Disengaged Employees: How To Recognize & What To Do

Brian Burns / December 16,2022
  • How to Spot a Disengaged or Dissatisfied Employee
  • How to improve employee engagement and satisfaction
  • Key takeaway
  • 1. What does an engaged workplace look like?
  • 2. What happens when employees aren’t engaged?
  • 3. What matters most to employees?
  • 4. What does a dissatisfied employee look like?
  • 1. Run diagnostics and identify reasons for disengagement
  • 2. Self-reflect and be empathetic towards staff members
  • 3. Book one-on-one meetings with disengaged employees
  • 4. Tackle employee dissatisfaction based on individual need
  • 5. Fine-tune work processes with an engagement policy
  • For decades, employees have been vocal about how disengaging and dissatisfying their jobs, workplaces, or tasks have become. Before the pandemic, 69% of employees stated they were actively disengaged, while 51% said they were “not engaged.”The same Gallup study was conducted later with worsening metrics. 74% of employees said they were actively disengaged, and 55% stated they weren’t engaged. 48% of working Americans were actively job searching or looking for better work opportunities.  It’s clear that the Great Resignation was fueled by discontentment across the working class, and who could blame them? Wages have been stagnant since 1973, and their rights are declining.While it will take multiple incremental reforms and new policies to reestablish broadly shared growth, employers can still tackle disengagement and dissatisfaction within their own workplace. The first step to improvement is recognizing if your workplace has an engagement problem.Contents
    How to Spot a Disengaged or Dissatisfied EmployeeHow to Improve Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

    How to Spot a Disengaged or Dissatisfied Employee

    If you have analyzed the stats and engagement is low then your workplace likely has an engagement problem. While that’s not easy to hear, there are plenty of ways you can turn things around when you have the right information.

    1. What does an engaged workplace look like?

    When a workforce is engaged, there’s a clear one-to-one impact on your business. High morale, performance, and productivity are key indicators of a happy, healthy workplace. If employees are genuinely passionate about what they do, it’s really easy for them to stay satisfied long-term.

    2. What happens when employees aren’t engaged? 

    In cases where employees are not engaged at work or satisfied with their current job position, you’ll find a lack of something (i.e., productivity) or a shift in their typical behavior or attitude.It’s a common misconception that your employees have to be committed to your organization’s goals to be engaged. That’s not the case. In fact, your employees won’t care about your own goals if you don’t pay attention to theirs. Employee wellness and productivity go hand in hand.An employee’s response to job dissatisfaction ranges based on the person, but they may:

  1. Leave: An employee may not say anything depending on their relationship with their superiors. They may decide to leave if they feel they can’t reveal their dissatisfaction. 
  2. Express: An employee will speak up and request change. While this approach is the most constructive, an employee will only do this if they see change as possible.
  3. Loyalty: An employee will not say anything and continue to stay unhappy at a company. They may hope change will happen, but their productivity will continue to suffer.
  4. Neglect: An employee may neglect their work duties or perform them poorly. They’ll eventually start calling in sick more often and become unresponsive to emails.

When productivity decreases, so does your ROI. Any employee who stays will produce poor project work or fail to meet deadlines while quitting employees will spike the cost of turnover.

3. What matters most to employees?

What matters most to your employees is security, promotion opportunities, fair compensation, open communication, and worthwhile relationships with their immediate supervisors/leaders. Feedback, especially with the use of employee engagement platforms like Mo.Work, is very important to employees. You can book a demo with Mo.Work to start automating peer-to-peer employee rewards. However, don’t forget to encourage personalized, face-to-face feedback.  When you offer detailed project feedback, you’re showing employees that you care about their personal and professional growth. Plus, you’re building long-lasting relationships with your staff.As mentioned, employee wellness is a big factor, but that includes outside of work. A recent bout of bad news may cause a great employee to disengage, but if they have the means to seek help (i.e., an employee-backed mental health package), they can bounce back much sooner. If these conditions aren’t met, you’ll start to see your employees slowly pull away from you and your organization. They may start “quiet quitting” or looking for opportunities elsewhere.

4. What does a dissatisfied employee look like?

It’s difficult for most of us to hide a bad mood, let alone a prolonged sense of disengagement or a lack of motivation. However, you’ll want to notice when an employee is starting to become dissatisfied, as an actively disengaged person is already affecting your organization.Quiet quitting is often the first sign of a lack of engagement. Some quiet quitting examples include doing the bare minimum, clocking out right when their shift is done, and unwillingness to work overtime hours. They may refuse to do anything that isn’t listed in their job description.None of these above signs are unreasonable, nor should they be treated as such. If you expect your employees to go above and beyond, you should give them an incentive to actually do so.With that said, the quiet quitting trend is a direct protest of a person’s working conditions. If these conditions continue, there’s a chance more detrimental disengagement signs will appear.In summary, here are 9 signs your employees aren’t engaged:

  1. Productivity and quality of work take a downturn
  2. Partial or complete withdrawal from the team
  3. Taking more breaks, vacations, or being late more often
  4. A habit of showing up late and leaving work early
  5. No appetite for challenge or taking on more responsibility
  6. Chronic absenteeism (4 or more sick days a month)
  7. General negative attitude towards work colleagues 
  8. Doesn’t want to gain new knowledge or skills
  9. A sudden break from routine (i.e., suddenly unreliable)

Employers need to recognize the above signs the moment they appear, or the situation is going to get worse. To turn these employees around, you’ll need an engagement program that works.

How to improve employee engagement and satisfaction

While employee output is quantifiable, each team member is driven by different desires and needs. Keeping everyone happy will be a challenge, but very possible if you do the following.

1. Run diagnostics and identify reasons for disengagement

To solve the problem, you first need to know what it is. Issuing anonymous surveys is a good first step, but you need to know what questions to ask first. OfficeVibe has a great list of recommended employee survey questions that just about any organization can use effectively.

2. Self-reflect and be empathetic towards staff members

It isn’t easy to see low engagement scores, especially if your brutally honest employees are citing you or “management” as the problem. Don’t punish your employees for being truthful, as it’ll make your problems worse. Instead, try to see things from their perspective and reality.As you’re taking the time to self-reflect, ask yourself:

  • If I was in their position, how would I feel? How would I react?
  • What situations or changes could have negatively impacted this employee?
  • Have I done what I can to provide my employees with what they need?
  • Have I always treated my employees with respect and fairness?
  • Have I looked at each employee as an individual with thoughts and feelings?

Remember that these surveys are meant to help your organization, not hurt you personally.

3. Book one-on-one meetings with disengaged employees

After considering why your employees may be disengaged, it’s time to book a one-on-one with each team member. Tell them that you’ve noticed their disengagement and mention specific behavioral changes you observed. Then, say you’ve reflected on how to improve the situation.Say you feel that this individual can and has brought a lot of value to your team. This is when you give the floor to the employee. Really listen to them and come up with a solution. For example, if employee recognition is lacking, show them what you’ll do to improve the problem.

4. Tackle employee dissatisfaction based on individual need

While speaking to each unengaged employee, separate their concerns into five categories:

  • High levels of stress/overwhelm
  • Lack of trust and/or poor communication or collaboration
  • No professional development, feedback, or recognition
  • Poor change management or lack of resources
  • Unfair pay or benefits that don’t suit their role

From there, ask them why they may be feeling this way or what contributed to the long bout of dissatisfaction. With this knowledge, you can remedy each situation based on individual need.In each category, you’ll likely hear specific reasons why they’re unhappy, for example:

  1. Occasional stress and overwhelm are typical in many jobs, but a high level of stress will lead to burnout. Consider their workload, skill level, and pay when assessing what can be done. Ask them what solution you can come up with together to solve the issue.
  2. A lack of trust is detrimental to communication and collaboration. Anonymous feedback is ideal here, as there may be a team member causing problems. Ask if the issue is a lack of transparency, the inability to voice opinions, or an issue with manager availability.
  3. Recognition, feedback, and professional development are most affected by frequency and timeliness. Ask how often employees want to be recognized and in what format.
  4. If your organization has recently been through growth or change, ask if your staff has been negatively affected by them. Ask if they have what they need to meet objectives.
  5. While pay isn’t the most important driver of employee satisfaction, you can’t disregard it either. If your employees feel that they aren’t compensated fairly, see if you have room in the budget to do so. If not, compensate them in other ways, like PTO or other benefits.

With this information, you can start fine-tuning your work processes with an engagement policy.

5. Fine-tune work processes with an engagement policy

Now that you’ve attacked the immediate problem, your next step is to create a policy that keeps employees engaged long-term. Employee disengagement doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, but you can use a general approach when it comes to the core strategies you’ll use.For example, every workplace should recognize its employees, but not all employees will want to be recognized in the same way. These nuances show you care above the individual.

Key takeaway

When implementing a new engagement strategy, make sure it includes the following:

  • Monthly feedback surveys that ask about engagement levels
  • Financial support for employees’ physical and mental health
  • A recognition and rewards program (and a rewards ceremony)
  • Planned company outings and volunteer opportunities
  • An employee resource group that supports worker wellbeing
  • Professional development opportunities and career options
  • Passion projects or ways workers can use untapped skills
  • A fine-tuned onboarding process and training opportunities
  • Task automation via software and flexible work situations
  • Manager training programs focusing on employee engagement

If you want to get your employees behind your brand, consider reviewing your core values and mission statement. That way, you can train employees in these values and find new hires that suit your mission. When an employee believes in your brand, motivation is easy to come by.