7 warning signs of employee disengagement

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Leaders play a key role in improving engagement, but can also be the cause of employee disengagement.

Engagement is ultimately the degree to which we feel connected with and committed to our work. Being connected to what we do is reflected in the emotional ownership we feel, i.e. how much we really care about achieving our objectives, as well as those of our team.

Disengaged employees may leave their jobs, but some decide to stay and end up contributing to a toxic work culture. Disengaged employees end up contributing to a toxic work culture.

Some people leave your organisation for new opportunities, feeling satisfied with their experience in your organisation, but the sad reality is many don’t leave with a positive feeling. For this reason our ability to inspire employees to build a career rather than just do a job, is a fundamental challenge for leaders.

7 key warning signs of employee disengagement

1. Physically or mentally absent 

Employees consistently arriving late, leaving early, or taking longer lunches than usual can be a tell-tale sign of disengagement. We often find it much harder to get out of bed and go to work when we are dreading what’s waiting for us. Without a real sense of purpose and a feeling we are contributing to our team, we find it easier to stop showing up. An increase in sick days can indicate a lack of well-being and low morale.

2. Low discretionary effortDiscretionary effort go the extra mile

Discretionary effort is when we take action because we want to, not just because we feel we have to. The disengaged employees in our teams tend to do only enough work to keep their jobs, and not one iota more. These unhappy employees can begin to deliberately limit their contributions in a silent protest based on their unhappiness. An effective and engaged leader looks for these indicators of decline, and takes proactive steps to increase the team’s levels of engagement. Demotivated employees often struggle to smile, and can be noticeably less energetic in their rate of work

3. Reduction in quality

Disengaged employees take longer to complete routine tasks, and often begin to produce lower quality work than they did in the past. Employee disengagement can quickly lead to a lack of pride in what they are doing. This is often a result of:

  • A lack of purpose (why am i doing this?)
  • Little appreciation from a direct supervisor (feeling valued)
  • Poor differentiation between good and ineffective performers (Tick box culture)

Many disengaged employees focus on short term results, rather than building relationships and engaging customers/colleagues.

4. Increased criticismActively disengaged employees resist solutions

Employee disengagement often leads to a bad attitude that can ripple through the organisation and damage your brand, relationships (internal & external) and ultimately your culture.  Disengaged employees can begin to habitually undermine, criticise or condemn engaged employees and end up creating a toxic work environment, preventing them from doing their best. We can all have off days, but an actively disengaged individual resists becoming part of the solution, and may even thrive on being part of the problem.

Complaints from customers about lower-than-expected levels of customer service tend to increase, often stemming from:

  • Customer-facing staff not understanding role or process changes
  • A lack of human incentives to engage customers well – these can be as simple as honest verbal appreciation for a job well done
  • A perceived clash between an organisation’s values/strategy/vision and the way it actually treats customers and employees
  • A perceived (or actual) lack of authority to deal effectively with customer issues

5. Isolation

Employees that feel disillusioned with their organisation, or their roles, often withdraw from their team and department. They may begin to become less socially active, avoiding work functions and increasingly prefer to tackle tasks on their own (withdrawing from any team connection). While bringing people together tends to increase collaboration and innovation, isolation tends to increase silos and conflict behaviour. Bringing together people, purpose and place (our environment)  are the major keys to encouraging greater employee engagement.

6. A rise in incidents

Mistakes and accidents in the workplace may begin to increase as engagement increases. This is a dangerous time for any organisation as disengaged employees begin to take shortcuts and ignore policies and proven procedures which can very quickly lead to a major incident. Repeated errors, misaligned priorities and missed deadlines are just a few examples of the impact disengagement can have on the standard of performance achieved.

7. OverwhelmOverwhelm can result from managers seeing them exclusively as a resource to utilise

Overwhelm can be a result of managers ignoring warning signs, not seeing the employee a whole human being, but rather seeing them exclusively as a resource to utilise. An early warning sign can be employees frequently asking how they are supposed to get all of their work done. This lack of capacity may stem from one of four key factors:

  1. Relationship factors. An employee’s inability to perform can be due to factors unrelated directly to their work itself, but may be related to a personal issues (at home or at work). Emotional conflict can drain our energy and reduce our ability to focus and perform
  2. Training and resources. An employee’s capability can be diminished as they have not been adequately training or do not have the necessary resources to deliver. Without guidance or experience tasks may take longer to accomplish and increase frustration.
  3. Prioritisation. Poor prioritisation of tasks by management can mean employees may not tackle their workload in the correct sequence, leading to additional pressure to deliver from management, increased frustration and a reduction in confidence.
  4. Authority and information. When an employee does not have access to the necessary information or authority to make effective decisions related to their work, disengagement and frustration increases.7 warning signs of employee disengagement Infographic
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Richard Riche

Engagement and communication specialist at One Clear Message
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills.TED style speaking and presentation skills, Emotional Intelligence skills, Employee Engagement/Experience, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. One Clear Message offers training, consulting and coaching.
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