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8 Signs of an Actively Disengaged Employee

Signs of a disengaged employee

Employ­ee engage­ment has a dark­er side. Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees can be harm­ful to your busi­ness — but if you know the signs, you can put steps in place to turn mat­ters around.

Employ­ee engage­ment isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. In fact, accord­ing to Gallup, there are three clas­si­fi­ca­tions: engaged, not engaged and active­ly disengaged.

Engaged employ­ees work with pas­sion and have a real and pro­found con­nec­tion to their com­pa­ny. These are the employ­ees who inno­vate and dri­ve the organ­i­sa­tion for­ward. Dis­en­gaged employ­ees are essen­tial­ly checked-out”. They don’t bring any pas­sion, ener­gy or enthu­si­asm to their role or the busi­ness. But it’s active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees who rep­re­sent the real threat.

Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees aren’t sim­ply unhap­py at work. They are so dis­sat­is­fied and frus­trat­ed with their role that they make a show of act­ing out their unhap­pi­ness. Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees under­mine their fel­low employ­ees, they com­plain and they have a bad atti­tude which can spread through­out an organ­i­sa­tion if left unad­dressed. Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees can have a seri­ous impact on your bot­tom line — they have been known to cost com­pa­nies bil­lions of pounds each year in lost pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and, accord­ing to one source, almost two in 10 employ­ees in the UK are active­ly dis­en­gaged, mak­ing them a seri­ous per­for­mance man­age­ment concern.

Below, we’ll high­light tell­tale signs of active employ­ee disengagement.

1. Social With­draw­al and Lack of Participation

Grad­ual social with­draw­al or quiet­ness with team mem­bers can be an ear­ly indi­ca­tor of active dis­en­gage­ment. Keep an eye on your employ­ees — have they stopped par­tic­i­pat­ing in group activ­i­ties? Do they appear to have expe­ri­enced rifts with col­leagues? Are they eat­ing lunch alone at their desk rather than using the oppor­tu­ni­ty to stretch their legs and socialise?

Nev­er under­es­ti­mate the impor­tance of work­place rela­tion­ships. Human beings are social crea­tures. Work friends can keep us con­nect­ed to our com­pa­ny and make us feel part of a tribe. When we lose our sense of belong­ing, we can become dis­en­gaged and dis­il­lu­sioned with our surroundings.

2. An Increase in the Num­ber of Breaks

Flex­i­bil­i­ty is one of the great­est perks an organ­i­sa­tion can offer — employ­ees should be encour­aged to work in a way that suits them. This might mean some employ­ees take more breaks than oth­ers. Some employ­ees might need more down­time to recu­per­ate and per­form at their most pro­duc­tive. There is noth­ing wrong with tak­ing breaks and in fact, they can make you more engaged.

How­ev­er, you should keep an eye on employ­ees whose break pat­terns appear to change dra­mat­i­cal­ly. If they are sud­den­ly tak­ing two five-minute breaks an hour, when they used to take one, this can be a clear sign of dis­en­gage­ment. If employ­ees are tak­ing more cof­fee, snack or cig­a­rette breaks than usu­al, this isn’t a healthy sign. It could indi­cate a lack of inter­est or invest­ment in their work — some­thing which needs investigation.

3. Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and Qual­i­ty of Work Has Tak­en a Nosedive

An obvi­ous sign of active dis­en­gage­ment is a drop in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and qual­i­ty of work. When employ­ees stop car­ing, they will stop per­form­ing to their usu­al stan­dard. An employ­ee you know to be a top per­former might start com­plet­ing tasks late. They might sud­den­ly need prompt­ing by their cowork­ers. Dis­cre­tionary effort might fall away entire­ly, and your dis­en­gaged employ­ee might now be con­tent with good enough”. You might even notice your employ­ee is start­ing to shift respon­si­bil­i­ty — claim­ing some­one else should have com­plet­ed the work, or that their work was held up by anoth­er colleague.

Line man­agers should be hold­ing reg­u­lar coach­ing con­ver­sa­tions with their employ­ees. Dur­ing these, it should become clear if their work is suf­fer­ing. The worst thing you can do is to turn a blind eye. Take imme­di­ate mea­sures and offer assis­tance in any way you can — show your employ­ee you are there for them and you want to help them per­form and excel.

4. They’re Last to Arrive and First to Leave

Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees make a show of wast­ing time. They have lost respect for their organ­i­sa­tion and for the work they do, and they don’t keep it a secret. They will like­ly be the last to arrive in the morn­ing and the first to leave.

Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees will be full of excus­es to explain away their behav­iour and they may get defen­sive if con­front­ed. They are also unlike­ly to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their actions in this area — so if their behav­iour con­tin­ues, you will have to take some seri­ous steps to counter your employee’s sud­den apa­thy. Which brings us to our next point…

5. There Is an Increase in Absenteeism

Pre­sen­teeism is a grow­ing prob­lem in the work­place, but not one that affects the active­ly dis­en­gaged. If any­thing, dis­en­gaged employ­ees are more like­ly to call in sick reg­u­lar­ly — whether or not they are actu­al­ly ill. 

Pay par­tic­u­lar notice if your employ­ee tends to reg­u­lar­ly call in sick on a Mon­day or a Fri­day — for employ­ees who have gen­uine­ly lost a pas­sion for their work, a long week­end is hard to resist!

It all boils down to apa­thy — which reveals itself through oth­er behav­iours too. Keep track of what they are doing while at the office. If they spend a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of time on social media and express no inter­est in learn­ing or devel­op­ing work-relat­ed skills, these are sure signs your employ­ees have men­tal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly checked out.

6. They Mock Oth­er Employ­ees’ Accomplishments

Dis­en­gaged employ­ees — as we men­tioned above — are more than just unen­thu­si­as­tic. They are tox­ic. They will active­ly dis­par­age oth­er employ­ees and put down their accom­plish­ments. They have stopped explor­ing their own goals and aspi­ra­tions with your com­pa­ny, so they see no val­ue in oth­er employ­ees excelling. Keep an eye out for this behav­iour, as it can demo­ti­vate your work­force and dam­age morale.

7. They Are Dis­parag­ing of Com­pa­ny Aims and Objectives

Your com­pa­ny has goals and aspi­ra­tions. You have a direc­tion you are head­ing in, and you want your team work­ing hard and util­is­ing their strengths to help you accom­plish your objec­tives. Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees will not only appear blasé about your company’s goals — their atti­tude toward them might come across as mock­ing and dis­mis­sive. This is a real red flag — you want your employ­ees excit­ed about your company’s future, rather than putting it down at every turn.

8. They Gen­er­al­ly Have a Bad Attitude

Active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees will make them­selves known through their bad atti­tude. They have stopped car­ing about their place at your com­pa­ny — they might even feel wronged by your com­pa­ny, so they are like­ly to act out. Watch out for employ­ees who are under­min­ing oth­ers, crit­i­cis­ing more than con­tribut­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in tox­ic work­place gossip.

Bad atti­tudes will come off as dis­re­spect­ful. Dur­ing your one-on-ones, if you get the impres­sion your employ­ee is sar­cas­tic, defen­sive or bel­liger­ent, unwill­ing to take con­struc­tive crit­i­cism and unable to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for his or her actions, this is a real sign of a dis­en­gaged employee. 

As Curt Coff­man, co-author of First, Break All the Rules and Fol­low This Path, says: Active­ly dis­en­gaged peo­ple oper­ate from the mind­set, I’m okay. You’re not okay”. They believe that they’re doing what needs to be done, and every­one else is wrong. Neg­a­tiv­i­ty is like a blood clot, and active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees some­times clot togeth­er in groups that sup­port and rein­force their beliefs […] An engaged per­son occa­sion­al­ly becomes neg­a­tive. We all do. But an active­ly dis­en­gaged per­son finds it almost impos­si­ble to become part of the solu­tion because they thrive on being part of the problem.”

Don’t let active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ees turn your com­pa­ny cul­ture sour. Keep an eye on these warn­ing signs and make deter­mined steps to address the root caus­es of dis­en­gage­ment. Nobody sets out to be dis­en­gaged — chances are, your employ­ee was sat­is­fied and enthu­si­as­tic about their role once. With enough effort, you could course cor­rect and wind up with an engaged employ­ee. Sit down with your employ­ees dur­ing your reg­u­lar one-on-ones and address the sit­u­a­tion head-on, to turn an active­ly dis­en­gaged employ­ee back into a moti­vat­ed, pro­duc­tive asset while improv­ing engage­ment levels.

Dis­cov­er how engaged employ­ees are key to sus­tain­able high per­for­mance: down­load our new eBook here.

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