Blog Engagement

How to spot the 4 signs of a disengaged employee on your team

Updated 4th January 2022

As the adage goes, "back to the old grind."

Gallup reported that only 20% of employees globally are engaged. That means it’s likely that you work with someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there. They put in less effort, deliver the bare minimum, and are generally coasting. When people can’t see a purpose to their job or don’t believe in the cause, they become disengaged.

The problem is those staff won't necessarily get vocal about it. They're more likely to stew in the background, making poor employee engagement harder to identify. 

But don't worry. There are four signs of a disengaged employee. So, let's talk about how to spot a disengaged employee in your workplace.

Disengaged employees lack initiative

The best thing about managing a team of really engaged employees is that you don't have to oversee every little detail of their work. If you can’t trust them to deliver, you'll have to micromanage which is likely to make your own productivity suffer.

A lack of engagement isn't the only reason employees might hesitate to take the initiative. Maybe they're a recent hire and want to learn the ropes before they rock the boat. But if you've noticed once-driven employees now doing the bare minimum, or only doing what you explicitly ask of them, then there's a good chance they aren't engaged in their role.

One of the key signs of a disengaged employee seems to be lack initiative. But if that's an issue you keep running into, it's worth reflecting on your management style. Ask yourself whether they’ve got the level of autonomy that they need to thrive.

If they don't seem to take the initiative despite having a good amount of autonomy, then you should sit them down for a one-to-one. Find out if anything is bothering them, in or out of work, and revisit the expectations you established for their role during the onboarding process

Disengaged employees tend to be silent in group meetings

If you're wondering how to pick up on signs of a disengaged employee in a group meeting, the answer is that their silence gives them away. Listening is a useful skill, and everyone hates that one team member who won't stop talking during a group stand-up. But if all someone's doing is listening without responding, then you have to question whether what's being said is actually being heard at all.

This shouldn't be confused with active listening, which is a vital inter-personal skill in any workplace. An active listener would respond to what they heard with questions and insight. But to a disengaged employee, conversations about company objectives and new clients might as well be white noise. But sometimes, a lack of engagement can run deeper than a lack of contribution to team meetings.

Disengaged employees withdraw socially

Spotting signs of a disengaged employee is complicated when that lack of engagement is just the tip of the iceberg. It's one thing for someone to sit through the business end of a group meeting without engaging. But if they've stopped small talk at the beginning, then that can indicate that their issues run deeper.

Of course, not everyone is a socialite at heart. Introverted staff tend to be naturally quieter. But if you've noticed someone's level of interact shift, that can be cause for concern. 

Social connection plays a major role in the workplace. It helps people to collaborate effectively while building resiliency against the stresses of working life. An uncharacteristic withdrawal from social activity can be indicative of poor mental health, which many people are often reluctant to discuss openly.

While you can't force employees to discuss the private details of their life with you, what you can do is give them the opportunity to talk. Managers have a duty of care to their staff. De-stigmatising the conversation around our wellbeing is essential for making sure your team stays engaged in the long-term.

Disengaged employees are more absent

Absenteeism is probably one of the easiest signs of a disengaged employee to spot, especially in an office environment. But it's harder when we're working remotely. But if someone's missing meetings or not online, then there's a good chance you're witnessing digital absenteeism.

Similarly to social withdrawal, absenteeism is often indicative of other issues besides a lack of engagement at work. You should consider whether the organisation is doing enough to support employees who are struggling with aspects of their wellbeing

Of course not all absenteeism stems from personal issues. If someone is so disengaged at work that they're barely showing up, it's worth sitting them down for a discussion about expectations. More specifically, the expectations they had of the position going into it, and whether or not the reality of the job lives up to them.

What highly engaged employees look like

Everyone is different, and we all react to things like stress or boredom in our own way. But even so, there are a few common characteristics that most highly engaged employees share. Highly engaged employees are more likely to:

  • Overcome barriers to performance.
  • Play to their strengths.
  • Are proactive about their own engagement.
  • Take accountability for their performance instead of blaming others.

So now we've been through how to spot an unengaged employee, here's a quick rundown of what a high level of employee engagement looks like.

High job satisfaction and pride in their work

Simply put, engaged employees are proud of what they do. An engaged staff member is more likely to hold themselves to a high standard of work and express pride in what they manage to accomplish.

Discretionary effort

Highly engaged employees are more likely to go above and beyond. If someone consistently puts in overtime, or goes out of their way to help others when they aren't required to, that's a crystal clear sign that they're committed to their work.

Feeling valued

Recognition goes a long way . In fact, recognition from a manager or senior leader can be even more effective than financial performance incentives. An engaged team is one that feels like a valuable part of their organisation. But it takes other people to make someone feel valued. As a manager, you should always be looking for the chance to encourage your team and praise their accomplishments.

Becoming an advocate

There's no greater sign that an employee loves your company than if they're hyping it up to their friends and family. Employees are your most valuable advocates. Not only do they publicise your business to potential customers, but they can also recommend you first-hand as an employer.