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

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

Work is by no means a picnic, but that doesn't mean you can't take satisfaction in it, love what you do and be highly engaged whilst doing it.  

Unfortunately, that's often easier said than done for many employees out there. 

You've probably had a colleague in the past who clearly didn't want to be there and put in less than the minimum level of required effort. This isn't necessarily even a fault of theirs, but when people are fed up, they become disengaged. When they disengage, they stop giving their role the level of focus that it needs and simply stop caring.

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

But don't worry, because there are definitely signs to be on the lookout for. So let's talk about how to spot a disengaged employee in your workplace.

They seem to 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. As a manager, you need to be able to trust your staff to make effective decisions about the projects you assign to them. Or else you'll have to micromanage, which, aside from being really annoying, is also liable to make your efficiency suffer.

A lack of engagement isn't the only reason why 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.

If an employee seems to lack initiative, it's worth reflecting on your management style and whether you're allowing the level of autonomy at work 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.

They're always silent in group meetings

If you're wondering how to spot an unengaged 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.

How to spot the signs of an unengaged employee at work

They're withdrawing socially

The issue of how to spot an unengaged employee becomes a lot more complicated when that lack of engagement is just the iceberg-tip of a deeper-running problem. It's one thing for someone to sit through the business end of a group meeting without engaging. But if they've stopped so much as making small talk at the beginning, then that can indicate that their issues run deeper than being disengaged in their role.

Of course, not everyone is a socialite at heart. There's nothing wrong with having introverted staff on your team, and they could even be some of your best employees. But if you've noticed someone who used to be really chummy with their colleagues withdrawing from workplace social interaction, that can be cause for serious concern. 

Social connection plays a major role in the workplace, helping people to collaborate effectively while helping them to build resiliency against the stresses of working life by giving them a support network. An uncharacteristic withdrawal from social activity can be indicative of poor mental health, which many people are often reluctant to discuss openly for fear of stigmatisation.

While you can't force employees to discuss the private details of their mental health with you, what you can do is give them the opportunity to talk, provide access to mental health resources, and encourage them to seek professional help. Managers have a duty of care to their staff, and de-stigmatising the conversation around our mental wellbeing is essential for making sure your team stays engaged in the long-term.

They're displaying absenteeism

Of all the signs of a disengaged employee, absenteeism is probably the easiest to spot, at least in a centralised office. After all, an empty desk isn't exactly subtle. The matter of how to spot an unengaged employee can be a bit harder when we're all working remotely like this. But if someone's always missing meetings, if they're never online on any of your communication tools and your messages just go unread, 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. Whether it's a mental health issue, or a physical health problem, 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 serious personal issues. If someone is so disengaged at work that they're barely even 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. So now we've been through how to spot an unengaged employee, we've decided to finish this article off by giving you 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: When you really want your organisation to succeed, all you want is to help however you can. Highly engaged employees who are proud to work for their employer are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty. 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: Encouragement goes a long way in an engaged workforce. In fact, encouragement 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. Just remember, 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 working for your organisation than if they're constantly hyping it up to their friends and family. Employees are your most valuable advocates, because not only do they publicise your business to potential customers, but they can also recommend you first-hand as an employer.

To find out more about keeping your employees engaged, or to learn more about the latest workplace issues, visit the Weekly10 blog today!

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