Management 101: Recognising disengaged employees (and what to do about it)

26 March 2024 Sharyn Waterworth

Management 101: Recognising disengaged employees (and what to do about it)

​Did you know that disengaged employees cost the global economy US$8.8 trillion a year (accounting for a whopping 9% of global GDP)?

Yep, disengaged employees have the power to hit your business where it hurts, sinking your chances of success by reducing productivity, opportunities for growth, and customer satisfaction.

If you suspect members of your team or your broader business have an engagement problem, you should be concerned, but it might reassure you to know you’re not alone.

New research from 2023 reveals majority of organisations have shockingly low employee engagement. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report, employee engagement is only 23% in Australia - meaning the vast majority of employees are disengaged at work.

The same Gallup report (unsurprisingly) shows that businesses with more engaged employees significantly outperform their competitors across the board.

The good news is you CAN re-energize disengaged employees and reap these benefits in your business. So, strap yourself in and allow us to show you how:

Step 1: Identifying disengaged employees

Signs of employee disengagement can be subtle - like reduced productivity and decreased customer satisfaction - or they can be crystal clear - like a toxic culture and negative attitudes.

An employee’s response to job dissatisfaction will range based on the person, but here are a few common red flags worth looking out for:

7 telltale signs of a disengaged employee

  1. They’re apathetic - Disengaged employees are apathetic about their work and don’t approach it with energy or enthusiasm. They don’t do more than the minimum required of them and don’t show initiative.

  2. They’re unreliable - Disengaged employees can be unreliable. They may turn up to work late, deliver to a low standard, reject meeting invitations, or call in sick more often than others.

  3. They isolate themselves - Disengaged employees may isolate themselves from others and choose to focus exclusively on their tasks rather than team goals.

  4. They’re change-resistant - Disengaged employees may be resistant to taking on new tasks, learning new software, or working with new people. They’re less likely to engage in training and development.

  5. They’re reactive - Disengaged employees may wait to be instructed about what to do rather than proactive and self-directed.

  6. They’re critical - Disengaged employees are more likely to make their negative feelings known by being critical of the business, their manager, and even colleagues.

  7. They’re unhappy - Sadly for both the employer and employees, disengaged employees may be very unhappy at work. This can translate to emotional and physical health problems, which is why engagement should be recognised as an employee wellbeing issue too.

Once you’ve recognised some of the warning signs amongst your team or business, what should you do? There are numerous employee engagement strategies you can implement as quick fixes and long-term tactics to boost employee engagement.

Here are our top three employee engagement strategies that you can try today:

3 ways you can improve employee engagement

  1. Prioritise feedback
    Employees rate giving feedback as one of the most important skills a manager needs, right behind communication. Start by scheduling check-ins with each of your employees, before establishing regular review sessions.

    Managers should talk to their direct reports about their preferred methods for receiving feedback to engage employees in a way that’s meaningful to them.

  2. Offer professional development opportunities and career paths
    Over 60% of employees who left their jobs in 2021 listed a lack of opportunities for career advancement as a reason for their decision. Outlining a path for growth will create engaged employees and help you retain top talent.

    Not only that, but contributing — financially or otherwise — to your employees’ individual growth shows that you value them, in addition to their work. Knowing that their talents are appreciated by the company is a motivating factor for employees.

    Moreover, regardless of which industry you serve, the market will constantly evolve and professional development is key to staying relevant. That’s what we’d call a win-win!

  3. Train your managers in employee engagement
    Can you guess what two of the biggest factors in driving employee engagement are?
    A) Training your people managers, and
    B) Holding them to high standards
    Yep! It’s critical that companies give senior and middle managers the skills and tools they need to connect with and empower their direct reports.

    This can be done by offering training programs or leadership development opportunities to better equip managers for their roles.

    After all, in addition to their individual responsibilities, a manager should act as a coach for their direct reports, offering encouragement, constructive criticism and paths for growth.

    In the day-to-day, it is undoubtedly the manager who has the most influence on positive or negative employee engagement in your organisation, so this is quite simply an area that companies can’t afford to ignore or skimp out on.

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