What are the signs of actively disengaged employees?

17 March, 2019
actively disengaged employees


10 signs of disengagement an organisation cannot afford to ignore

Actively disengaged employees cost UK businesses tens of billions of pounds each year. Disengaged employees tend to be ambivalent about their work. This affects customer service levels, job performance, and employee retention numbers. This manifests in various ways: absenteeism rises, customer complaints increase, organisational reputation falls. For example, research has shown that actively disengaged employees:

Gallup’s Employee Engagement surveys have consistently shown that employee engagement in the UK is low. In 2016, its survey showed that only one in 12 British employees were engaged at work, and that engagement has fallen steadily since 2012. The 2016 survey found that most employees (73%) are not engaged at work, and that almost two in ten employees are actively disengaged – and likely to be acting negatively because of their unhappiness in their work.

The cost of disengagement to UK businesses is huge. Gallup has estimated that eliminating active disengagement would produce productivity gains of between £52 billion and £70 billion per year in the UK. Put another way, Gallup found that actively disengaged employees cost their employer £3,400 for every £10,000 of salary.

Clearly, all the empirical evidence suggests that ensuring your employees are engaged at work will boost productivity, decrease absenteeism, improve customer relations, and increase profits. Indeed, Gallup found that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share.


How do you know that an employee is actively disengaged?

To measure the state of employee engagement in your organisation, you need to identify the level of actively disengaged employees. This might be in the form of an employee survey. While this can provide an assessment of the general situation, its anonymous nature means that it won’t help to identify those individuals who are actively disengaged. It is therefore necessary to consider the behaviours of individual employees in a more focused approach based upon what you have learned from the engagement survey. Following up such surveys with focus groups to gather qualitative feedback is generally considered good practice.

There are many other signs that an employee is actively disengaged at work, though each could also be associated with other issues unique to the employee. When considering each of these symptoms of disengagement, a manager should see them in the context of what is going on in the organisation, remembering that they could be an indication of something else wrong such as mental health issues or personal problems.

The most common signs of disengagement include:

1.    Poor productivity

Reduced productivity is a typical indicator of disengagement, though a personal work ethic may cause a disengaged employee to continue to perform well. Task completion may be high because the tasks given are not challenging enough, and lack of challenge can lead to disengagement.

2.    Reduction in quality or work

Looking at long-term performance trends, a gradual tapering of quality of work produced, or steady increase in errors made, is evidence of an employee disengaging from work.

3.    A lack of enthusiasm to learn

Actively disengaged employees may show little interest in self-development, a lack of curiosity to learn, or a lack of caring about the bigger picture.

Again, it is important to measure individuals against the group. If most employees are actively seeking learning experiences and a few are not, you should examine employee engagement levels.

4.    Late to arrive, early to leave

While everyone suffers the occasional missed alarm, late train, or traffic jam that causes them to be late for work, actively disengaged employees are more likely to be regularly late to arrive and wish to leave early more often. Such behaviour is indicative of an employee who does not want to be at work.

5.    Avoiding interaction with colleagues

Actively disengaged employees will avoid interaction with colleagues and make excuses to miss company events and team get-togethers. If an employee was once an active team player but now resists invites to team events, it is possible that they have become disengaged.

6.    Absenteeism increases

Higher than average absenteeism rates are a classic sign of disengagement. Especially common among the disengaged are Monday and Friday absences.

7.    Silence

A silent employee may simply be an introvert who requires their own space to perform at their peak. On the other hand, if that silent employee used to be outgoing and collaborative it is likely that they are becoming disengaged. When periods of silence begin to last longer and occur more frequently, active disengagement may be close behind.

Lastly, if the team celebrates success together and some employees show a lack of enthusiasm, this is a sign that active disengagement may a growing problem in the workplace.

8.    More time spent at the ‘water cooler’

Actively disengaged employees strive to be away from their desk or workstation. They will spend more time at the water cooler or in the kitchen making coffee. While at the water cooler, they may engage with others in gossiping or complaining about organisational goals, strategies, and work processes.

9.    Erratic behaviour

Actively disengaged employees often suffer with erratic behaviour, including angry outbursts which may include lashing out at managers or colleagues.

10. Disengagement spreads to personal time

Disengagement tends to spread to an employee’s personal life. They may become detached from friends, lose their passion for a long-term pastime and spend more time sleeping or on unproductive activities.


What causes active disengagement in the workplace?

For clues as to why people become actively disengaged with work, thinking of work as a sport or game is a good starting point. People need to know and understand the objectives and rules before they become engaged in playing.

In the workplace, active disengagement can begin when employees lack direction. Leaders may create strategies, visions, and purpose to address these challenges and progress toward strategic goals. However, leadership teams must develop a deep understanding of, and commitment to communicating, their vision and strategy.

When employees don’t have the same level of understanding, they fail to see the relevance of what is being requested of them. This leads to lack of commitment and reduced enthusiasm. Ambivalence and disengagement follow, and the final outcome is destructive active disengagement.


Be active to combat active disengagement in the workplace

Measuring and monitoring is not enough to eliminate active disengagement in the workplace. Letting all actively disengaged employees go is not the answer: doing so could mean losing some otherwise talented employees and does not tackle the root cause of disengagement.

If people don’t know what you trying to do, how to get them pulling in the same direction? The discretionary effort that you can get from people is limited by this confusion. This means that leadership and change management teams have to better understand everything that employees do.

Employee engagement doesn’t just happen. Leadership teams must be proactive and develop employee engagement strategies that ensure their people buy into the strategic direction of the organisation.


How the Learning Map helps to combat active disengagement

The Big Picture People’s Learning Maps are designed to create rapid alignment, memorable learning, and significantly improved performance. They employ a range of tactics and strategies to help employees understand the visions, values, and purpose of their organisation, and how each employee fits into the big picture.

The Learning Map works because it utilises the power of visualisation, creates dialogue that helps people receive meaningful answers to their questions, and encourages interactivity that empowers self-learning.

The Learning Map has been used by many organisations, where it is put into action by internal facilitators ensuring that the organisation has absolute control over when, how and where to use it.

To learn more and discover how a Learning Map could help you eliminate active disengagement in your workplace, and boost the employee engagement that fuels improved profitability, contact The Big Picture People today.

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