Symptoms of Disengaged Employees

Employee engagement is the backbone of every business’ success. HR professionals understand that an engaged employee makes the workplace a better place, and engaged employees are much more productive. According to ERE Media, organizations spend $720 million per year on improving engagement. And yet, the statistics are staggering, as Gallup estimates that 71 percent of Millennials are not engaged, a percentage that trends across all generations currently in the workforce.

Now more than ever, companies are interested in the holistic approaches that can inspire engagement, which in turn delivers on productivity, retention, and profitability. The temperature of engagement begins with a new hire in the onboarding process, and extends through the ranks to the tenured veteran and company leader.

While millions of dollars are spent on programs and initiatives to bolster engagement, there are some simple ways to determine whether your employee is actually engaged or not.

Here are 3 symptoms of a disengaged employee:

  1. They’re absent. No really. Does your employee continually call in sick? Or do they always seem to find some excuse for why they need to be out of work? While sickness, injury, or unexpected events are legitimate reasons for absenteeism, the consistent pattern of taking leave repeatedly is a warning sign for employers. Maybe it’s the employee’s own sickness, their child’s sickness, a mother, father, uncle, or mother’s aunt’s favorite first cousin’s brother. You get the idea. It can be a tough line to tow when an employee has a sick one in the family, as you want to be sympathetic and supportive. However, one of the biggest symptoms of being disengaged is consistently missing work for a variety of reasons.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  reports that absenteeism costs employers $225 Billion annually in the United States. The cost for absenteeism alone is tremendous. However, when an employee is disengaged to the point of missing work repeatedly, the negative effects double on their lack of productivity.

  1. Loss of productivity. Did your star employee start off with a bang, and is now producing with barely a whimper? Most of the time, when there is a drop in productivity, it’s because the employee has disengaged. Make sure to note if they’re learning a new responsibility that could account for a learning curve that temporarily lowers productivity. It’s important to measure a new employee’s level of engagement from the beginning. When an employee is disengaged soon after being hired, they will never make the effort to be fully productive. They will sometimes use that as a way to “stay under the radar”, never doing quite enough to be fully productive, but never doing quite enough to get fired. Nonetheless, lack of productivity is a sure sign of disengagement.

A great way to encourage productivity and engagement in this instance is to help your employee set goals and incentive markers. This can help the employee engage to reach new levels in their career. When goals and expectations are clear, it also helps employers understand if they have an employee who can be inspired or motivated to engage.

  1. Lack of creativity, innovation, and partnership. It’s 5pm, and there’s a major proposal due first thing tomorrow. The team has been working together to complete it, because it could be a big client for your company. One of your team members sits there, mostly silent throughout the process. He offers little in terms of feedback, and gives very little effort in being a part of the solution. He checks his watch and says he has to leave because he’s coaching his son’s baseball team. The truth is, he may actually be coaching, no need to think he’s lied. However, he has demonstrated that he really doesn’t want to be there. Disengaged employees silence their creativity, refrain from innovation, and they refuse partnership to the overall culture of the company.

While the symptoms above are likely not foreign to you, the reality is that many times they are ignored or justified in one form or another, in an effort to retain employees. Why do we want to retain disengaged employees? Because it’s hard to find replacements. It takes time and money just to find a new employee, and then it takes time and more money to train them. A study by SHRM reveals that employer’s will spend an average of 6-9 months of an employee’s salary to find and train a replacement.

It’s a bit of a “catch-22” for HR personnel as they don’t want to have to find new employees, yet they are seemingly “stuck” with employees who don’t want to be there. The problem with ignoring the symptoms of a disengaged employee are the same as if you were to ignore the symptoms of sickness within the body. Symptoms are the outward appearance of something more significant going on within. Just as ignoring symptoms in the body can ultimately lead to death, so ignoring the symptoms of a disengaged employee can lead to disaster in productivity, retention, culture, and profitability.

It’s time for an honest assessment of your employee’s engagement health. Trust what you’re seeing, not what they tell you. Then make the decision to either get them the support they need to engage, or find someone else who can engage with your business and mission. Fill your workforce with healthy people. Engaged employees are healthy for your business.