The Warning Signs of a Highly Disengaged Employee

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The world is an unhappy place when you don’t like your job.

Job dissatisfaction is the gateway to disengagement, disengagement leads to lowered performance, and lowered performance affects your bottom line.

However, if an employee is disengaged, they rarely verbalize it to their manager — which is a problem. Managers must not only be able to recognize the non-verbal cues of disengagement, but also take steps to re-engage the employee in a positive way.

4 signs of employee disengagement

How can you tell when an employee is unhappy at work? The warning signs are fairly obvious:

  • An “I don’t care” attitude — Coupled with lower productivity, employees that illustrate less interest or care for their work activities or their organization’s overall mission are likely disengaged.
  • Increased tardiness or absences — An employee who exhibits a pattern of tardiness or absences is most likely disengaged, indicating a decreased motivation to get tasks completed. Or, they could be looking for a new job.
  • Declining quality of work — Failing to meet deadlines, or meeting deadlines with sub-par work on a regular basis shows that an employee is less committed, especially if you know them to be capable of better performance
  • Permanent mood swings — A once happy employee that slips into a persistent negative attitude might be having a bout personal trouble, or they might be disengaged. Either situation is detrimental to the workplace and must be addressed.

Putting them back on the road to happiness

Realizing the first signs of discontent can help you identify a disengaged employee and take the necessary steps to try to get them back on board – starting with engaging them on a personal level.

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It’s important for the manager to be a good listener in these discussions, as unhappy employees may find it socially awkward to air their grievances, or they may fear repercussions for speaking up.

Make them feel safe from those things and have a candid conversation that gets to the root of the issue — it will put them on the road to happiness.

This was originally published on the Michael C. Fina blog.

Cord Himelstein has helped HALO Recognition become one of the leading providers of employee rewards, recognition and incentive solutions. Since 2007, he has been responsible for leading the company’s strategic marketing initiatives and communications efforts. Cord works closely with customers to help them develop measurable workforce recognition strategies and create memorable experiences for their employees.

Cord is also a recognized thought leader in the human resources community, and is a regular contributor to the company's corporate blog, where his articles have enjoyed national exposure through major HR publications including SHRM, Workspan, TLNT, Smartbrief, and Entrepreneur. Prior to joining HALO Recognition, Cord worked in the entertainment industry for more than 15 years, where he held senior positions with Elektra Entertainment and EMI Music Group.



6 Comments on “The Warning Signs of a Highly Disengaged Employee

  1. Money talks BS walks. Most of the time, these employees become disengaged due to the lack of incentives, promotions or recognition from their companies. All in all, employers must learn that they cannot expect a hard working underpaid employee, to work hard for very long.

    1. Exactly. I was asked last year to take over a position on an interim basis with the promise of being promoted to the position once I got enough time under my belt. Well, I just finished 7 months of working in this position, come review time I got a lousy 2% and no promotion with the tap dance of “Well, we only get X amount of dollars per year and I had to award others that performed at a slightly higher level”. Next day I told my manager I’m stepping down into my old position and that I no longer wanted it. Of course they tried to convince me otherwise, but without a signed piece of paper with a concrete plan, lip service means NOTHING to me.

  2. Amen BTDT. I hate it when companies look to employees as the problem. In any conflict in life and in the workplace, there are always two sides to every story. So why doesn’t management work on making employees engaged (fair PTO policies, pay and lack of politics), rather than punishing them for lack of engagement.

  3. I really agree with BTDT & MM. Besides, there are some managers just want to push and push the employees to work more and more. The harder you work, the more things they give you to do. It’s never, never, never enough for them. You just work and work and work until you feel very sick and broken down. They don’t care. They just want to push the employees work like slaves, so they can get promotion and big bonuses from their big boss. That way, they only turn the best employees to be disengaged, sick and depressed.

    And some managers treat their employees very unfairly. They don’t like the quiet, hard-working ones because those ones don’t go to the managers’ office to chit chat, socialize with them and flatter them; and they give more work to those quiet, hard-working ones. For the ones who can sweet talk, buy gifts and invite them out for lunch, they love those ones and reduce work for them.

    If the higher management and HR don’t see through this and make justice, their organizations would just be corrupted and going down-hill.

    I hope the whole world see this message and hope all the bosses and HR do some justice for the quiet and hard working employees in their companies/organizations. I feel so weak and alone because I feel like I’m being punished because I spoke up about this issue. I’ve been crying for months, and I’m feeling so sick. I don’t know what to do.

  4. What do you want to be engaged to your company for when your supervisor is so mean to you and treat you unfairly, eh?

    Hey, for the quiet and hard-working people, you should learn from the “smart” ones in your company to spend lots of time during the working hours to talk to everyone, talk about clothes, jewelries, fashion, events, what’s going on in your family, in town, in the country, in the whole world, talk about others, about yourself, try very hard to self yourself… whatever you can think of. And the end of the day, your work is not done, stay overtime a couple hours longer, then your supervisor(s) will think that you are working very hard, and they think your are engaged and devoting yourself to your the company. And they will love you for that.

    1. Wow! It sounds like you and Observer must have been going through a lot of pain at your workplace. I hope the higher management and HR in your company see this and do some justice to everyone. That’s how they can help their employees to engage to the company and do their job well, and they will have a good company.

  5. In my case, the disengagement comes from a not-so-positive change in the corporate culture. A company previously known for being among the best in how it treats employees has recently begun outsourcing its services to south Asia, outsourced most of its deliveries to UPS, has introduced a new system which disempowers its users and has abandoned its customer retention model for one in which the intent is to draw every last dime from its customers.

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