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Employee Disengagement: Expert Tips & Solutions

Performance Management
March 24, 2022
Rad time: 10min
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What’s the difference between an engaged employee and a disengaged employee? Ultimately, one wants to be at work, and the other doesn’t. But, employee disengagement is often even more nuanced than that. Knowing the signs of employee disengagement can make all the difference between promoting employee retention versus reeling from employee turnover.

What are the Types of Employee Disengagement?

Employee disengagement isn’t a binary matter. Instead, it should be thought of as a scale, or spectrum. The three types (or levels) of employee disengagement can be categorised as:

  • Engaged employees: Those who work with a passion and feel connected to the company. They are self-motivated and their personal goals are in line with helping the organisation achieve its business goals.
  • Disengaged employees: Disengaged employees are those who are checked out. They lack energy, motivation, and passion. They show up because they have to, not because they want to.
  • Actively disengaged employees: At the top of the totem pole of disengaged employees sits actively disengaged employees, who are acting out their unhappiness. Not only do they not feel motivated or energized to be at work, but they actively act to undermine engaged employees.

Why do Employees Become Disengaged?

Hiring managers know how to hire for personality, values, and culture. But, what is it then that transforms an eager and starry-eyed new employee into a disenchanted and down disengaged employee? 

Before being able to fix or prevent the problem, you must be aware of the causes. So, let’s take a look at some reasons why employees could end up experiencing employee disengagement.

1. Lack of Camaraderie

More often than not, employees want to feel like they are a part of something bigger. That comes along with working in teams and groups to achieve a unified goal. Camaraderie comes from building relationships with co-workers. 

Even if an employee is working remotely, there are digital ways to promote peer-to-peer connection, such as providing video conferencing tools and instant messaging software, to name a few. 

Without human connection, people feel alienation, sad, and may potentially even be less creative (because they are less inspired). Alongside the feeling of joy from being in tune with others, work relationships help to promote a sense of accountability and loyalty since everyone is “in it together.”

2. Missing Purpose

Despite the multigenerational workforce, most employees value similar aspects in a job, including work/life balance, job security, and opportunities for advancement. The fundamentals like feeling a sense of purpose sits as a foundation for most people across roles. But, when the sense of purpose gets lost or is not being satisfied, the risk of employee disengagement rises. 

You may be able to spot this lack of interest or purpose when an employee becomes more quiet and in their own head, rather than present and a part of the conversation. Another way to recognise an employee who is losing interest is to make use of employee wellbeing tools like LUME

These tools offer a place for employees to document their mood, while delivering broad insights to HR and management teams. This way, HR teams and managers can understand overall trends and themes to better support the parts of the organisation that needs it. 

With these real time insights you can proactively support pending employee disengagement before it grows into active disengagement.

3. Absence of Recognition 

People who do a good job expect praise and recognition for a job well done. Employee recognition and rewards serve as a way to display your appreciation for what your team members are contributing to the organisation. 

Failure to do so can result in employees who feel like they are being taken advantage of and are underappreciated.

4. Overworked

When workloads are overwhelming, employees can suffer mentally and even physically. The feeling of being overworked can lead to stress, lack of sleep, anxiety, and ultimately, burnout. To avoid this, managers should constantly check-in and evaluate how much they are adding to their team member’s plates. At the same time, an employee wellbeing tool could be of great use because it allows HR teams and managers to notice trends of burnout before they occur.

5. Lack of Support

People within workplaces need to feel supported to be their best. Support can come in the form of open communication, resources for learning, access to mental wellbeing tools, and more. More often than not, this type of support is expected from bosses and managers.

6. Toxic Culture

A workplace’s culture is also driven by leadership. Toxic cultures are those that are not inclusive, breed mistrust, suffer from a lack of communication, lack of transparency, gossip, and lack of respect, to name a few. The best way to resolve a toxic culture is to identify its source. This could also be achieved with the aid of an employee wellbeing tool. Employees can document their mood and connect causes. Management teams also are privy to these insights to make changes.

7. Lack of Challenge

People also look to grow and evolve. If they are being stifled in a position, then they may become bored and disengaged. Organisations can provide staff training and development to provide their employees with opportunities to strengthen and develop their skills.

Why is Employee Disengagement Bad?

Disengagement can be thought of as an epidemic because once it hits, the negative side effects can be far-reaching. 

In the UK, research has found that many employees have decreased levels of engagement from a year ago, with 37% reporting that they feel less engaged. This matters because it affects the entire work environment, as well as the individuals on your team. 

Disengaged employees lack motivation, and therefore, they are less productive than engaged employees. Engaged employees tend to be brand ambassadors, who play a part in recommending the organisation to other top-talent. 

Disengaged employees’ words can affect the brand or company reputation. And, disengaged employees are unlikely to want to collaborate with others on the team. This ends up harming team morale. 

Ultimately, disengaged employees are unhappy. And this sense of unhappiness can end up causing employee turnover if they don’t see any way forward or are not supported in reversing these sentiments.

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What are the Signs of Employee Disengagement?

As a HR professional, the emotional wellbeing of your team members is typically at the top of your mind. You care about their mental health, but it can become hard to keep track of every individual within your organisation, especially as your team grows. 

While managers and supervisors may begin to notice these signs of employee disengagement, it might be too late by the time they appear. WIth an employee wellbeing tool, you’ll be able to stay updated as to how your workforce is feeling on a regular basis with real-time reports and insights.

A platform like LUME provides knowledge and tools to help employees improve their mental fitness and take care of their mental wellbeing. The tool is equipped with expertly-crafted resources, guided exercises, and prompted assessments to help employees develop their resilience and better understand their own feelings. 

That being said, with or without the tool, it’s of great value to pay attention to these common signs of employee disengagement:

1. Poor Communication

If you’re having team meetings and notice that an employee is speaking up after the meeting (in smaller groups or sharing their thoughts directly with peers), but didn’t say anything in front of the crowd, it could be a sign that they are losing their drive.

2. Unhealthy Habits

When employees are becoming less engaged (or overall, feeling unhappy), they tend to partake in unhealthy activities. This could include going to eat snacks more frequently or stepping out more for cigarette breaks. 

On the other hand, when people feel fulfilled with the status quo, then they are focused and less likely to adopt unhealthy habits and become more productive because they are invigorated by the sense of accomplishment that comes with checking off items on their to-do list. 

3. Lack of Motivation 

A lack of motivation is one of the harder signs to spot because motivation often happens silently. But, if you happen to spot a once-eager and avid learner falling into the background or taking part in growth opportunities less and less, they may be slipping down the disengagement tunnel. 

4. Absenteeism

Employees may take off work for a variety of explainable and understandable reasons. But, when employees start missing work unexplainably or more frequently, they may be experiencing burnout or becoming disengaged. 

It’s worthwhile to connect with employees to check in about how they are doing and feeling to see if you can provide support. Employee absenteeism is a risk factor for turnover, when it isn’t reversed, addressed, or rectified in a timely manner, turn over rates can increase. 

5. Missed Deadlines 

One of the most easily recognisable symptoms of employee disengagement is a reduced quality of work or missed deadlines. Engaged employees understand and care about the importance of getting their work done effectively and on time. Disengaged employees who feel checked out will stop caring.

6. Exhaustion

Even if an employee does care about the organisation and its goal, burnout and extreme exhaustion can lead to disengagement. An employee wellbeing tool such as LUME can help you be able to spot these warning signs before they reach their peak. 

Employees can document that they feel tired, overwhelmed, or undervalued. A person requires strong mental fitness and support to overcome exhaustion and burnout. Managers can play a role by adjusting and reducing their workload and letting an employee know that they are there to help through any tough time that they may be experiencing.

How to Help Disengaged Employees?

The symptoms of employee disengagement can cause any HR professional or business leader to worry. But, HR professionals and business leaders can take actions to reengage employees before it’s too late. 

To help disengaged employees, considering the following:

1. Ask questions: 

Sometimes, a person who needs help or is suffering silently just needs someone to talk to. To understand what’s causing employee disengagement, have an open and honest conversation with your team members. 

It’s true that there’s a challenge here. Employees may not feel comfortable speaking up about what’s ailing them within the organisation (again, we will refer back to how an employee wellbeing tool overcomes this challenge). 

2. Provide recognition: 

When employees put in effort but it goes unnoticed, they may start to build up resentment, which will lead to apathy in the long-run. To avoid falling into this pattern, be sure to recognise your employees frequently for their contributions. Here’s a helpful resource for how to design recognition programmes with impact.

3. Use a wellbeing tool: 

Wellbeing tools, such as LUME’s platform, offer a seamless solution to better support employees and allow employees to better support themselves.

They will not only begin to recognise their own patterns and current emotions, but they will also gain access to tools that can help positively boost their overall mental fitness and therefore resilience. People who feel happy and supported are more likely to remain motivated and engaged with whatever is in front and ahead of them.

What Drives Engaged Employees?   

Engaged employees aren’t always born, sometimes, they are made. HR can play a big role in making engaged employees a reality at work because of the actions they can take to support their team members. 

Workplace culture is said to be one of the most prominent factors in promoting employees’ physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, according to a Citrix Survey across Europe, 89% of respondents admit that workplace culture is a driving element to their wellbeing. 

Ultimately, all elements of employee disengagement can be traced back to how people are feeling and faring, given their mental wellbeing and surrounding events and experiences. So, by protecting and prioritising the support of your teams’ mental wellbeing, you are directly affecting the likelihood of having engaged employees. 

Some additional aspects within your control include:

  • The implementation of collaborative tools (to boost camaraderie, especially in a growing remote work environment) 
  • The deployment of wellbeing tools to support employees’ emotional wellbeing and raise mental health awareness 
  • The ability to offer attractive compensation and benefits
  • The power to equip line managers with tools and the emotional intelligence to best support the wellbeing of their team members

The Bottom Line 

Now that you have the answer to: “Why do employees become disengaged?” as well as solutions for how you can prevent or reduce employee disengagement, it’s time to take action. 

The signs of employee disengagement may look different for every individual. But, at the end of the day, the ability to adequately support your team members’ mental health and wellbeing can make all the difference between having an engaged workforce versus one that is disengaged. 

Ready to take your business to the next level and support your employees’ wellbeing like never before? Check out what LUME can do for you and your team.

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