12 Signs Your Employee Is Disengaged (And How To Respond)

12 Signs Your Employee Is Disengaged (And How To Respond)

High levels of employee engagement can have an extremely positive impact on a work environment. Productivity rises, communication flows more openly and projects move from idea to actuation faster. However, whether from dissatisfaction with work or disruptive events in their personal lives, employees occasionally become disengaged. This can not only have negative effects on their work, but can also spread to other team members.

It’s important to recognize the signs of employee disengagement as early as possible so that effective action can reverse the trend. Below, 12 members of Forbes Human Resources Council share the signs of disengagement team leaders and HR need to watch for, as well as some tips on how to respond.

12 Signs Your Employee Is Disengaged (And How To Respond)

1. Withdrawal

Employees who are disengaged will withdraw from any non-necessary conversations or activities. They also tend to only do the minimum to get by, will decrease their productivity and no longer give discretionary effort. HR can meet with disengaged employees to attempt to find out why this is occurring and, if needed, coach leaders about how to increase employee engagement. – Kellie Graham, SHRM-SCP, SPHR

2. Poor Communication

Observable signs of disengagement include lack of participation in team or one-on-one meetings or in “the meeting after the meeting,” where employees meet separately to process and communicate what should have been shared in team meetings. Another sign is decreased productivity. Regular pulse surveys provide insightful data that can be used to proactively address concerns with managers and individuals. – Jeff Weber, Instructor

3. Breaks From Routine

Engaged employees are reliable, with recognizable routines. When patterns change — a vocal person in meetings is now quiet, or a star performer’s deadlines slip — it’s worth taking a closer look. While it may be a stretch, one boss of mine believed a dramatic hairstyle change was concerning. When someone exhibits change, it’s time to inspect and open up a dialogue for explanatory insight. – Stacey Browning, Paycor

4. Silence

One prominent sign of disengagement is silence — on team calls, over email or in missed meetings altogether. If an employee seems distant, take immediate steps to connect with them one-on-one. Make yourself available to chat. Find out what drives them and coach them toward their goals. Encourage team members to also reach out and provide support. Hold a team lunch or fun outing to build relationships. – Vivian Maza, Ultimate Software

5. An Apathetic Approach

Almost every time I’ve seen apathy or lack of commitment from an employee, it’s been a clear sign they’re disengaged and likely looking to leave. Observable signs of apathy could be unwillingness to engage in healthy debate, just not caring enough to present or defend their ideas, not fulfilling their commitments (doing what they said they would do), and not being willing to be accountable. – Zach Montroy, SPHR, Navigate the Journey

6. Absenteeism

Because there are many reasons why employees can be gone from work, we don’t often look at absenteeism as a sign of disengagement. The truth is, really engaged employees will find a way to be at work. Organizations should look at absenteeism as an opportunity to have a caring dialogue and ask, “What’s going on?” Maybe it is just a cold, or maybe there is something more. – Lucy Rivas-Enriquez, Union Rescue Mission – Los Angeles

7. Complacency

A clear sign of employee disengagement is complacency. Managers and employees need to have two-way, honest dialogues about performance, expectations and overall attitude before full disengagement ever becomes an issue. There are a number of factors for feeling complacent, but through honest discussions, great leaders can help discover the root cause and come up with a realistic solution. Beth Ann Steinberg, Zenefits

8. A Decline In Work Quality; Missed Deadlines

Two of the most obvious signs of disengagement are a decline in work quality or output and regularly showing up late or missing deadlines. When these become persistent, HR should approach the employee as soon as possible to determine the causes. If it’s the result of disengagement, management should work with him or her to determine what is necessary for re-engagement. – John Feldmann, Insperity

9. Exhaustion, Cynicism, Inefficiency

Disengagement can stem from prolonged burnout, which manifests as exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency. These employees might have been highly engaged at one point but didn’t have the tools to preserve their well-being. Explain how well-being can impact their ability to recover from their burnout. Encourage managers to adjust workloads when someone has been going full throttle for too long. – Laura Hamill, Limeade

10. Lack Of Participation

Disengagement can show up as disinterest in participating. Leaders can respond by ensuring employees have a reason to, and know how to, engage. Leaders can co-create goals that are meaningful, measurable and achievable, but with some degree of difficulty, and can clarify connections of goals to the success of the company. Leaders can share role models of expected behavior and celebrate success. – Phyllis Wright, Ph.D., VRM Mortgage Services

11. Naysaying

One telltale sign is that an employee becomes disenchanted with the organization and acts out that disenchantment by frequently naysaying new ideas and opportunities related to driving the business forward. At the first sign of an issue, the manager should involve HR to help discover the root cause and work to correct the course of relations. – Scott Faurot, ashcompanies.com

12. Rudeness

Everyone has trying days, but to become curt with other coworkers or clients can be a big sign. It could actually be boredom or that an employee is not feeling heard, which may cause little effort in the workplace. Try holding a meeting and letting them speak frankly. From those meetings, conclusions could be mentorship opportunities, ongoing training or special project work they are interested in. – Elizabeth Coakley, C.H. Coakley & Company