Business Tips··7 min read

What Is Employee Disengagement? (And How Do You Fix It) [GUIDE]

What Is Employee Disengagement? (And How Do You Fix It) [GUIDE]

Thousands of companies across the world struggle with employee disengagement - when employees have negative attitudes towards their employer and role.

In fact, researchers from Gallup found that an estimated 85% of employees worldwide are disengaged at work.

One of the most concerning employee disengagement statistics is the fact that low engagement is estimated to cost companies nearly 500 billion dollars each year. This loss is in part due to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and reduced quality of work.

So how can companies turn these concerning statistics around? Here’s a closer look at what employee disengagement is, what can cause it, and what organizations can do to combat it.

We'll help you determine if you have disengaged workers or not, as well as how to recognize the first signs of disengagement in your company culture.

What is employee disengagement?

Before you can understand what employee disengagement is, you must first understand what an engaged employee looks like.

Employee engagement is defined as the level to which an employee is committed, loyal, and willing to go above and beyond at work. They live and breathe a company’s values, and they feel a sense of belonging and purpose in their job role.

They go the extra mile on a regular basis and not only complete their work, but find new ways to make it more effective and save time for both the company and themselves. They put extra effort in their day-to-day work, they are content and give excellent employee feedback.

What do these engaged employees look like?

For starters, they are more likely to perform tasks efficiently and at a very high quality. They also don’t mind picking up an extra shift if needed, and visually you can tell that they are happy to be a part of an organization and its success.

They have great employee experiences and superb work-life balance. As opposed to unhappy employees, they do not take their work home and don't have a bad attitude towards their managers.

Top signs of employee disengagement

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is where you can find disengaged employees.

These employees do not feel a sense of loyalty or commitment to an organization.

They often show a lack of interest in their work, and they do not really care about the work of the organization as a whole.

While it may be difficult to ‘see’ how engaged someone is with their work, there are several symptoms to look out for. The most common symptoms include:

  • Lack of initiative, curiosity, or interest in their job
  • Frequent breaks and absenteeism
  • A decline in work performance and quality of work
  • Withdrawing from the team and staying silent during team meetings
  • Uninterested in making improvements or working together with others
  • A sudden drop in their engagement levels and overall employee morale

Why employee engagement matters

While many employers may not care how much their employees enjoy being at work, they should because it impacts nearly every aspect of a company’s operations. A single dissatisfied employee can affect the employee engagement levels across your team and hurt those around them.

Engaged employees are more productive, they give better customer service, and they are more innovative. They make companies better and customers happier, which has a direct impact on your bottom line.

Not only do engaged people mean better employee performance, but it has a positive impact on your revenue. So, if you're struggling with a lack of resources and need new ways to amp up the productivity levels for your broader team, try and find ways to increase engagement.

What causes employees to disengage?

Before you can tackle employee disengagement head-on, it’s important to understand what can cause it. Common causes for a lack of engagement can be found in poor leadership, lack of transparency, and a toxic work culture. However, every disengaged team is different.

Challenges in personal life

Many causes of employee disengagement surprisingly have nothing to do with the workplace at all. Personal issues and life changes at home can have a massive impact on an employee’s performance and their capacity to be engaged.

Some of these personal issues include:

  • Mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, or chronic stress
  • Divorce
  • Financial struggles
  • Death of a family member
  • Challenges with raising children
  • Caring for an elderly or disabled relative

While companies cannot control what happens in an employee’s personal life, they can do their part by developing a workplace culture that promotes positive well-being, mutual understanding, flexible working arrangements, and honesty.

These policies help to support employees undergoing any of the above-mentioned challenges or transitions, which in turn can help them feel more committed and engaged with an organization.

In addition to challenges in an employee’s personal life, there are also several reasons for employee disengagement that can be caused by organizations.

Typically, this involves an individual’s frustrations with their specific role. This could include feeling like their role serves no purpose – or, their responsibilities are not challenging enough. This comes to light in the statistic that an estimated one out of every 3 professionals leaves their jobs due to boredom.

On the other hand, sometimes employees feel like they have an unfair or excessive workload. These employees also likely feel as if their contributions to their team and company are not recognized or valued.

Poor communication among the team and with managers only makes these problems worse for already disengaged employees.

In addition to the many role-specific causes for disengagement, there are also broader, institutional-level reasons that can have an impact on engagement.

This includes:

  • Unfair or opaque pay and promotion schemes
  • Limited growth opportunities
  • Lack of tools, resources, and necessary training
  • Limited opportunities for collaboration
  • Weak leadership and mid-level managers

What can employers do to foster an engaged workforce?

While there is not much employers can do to intervene in someone’s personal life, there are still several things that companies can do to make the workplace better.

To prevent having a disengaged workforce, here is what individual managers and organizational leaders can do.

Individual managers and team leaders

Individual managers looking to improve engagement among their team members should foster an environment that values open and honest conversation. If they face occasional stress, there may be underlying issues that affect their levels of productivity as well as your entire organizational culture, so address them early.

You cannot help your team members if you do not understand their problems. Listening is crucial, and you should make sure that your team feels comfortable speaking with you and sharing their concerns.

One way to foster this environment is to have regular one-to-one conversations with each member of your team. These conversations don’t necessarily have to be about work, but rather it is more important to develop a rapport over time so that both parties feel comfortable speaking to each other.

In addition to that, managers should also consider periodically evaluating roles, responsibilities, and scheduling. Employee engagement surveys are a great step in that directions. You can find out your team dynamics, likes and dislikes and what percent of employees sense a lack of opportunity for advancement.

If a team member is frustrated with their workload, if they want more responsibilities, or if they have an annoying scheduling conflict, managers should try their best to find accommodations.

You can also use these opportunities to gauge their levels of stress, their personal work ethic, their desire for professional development opportunities and more. All the information is already there and you just have to listen.

HR and organizational leaders

Organizational policies can also play a role in creating an environment that enhances employee engagement.

Some of these policies could include:

  • Establishing a formal mentorship program, with special care for remote teams
  • Providing access to the right training and resources
  • Ensuring better transparency for pay raises and promotions
  • Promoting constructive feedback from the top down
  • Fostering an environment that embraces collaboration, especially if you have remote employees
  • Empowering low-level managers to make necessary changes when needed

Engaged workers not only lead happier, more fulfilled lives, but they also bring immense value to an organization’s bottom line. If companies today want to be the companies of the future, they have to make employee engagement a priority.

Wrapping up

Disengaged employees can have a negative impact on your entire business. Focusing on your employee well-being and boosting your employee engagement levels is a worthy cause for team and company leaders.

Active disengagement shows a lack of connection with the company goals and values and it's something that can improved and fixed.

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