leave managers.” A lack of appreciation or direction, or both, are detrimental to the workplace, and it all begins at the top.
  4. Disengagement costs you (a lot of) money.
    According to a Gallup poll, 1 out of every 5 employees isn’t just disengaged, they are actively disengaged, with a cost to their organization of 34% of their annual salary every year due to wasted time at work, poor productivity, missed days, conflict, and more. That’s an incredible $3,400 lost for every $10,000 in salary! Want to find out what this means for your organization? Just get a paper and pencil and use the average for actively disengaged employees (0.172), the cost to the organization (0.34) and your company specifics to complete this simple equation:

    0.172 (Total number of employees) = X

    0.34 (Average company salary) = Y

    X (Y)= $$$

    $’s of lost productivity from disengaged team members

  5. Disengagement can be prevented.
    Although many leaders are realizing the negative consequences employee disengagement can have, most companies still don’t have an effective plan in place to combat this issue. Just like all other aspects of business, engagement must be approached with purpose, intention, data, and commitment, if one hopes to stem the tide of disengagement and get the most out of their company and team. If you want your employees to be engaged, you should commit to taking measures to improve engagement, like providing feedback in real time, setting clear goals, and giving your team the support they need to do their best work.
  6. Less (constructive) feedback leads to less engagement.
    The amount of feedback an employee receives has a direct correlation with their level of engagement. 92% of the people surveyed in a study by Zenger and Folkman said that constructive feedback is effective in improving performance; that means only a meager 8 out of 100 employees are resistant to constructive criticism, while the other 76 out 100 who want it are denied.

Understanding Employee Engagement as a Spectrum

Employee engagement can be seen as a spectrum ranging from ideal to detrimental. Even if things are going great, constant vigilance is required, as employees can move up or down this scale depending on changes in workplace atmosphere and leadership. Points on the spectrum include:

  • Actively Engaged.

    Actively engaged employees are what you want. They don’t just put their best effort into their work every day, they go above and beyond the goals. They show initiative and problem solving, freeing up leaders to focus on larger tasks. What drives these team members is not money, but an emotional and ideological connection to the company goals and mission, which fosters a very human desire to contribute and achieve.

  • Satisfied.

    Satisfied employees meet expectations. They do exactly what they’re asked to do and nothing extra. Their work doesn’t make them unhappy, but they view it only as a necessary obligation rather than an opportunity to grow and develop. Employees that are only satisfied are less likely to proactively address issues or offer creative solutions. This leaves leadership and other employees to pick up the slack, reducing efficiency and denying an organization the creative push that keeps them competitive.

  • Disengaged.

    Disengaged employees show up for one reason: they need a paycheck. They don’t like going to work, may not like the people they work with, and don’t take pride in what they do. Unfortunately, disengagement doesn’t remain a personal issue, rather it expresses itself through poor productivity and unpredictable quality of work. This forces everyone else to do more and achieve less. Disengaged employees cost you money; both in lost productivity and in morale problems that result from having an underperformer on the team.

  • Actively Disengaged.

    Actively disengaged employees are a detriment to your organization. Put quite simply, you’re paying them to hurt your brand as an employer and company. Unfortunately, companies sometimes unwittingly play a role in creating harmful active disengagement. At the beginning of their employment, actively disengaged employees start somewhere higher on the engagement spectrum, or they wouldn’t have been hired. Low growth opportunities, lack of connection to the company, a feeling of not being valued, or some combination of them all, pushes some employees to the bottom of the scale. Once there, it can be hard to get them back up.

Identifying Engaged and Disengaged Employees

You’ll likely be able to categorize most of your employees based on what you already know. Your rock stars are engaged, status quo employees are satisfied, and bare-minimum, light complainers are disengaged. And the ones everyone complains about? Those are your actively disengaged employees.

Always keep in mind that every employee can slide up and down the scale of engagement, and not all will fit into these easy categories. Spend time with your employees to learn more about where they stand and what they have to offer.

Signs of disengaged employees:

  1. Negativity
  2. Having an “its not my job” mentality
  3. Often late to work or early to leave
  4. Too much sick leave
  5. Noticeable drop in productivity
  6. Not willing to learn and progress
  7. Procrastination

How to Re-Engage Disengaged Employees

Now that you know which employees are engaged and which aren’t, you can get to work on those who aren’t yet doing their best work. If you’re skimming over this article, we recommend you slow down and read this section thoroughly.

  • Keeping your employees engaged is an ongoing process

    Engagement doesn’t happen overnight. Recognizing the mood of your team every day and staying on top of it — one day at a time — adds up. When you notice the mood is down, ask questions and provide support. Over time, the connection between staff and management grows and engagement improves.

  • Connect, build trust, and improve communication with your employees

    Great questions to add into your one-on-one meetings with your employees are: “What do you hope to achieve?” and “In what direction do you want to grow?” This gives each employee an opportunity to share their personal and professional motivations that impact their engagement at work, as well as giving you a chance to build trust and connection with your team.

  • Show genuine interest in their well-being and a willingness to help

    See your employees as human beings, not just workers. Recognize the factors that impact their ability to produce and show empathy and understanding. Roll up your sleeves when the workload calls for it.

  • Learn what they want and need, and provide it

    Start with your most engaged employees. Schedule one-on-one meetings to learn what they love about being a part of your team and what recommendations they have for improvement. Many organizations call these “stay interviews” as they provide valuable information about why employees stay.

With this information under your belt, begin meeting with your disengaged employees in a one-on-one setting. Ask questions that help you understand their experience with the organization, with their colleagues, and with you as their leader.

As employees share concerns and complaints, acknowledge action items for both you and the employee. This can help demonstrate their own role in their engagement and empower them to make the changes they need to make.

Sample Situation

Let’s consider this case:

Manager Michelle meets with staff member Steve to learn more about his level of engagement. When she asks Steve how he’s getting along with his peers, Steve says that his peers don’t include him when they do things after work and very rarely offer to help him when he gets behind.

How to proceed:

  1. To create accountability and empower Steve, Michelle responds by saying, “How can I support you in improving your relationships with your colleagues? What’s one step you can commit to taking today to start the process of growing these relationships?”
  2. Steve’s report that team members were not willing to help each other also alerted Michelle to possible engagement problems in the workplace. To assess this, Michelle additionally sets up one-on-one meetings with the whole team, to find out if there are any underlying issues that can be improved.
  3. Michelle begins planning and carrying out the action items that were produced in her meetings with Steve and the team.

As you demonstrate to your team members that they have the power to resolve almost all of their own problems at work and that you are there to support them, they begin to feel as if they have autonomy and impact in the workplace. Open communication also allows you to address problems before they become much bigger. Following through on your action items shows that you will hold up your end of the deal.

Making a Difference

Throughout your career as a leader, it’s important to show genuine interest in your team members. Expect dynamic human beings — not just employees — to walk through that door every morning, and show empathy for the experiences and expectations they have, both personally and within the walls of the organization. Be involved, open, and spend more time listening than talking. Help them to take initiative and provide them with support to do so. Your team will benefit if you’re there to serve as a sounding board, inspiration, and ally when things don’t go as planned.


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