Are your employees disengaged? Six classic warning signs

13 May 2015 -


As research shows that employee-recognition schemes help companies hit their targets, it is more important than ever for bosses to overcome staff disengagement

Jermaine Haughton

Bosses who set up schemes for rewarding staff achievements are more likely to meet company targets than those who don’t, according to new research. In survey findings published this week, US HR experts WorldAtWork revealed that 89% of firms who run multiple employee-recognition programmes are hitting their benchmark goals – compared to just 66% that run only one scheme at a time.

WorldAtWork senior practice leader Rose Stanley said: “Today, as more companies are beginning to treat employees like customers, recognition plays a role in creating an atmosphere of higher engagement, motivation and overall job satisfaction.”

Given those findings, mangers are clearly under increasing pressure to proactively capture employee engagement and boost performance, and some may be worrying – right now – whether they need to get with the programme. So here are some tell-tale signs that your workers’ minds are wandering…

1. Absent friends

A staffer who has gone into a pattern of taking frequent, impromptu days off work is likely to be disengaging from the job at hand. David Smith, HR director at insurer Liverpool Victoria, says that an increase in sick days points to a lack of wellbeing and low morale, whereby the employee does not feel excited or empowered coming to work. Meanwhile, the CBI has shown that sickness absence costs the UK more than £17 billion, and disengaged workforces take an annual average of 6.2 days off sick compared to 2.7 days taken by engaged employees.

2. “Lone wolf” syndrome

Staff members who feel disillusioned with their roles within an organisation may withdraw themselves from their team and department. As well as preferring to tackle tasks on their own, they may also become less socially active – avoiding work functions and eating lunch by themselves. As such, they could be coming adrift from the company. Catherine Gall, director of design alliances at office solutions provider Steelcase, said: “We strongly believe in the power of place, and that bringing people together in a space will make them more collaborative and innovative. Therefore, workplaces need to be destinations that enhance the physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing of workers. People, purpose and place are the three key elements to encourage and activate greater employee engagement.”

3. Output slump

Bosses are sure to notice a reduction in the quantity and/or quality of an employee’s work if the individual has become disengaged. Using salespeople as an example, coaching expert Tripp Barden explained how lower productivity can manifest itself in employees failing to carry out their tasks with the same diligence as in the past. Disengaged sales professionals, Braden argued, “often decrease their visits and calls to clients and prefer to work on other non-productive activities versus spending time with clients”.

He added: “Many disengaged sales professionals have shorter conversations with their clients. They focus on short-term results and selling with the exclusion of talking about things the customer is interested in. A critical element that might be missing with a disengaged sales representative is trust. They may begin disconnecting from the client for any number of reasons, but all [those reasons] lead to a lack of trust in their relationship.”

4. “What's my motivation here?”

Whether it’s related to a worker’s role, their colleagues or the company as a whole, managers can often spot the decline of a bubbly and proactive approach to work. Unmotivated staff often struggle to raise a smile, and are noticeably less energetic in their work rate. “Disengaged employees are unmotivated to help you improve your company,” At the 2012 Yammer user conference in San Francisco, the firm’s co-founder Adam Pisoni explained that unmotivated staff may be suffering from micromanagement. “Decentralisation provides autonomy,” he said. “Transparency allows mastery of work. Aligning your employees with high-level objectives, rather than tasks, gives them purpose.”

5. Attitude problem

A bad attitude can be particular damaging to a company, as someone who undermines, criticises or condemns engaged employees can distract them from doing their best. Curt Coffman, co-author of office-politics guides First, Break All the Rules and Follow This Path, said: “Actively disengaged people operate from the mindset, ‘I’m okay. You’re not okay.’ They believe that they’re doing what needs to done, and everyone else is wrong. Negativity is like a blood clot, and actively disengaged employees sometimes clot together in groups that support and reinforce their beliefs.”

He added: “An engaged person occasionally becomes negative. We all do. But an actively disengaged person finds it almost impossible to become part of the solution, because they thrive on being part of the problem.”

6. Time slips away

Arriving to the office 10 minutes late every morning and prolonging coffee and lunch breaks are signs that an employee may be wanting to avoid as much work time as they can get away with, according to The HR Blog. This type of employee may also make excuses to miss staff meetings, and take long intervals for toilet trips to “kill time”. Disengaged workers are also likely to watch the clock in anticipation of a break, and start getting ready to leave the office more than 10 minutes before the home-time bell.

In CMI’s recent Management 2020 report, Kevin Murray – chairman of brand communications agency The Good Relations Group – stressed that proactive and inclusive management styles are key to achieving high levels of engagement. He said: “I have seen cases where underperforming teams have had a new leader come in who’s been much more about involving people and having conversations with them on a continuous basis, and who engages them in the process of new ideas, taking new products to market, and inventing new ideas around new product opportunities. The performance of the teams changes overnight.”

Visit the Management 2020 benchmarking tool.

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