5 Signs Employee Disengagement is About to Wreak Havoc on Your Business

CoachHub · 11 July 2022 · 9 min read

In a perfect world, we’d all love our jobs, right? We’d come to work enthusiastic, full of ideas, ready to make a difference, or at least ready to make the day go well for ourselves and others while we’re there. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Between burnout, boredom, lack of work/life balance and the fallout from the pandemic, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 71% of employed Americans typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday—stress that leads to a lack of interest, motivation and energy, irritability with coworkers and customers, and ultimately, looking for a job elsewhere. There are lots of employee disengagement definitions out there, but they all share this common theme.

Here’s the thing, though—people are good at hiding it, especially from managers who may be distracted or who simply care more about profits than the people who make them possible. However when employee malaise starts impacting the bottom line, it has a way of focusing leaders’ attention―especially in a tight job market where people have lots of options. The trick is to recognize and tackle disengagement before it becomes a triage exercise.

If people are disengaging, the solution is to re-engage them, yes? If only it were so simple. For many leaders, “engaged” equals “productive,” and “productive” equals “grind, hustle, and work incredibly hard every single moment of the day, including hours that take away from your free time, friends and family. Because we’re paying you.” Alas, that’s what probably led to the disengagement in the first place. “Engaged” also tends to mean “controlled, because I can see you” and can rear its head as a euphemism for collaboration that can be achieved just as easily by other less toxic means. (Also not so good for morale.) What employers often forget is that people see right through all that.

Ask people what’s going on. Then do something about it. Again and again and again.

Outside of dramatic or catastrophic occurrences that shake up the status quo, there is no sure way to determine the moment at which an employee loses interest in their work. However, it is possible to identify trends over time and continually implement improvements. The model can be as simple as this: Ask. Do. Repeat. If you have a boss who says, “of course I know what’s going on, my managers/HR people tell me,” that’s pretty much a sure sign they have little idea of what’s going on and, because they’re not getting information straight from the source, they don’t care or are afraid of what they might find out.

Anonymized surveys are the gold standard in soliciting employee input. You may have to do some work up front to reassure people that the information they provide is truly anonymous, but any reputable survey firm can help with that. Just know that it may take a while because trust is something earned over time as it becomes clear that honest feedback doesn’t lead to retribution. Additionally, employees want tangible proof that the management team is actually doing something about what they’re learning.

Gartner identifies nine questions that should be in every employee engagement survey to surface whether employees care enough to put forth effort on your company’s behalf. They fall into three categories:

  • Organizational trust – Do your employees believe that you value them and that you’ll do everything you can to ensure their well-being?
  • Commitment to coworkers – Can your employees collaborate effectively so they can do their best work, and do they value each other’s support?
  • The right capabilities – Do you have the tools in place to help employees, and do they have the time to use them?
frustrated and disengaged employee

No survey? Here are five signs of employee disengagement to be on the lookout for until you have one in place.

If you’re doing employee engagement surveys on a regular basis and have established trust in the process, you’re going to have an easier time pinpointing anomalies and fixing them in meaningful ways that your employees will recognize and appreciate. But what if you aren’t? Start doing them. But until then, what are some of the signs of employee disengagement to be on the lookout for?

1. Opting out

Opting out takes many forms. If it’s happening occasionally, it can simply be a sign of a busy day or that something temporary is being dealt with elsewhere. However, taking oneself out of the mix more consistently—withdrawing from the everyday conversation with peers, not joining in discussions/debates, declining to participate in team activities—is a different level of disinterest or disconnection.

2. Checking out

A little more overt than opting out, checking out may surface as failing to communicate important information—deadlines in doubt, issues that affect production/sales, upcoming time off, what-have-you. It can also show up as subtle non-compliance with rules, from longer-than-usual lunches to lax safety procedures.

3. Wearing out

Stress is exhausting. When the work employees do isn’t up to their own standards—missed deadlines, overlooked essentials, subpar research, lackadaisical effort, etc.—it may simply be because they’re burnt out due to office pressures or things happening outside of your four walls.

4. Tamping out

Those who’ve lost faith in a company may cease to contribute ideas or, on the flip side, take on the role of dissenter whenever anyone puts one out there. What they’re saying is, “It’s not worth it.” They’ve resigned themselves to a status quo they don’t believe in and see no way out.

5. Acting out

Confronting management face-to-face may not be in the cards for most people. However, they’re often more than willing to start engaging in negative office chatter about the company’s direction, the leadership team’s motives, their boss’ capabilities (or lack thereof), irritating customer behavior, etc., when they no longer feel salvation is achievable.

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Factors that promote disengagement at work

1. Lack of meaning

The meaning of work is an essential component of employee involvement and professional development. This meaning in professional life is then found in the alignment of the values ​​of the company with the personal values ​​of the employee, but also in the objectives and results behind each assignment. These two concepts contribute to loyalty and motivation for engaged employees.

2. Low pay

Successive crises have led to lower spending, a wage freeze and an increase in layoffs. All this at the same time as ever-increasing pressure and workload. But how can you be motivated to do better when the work environment and income do not change accordingly?

Employees then find themselves destitute, with the impression of being undervalued, of having their decision-making capacity reduced as a skin of sorrow and of no longer satisfying their customers. This drop-in morale then induces a drop in performance at work. As a result, employees are under pressure, which undermines their efficiency and, therefore, their productivity.

3. Lack of development prospects

Offering opportunities for growth within the organization is generally an excellent way to engage employees. And for a good reason, it gives a taste for surpassing oneself and avoids rooting in a work routine. To do this, you must therefore be aware of your employees’ ambitions to offer them a relevant professional skills development plan.

4. Lack of recognition

Recognition is a real motivation lever in business. But, and this is understandable if an employee is not thanked and encouraged for the work provided, it does not make them want to surpass themselves for the subsequent missions. As a leader or manager, you must therefore highlight the efforts and successes of your employees, whether through a thank you or a bonus, for example.

5. Bad working atmosphere

Team cohesion and understanding among colleagues are essential sources of commitment. Conversely, disagreements and conflicts hamper the quality of life at work, causing demotivation and disengagement of employees. To avoid this, the manager must have good conflict management, treat his employees on an equal footing, promote a culture of collective intelligence and organize team-building sessions.

6. Unrealistic workload

Empower your employees, absolutely, yes! Overload them with work, no. An overloaded schedule can lead an employee to burnout and stress. Likewise, too light a program can lead to a loss of meaning and strong feelings of disengagement. As a manager, you must, therefore, correctly estimate the working time of each employee to avoid leading to dramatic situations.

7. Obsolete management

The way a business is run strongly influences engagement or disengagement at work. Without human, participatory and trust-oriented management, there is little chance of having committed employees. Indeed, it is up to the local manager to motivate their employees, support them in times of doubt, and ensure a good atmosphere between colleagues. This then involves active listening, non-violent communication or even a focused leadership style.

The benefits of engaged employees

Engaged employees offer many benefits to employers:

1. Higher productivity

One study showed that highly engaged companies were 17% more productive than others. Engaged employees show dedication to the work they do and are motivated to work harder. As a result, they are able to concentrate and stay focused for more extended periods.

2. Reduction of absenteeism

To complete daily tasks successfully and contribute in meaningful ways, your employees need to show up for work first. Companies with a high engagement rate have a low absenteeism rate. Excessive absence and sick days usually signal an engagement alert. Consistent attendance helps minimize gaps in work output and eliminates the effort required to pick up where employees left off.

3. Decreased staff turnover, increased retention

There is much less turnover in highly engaged teams with high levels of workplace well-being. And in companies that already have a low turnover rate, these engaged companies show even more impressive results – with 59% less turnover. These reductions have a massive impact on the bottom line when you consider the costs of recruiting the right person in the first place.

4. Improved customer relations

When your employees genuinely care about the organization’s success and are prepared to go the extra mile to achieve high-quality results, your customers will reap the benefits. Engaged companies report a 10% increase in customer satisfaction, coupled with a 20% increase in sales.

All of these add up to one crucial result: increased profitability – 21% more profitability, to be exact. If you want to take your business to the next level of success, effective employee engagement strategies will help you move the needle.

Teach Managers to Recognize Signs of Employee Disengagement Through Coaching

Employee engagement is tied directly to financial performance, and well-being is tied directly to engagement. Establishing an employee wellness program can go a long way toward creating a psychologically healthy workplace that benefits employees and builds the foundation for long-term business success.

Train your managers to promote health and wellbeing

Per the APA, “Teaching supervisors how to support employees and recognize the signs of stress and mental health issues helps reduce turnover and absenteeism. Managers and supervisors who work directly with employees are key to implementing and sustaining policies and procedures and creating a supportive environment.”

Develop a coaching program

Establish a caring culture that enables your company to flourish by implementing a coaching discipline. Coaches can help employees with self-reflection and mental health awareness. Programs such as CoachHub Wellbeing™ are personalized to meet each employee’s needs and enable them to take concrete steps to improve their mental health.

Whether through subtle withdrawal or more overt actions, employees tend to have a “tell” when it comes to disengagement. With the right manager training, coaching and survey discipline, companies can recognize the signs of disengagement early and implement meaningful changes that make for a healthier, happier and more engaged workforce.

Time to rethink your employee retention program?

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