5 Signs You Have Disengaged Employees on Your Team and How to Fix It

Posted by Julie • October 20, 2016 (Last modified July 29, 2018) • 5 min read


Employee engagement is everything; Disengaged employees are the difference between an amazing team and a failing team, a productive team and a useless team. The problem is, actual employee engagement is elusive. Less than 32% of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014, and that number is going steadily down.


There are two types of disengagement in employees: not engaged and actively disengaged. Actively disengaged employees are harder to help, so it’s important to keep an eye out for indication of any disengagement. Here are five vital signs to be on the lookout for:


1. Chronic Complaining

One to two months of work time is spent dealing with chronic complainers every year. A chronically complaining employee is clearly dissatisfied with their job. Nothing is ever good enough for this kind of employee, and they’re more common than you might think. An astonishing 70% of workers have felt negatively about their jobs, or outright hated them.


Constant gossipers also fall into this category. Unsurprisingly, 28% of employees say that gossip is the number one breach of workplace etiquette. The gossiper is not only complaining about their jobs but also other employees.


How to Fix it:

Most importantly, be frank with your employee. Sit down and have a one-on-one chat with them. Ask what’s bothering them, and if they’ve made a fair point, ask, “What can we do to make it right?” or “What do you think is fair?”

It’s also important to empathize with your employee and make them feel heard and understood. Make sure your chat focuses on growth, and not what they’ve been doing wrong.


2. Lack of Initiative

A recent study found that 67% of employees felt there was at least one thing preventing them from taking risks at work.  Even so, an employee who is lacking initiative can be hard to spot, because they may be doing good work already.


The problem lies in the amount of work the employee is doing. If it’s the bare minimum, that’s a clear sign. An employee lacking initiative may also be unwilling to help their coworkers, unwilling to learn new things, and may come off as a know-it-all.


How to Fix it:

Lack of initiative is often fueled by a lack of motivation. If there’s no good reason for an employee to take a risk, why should they? Find what motivates an employee, and watch initiative rise. Encourage your employee to think about exactly what they’re working toward. Another good way is to lead by example. Show your employees that “okay” or “good” isn’t good enough for your company.


3. Bad Habits

Disengaged employees are likely to be riddled with unproductive habits. They may come in late (nearly 25% of employees say they do at least once a week), or bolt out the door when the clock strikes five. Excessive break-taking is also a good indication of a deeper problem and is very costly to the company. For example, employees who take frequent smoke breaks cost their workplace about $6,000 per year.


How to Fix it:

First, ask the employee what’s going on with their habits. Don’t tell them what you think the problem is, that sets the conversation up to more like a scolding. When you’re talking to the employee, remember that bad habits are a symptom of a deeper problem, not the problem itself.

Finally, whenever it’s possible, connect the bad habit to a problem that it causes for the company. That shifts the conversation away from what you personally think they should or shouldn’t be doing, toward what’s actually best for the company.


4. Friendless at Work

Being a lone wolf doesn’t cut it in the current business atmosphere: collaboration is key. If your employee seems to shy away from any social interaction at work, disengagement may be to blame. Workplace friendships have an unexpectedly large impact on productivity: 70% of employees say having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy work life. People with a best friend at work are 7x more likely to fully engage in their job.


How to Fix it:

Host fun events either during the workday or directly afterward. A happy hour or board game gathering is a perfect way to get people interacting. Research shows that playing together and eating together are great ways to foster cooperation. A single moment of connection is enough to spark a friendship between two co-workers. Ultimately, more than one in three adults have met at least one of their closest friends at work.


5. Always Making Excuses

Have you ever heard an employee say “mistakes were made”? It a common excuse, from entry-level employees to all the way to CEOs. But what does it mean? Who made the mistakes? That phrase, and all other excuses, allow the employee to avoid responsibility for their failures. Inability to acknowledge a problem, and grow from it, is a major sign of employee disengagement. Excuses distract from the real problems, and create a culture of avoidance.


How to Fix it:

Stop accepting excuses right away. Instead of saying “That’s okay,” actually tell them you’re disappointed. It’s okay to still be concerned about the employee and encourage them to do better, but don’t leave it at that. Ask questions to determine the real root of the problem. If an employee fails to complete a project, find out what slowed them down and see if they need anything to help them be more productive.
Watching out for disengaged employees and doing what you can to help them is well worth your time. Highly engaged employees are 2.5 times more likely to stay at work late if something needs to be done after the normal workday ends. They are more productive, and lead happier lives. Trakstar’s performance review system can help you keep track of your employees improvements.



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