How can you lead disengaged employees?

According to a Gallup survey, 77% of employees are disengaged. No company can survive long-term with 77% of their people disengaged.  Reasons for disengagement vary as follows:

1. Lack of Recognition

Imagine a scenario in a bustling office, where a team diligently works on a major project. They put in extra hours, innovate solutions, and finally, their hard work pays off – the project is a success. However, their efforts go unnoticed by the management. There’s no acknowledgement, no appreciation email, and certainly no mention in the next team meeting. This lack of recognition starts to take a toll. The team members, who were once enthusiastic and full of ideas, now feel their efforts are in vain. They begin to question their contributions and their motivation dwindles.

Research supports this observation; a Gallup study indicates that employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are more likely to leave their jobs within the next year. It’s a simple yet powerful truth: when people don’t feel valued for their work, their engagement and productivity plummet. This scenario is far too common in workplaces, and it highlights a fundamental need for regular and sincere recognition. It’s not just about giving out bonuses or awards; it’s about acknowledging the effort and time employees invest in their work. A ‘thank you’ in a meeting, a shout-out in a company newsletter, or a personal note can make a significant difference. It’s about creating a culture where recognition is part of the daily workflow, ensuring employees feel seen and valued.

2. Inadequate Compensation

Now, let’s delve into a different office, where an employee, after years of dedication and hard work, discovers they’re being underpaid compared to industry standards. This realization hits hard. They start to feel undervalued and question their worth within the company. Discussions with the management lead nowhere, and promises of salary reviews are continually postponed. This scenario isn’t just about numbers on a paycheck; it’s about what those numbers signify – the value and respect an organization holds for its employees.

When employees feel they’re not being compensated fairly, it’s not just their bank balance that’s affected; their engagement and loyalty to the company suffer too. They might start doing the bare minimum, no longer willing to go the extra mile. Their trust in the organization erodes, and they might even start looking for opportunities elsewhere. Fair compensation is a cornerstone of employee engagement. It’s a tangible expression of how much an organization appreciates its employees’ skills and contributions. It’s not just about matching industry standards but also about recognizing individual growth and performance. Regular salary reviews, transparent communication about compensation policies, and performance-related bonuses can help maintain a sense of fairness and motivation.

3. Limited Career Growth

In another corner of the corporate world, an employee is brimming with potential and ambition. They joined the company with dreams of climbing the corporate ladder, eager to learn and grow. However, years have passed, and they find themselves stuck in the same position, with no advancement in sight. The training programs are outdated, and there’s a lack of mentorship or development opportunities. This stagnation leads to a feeling of being trapped. The employee’s initial enthusiasm turns into frustration. They see their peers in other organizations moving up, gaining new skills, and embracing new challenges. The lack of growth opportunities within their own company makes them feel overlooked and undervalued.

This scenario is a classic example of how limited career growth can lead to employee disengagement. When employees don’t see a future for themselves in an organization, their commitment wanes. They might start doing just enough to get by, losing interest in going above and beyond. To combat this, organizations need to invest in their employees’ growth. This can be through regular training, opportunities for skill development, mentorship programs, and clear pathways for advancement. Employees need to see that their career has a trajectory within the organization and that they’re not just stuck in a dead-end job. Providing these growth opportunities not only helps in retaining talent but also in building a more skilled and committed workforce.

4. Poor Management

Picture a scenario where a team of creative professionals is constantly micromanaged. Their manager scrutinizes every detail of their work, leaving little room for autonomy or creative expression. This overbearing management style stifles their initiative and creativity. The team members, once enthusiastic and full of ideas, now feel like mere cogs in a machine, leading to a significant drop in their engagement. Leadership consultant Mark Brown emphasizes that effective management is about empowering employees, not controlling them. In a workplace where employees feel trusted and have the freedom to make decisions, engagement and innovation thrive. Conversely, in an environment of constant oversight and control, morale and productivity plummet. It’s a delicate balance that requires managers to provide guidance and support without encroaching on their team’s autonomy and creativity.

5. Work-Life Imbalance

Consider a situation where employees are expected to work long hours, often taking work home, leading to a blurred line between professional and personal life. This imbalance can be particularly challenging for those juggling family responsibilities. Constant pressure to perform at work while managing personal commitments leads to burnout and disengagement. A Harvard Business Review article highlights the importance of work-life balance for employee engagement. Wellness coach Rachel Lee points out that balance is key to sustaining performance. When employees have the time and space to recharge, they return to work more focused and energized. Companies that recognize the importance of work-life balance and implement policies to support it, such as flexible working hours or remote work options, often see a boost in employee morale and productivity.

6. Unclear Job Expectations

Envision a new hire to start a job with excitement, only to find that their role and responsibilities are vague and constantly changing. This lack of clarity can lead to confusion and frustration, hampering their ability to fully engage with their work. HR specialist Kevin Jones suggests that clarity in job roles enhances employee focus and engagement. When employees clearly understand what is expected of them, they can channel their efforts more effectively and feel a greater sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, when job expectations are unclear or constantly shifting, it can lead to a feeling of aimlessness and disconnection from the organization’s goals.

7. Lack of Autonomy

Imagine a graphic designer who is passionate about creative expression but finds herself in a work environment where her superiors dictate every design decision. This lack of autonomy curbs her creative freedom and engagement. Creativity expert Alan Richards states that autonomy breeds innovation and engagement. When employees have the freedom to explore and implement their ideas, they feel a greater sense of ownership and commitment to their work. In contrast, an environment where every decision is micromanaged can lead to a lack of motivation and a decrease in innovative thinking.

8. Ineffective Communication

Picture a team that often misses out on crucial information due to unclear communication from management. This leads to misunderstandings, errors, and a general sense of disconnect within the team. The frustration that arises from not having clear directives or receiving mixed messages can significantly impact employee engagement. Communication expert Susan White advises that clear, consistent communication is the backbone of engagement. When employees are well-informed and feel included in the communication loop, they are more likely to feel connected to the organization and its goals. Conversely, poor communication can create an environment of uncertainty and mistrust, where employees feel undervalued and disconnected.

9. Lack of Feedback

Imagine an environment where employees rarely receive feedback on their performance. Without this guidance, they struggle to understand their strengths and areas for improvement, leaving them directionless and disengaged. Performance coach Tim Johnson notes that feedback is the food of progress. Constructive feedback helps employees grow and develop, boosting their confidence and engagement. When feedback is absent, employees may feel overlooked and unimportant, leading to a decrease in motivation and job satisfaction. Regular, constructive feedback is essential for fostering a culture of continuous improvement and engagement.

10. Uninspiring Work Environment

Consider an office space that is dull, cramped, and lacks natural light or any elements of comfort. Employees working in such an environment might find their creativity and engagement stifled. Interior designer Emily Foster highlights that the environment shapes mindset and engagement. A well-designed, comfortable workspace can inspire creativity and boost morale, whereas an uninspiring environment can have the opposite effect. Investing in a pleasant and functional workspace shows employees that their well-being is a priority, leading to increased satisfaction and productivity.

11. Lack of Team Spirit

Envision a workplace where the atmosphere is competitive rather than collaborative, leading to feelings of isolation among team members. In such an environment, employees might feel unsupported and disconnected, hampering their engagement and productivity. Teamwork expert Neil Patel asserts that team spirit is the glue of engagement. A collaborative atmosphere fosters a sense of community and belonging, which is crucial for employee engagement. When employees feel part of a supportive team, they are more likely to be motivated and committed to their work.

12. Inadequate Training

Picture employees struggling with their tasks due to insufficient training. This lack of support can lead to feelings of incompetence and disengagement. Training specialist Laura Gomez emphasizes that training is the foundation of confidence and engagement. Proper training equips employees with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, boosting their confidence and engagement. When employees feel competent and supported in their roles, they are more likely to be motivated and committed to their work.

13. Misalignment With Company Values

Imagine an employee who values sustainability working for a company that disregards environmental concerns. This misalignment between personal values and company culture can lead to disengagement. Culture consultant Amy Chen notes that value alignment is crucial for deep engagement. When employees feel that their values align with those of the organization, they are more likely to feel connected and committed to their work.

14. Inadequate Resources

Consider a scenario where employees lack the necessary tools and resources to perform their jobs effectively. This can lead to frustration and disengagement. IT manager Ron Howard states that resources are the fuel for performance. Providing employees with the right tools and resources is essential for enabling them to perform their jobs effectively and efficiently.

15. Personal Issues

Finally, external personal challenges can significantly impact work engagement. Psychologist Dr Helen Fisher advises that supporting employees’ personal lives is part of nurturing engagement. Employers who acknowledge and support their employees’ struggles can help maintain engagement and foster a supportive work environment.

What Are The Signs Of Disengagement Of Employees?

An observant leader will recognise the signs of disengagement and act on those signs before they become too entrenched.  StaffConnect, a mobile employee app designed to give employees a voice and boost engagement, explains why it’s important that business leaders and managers notice the signs of employee disengagement and how they can take action to reduce the risk of their workforce falling into a rut of disengagement. Here are some of the signs that could indicate an employee is disengaged.

1. Sudden Silence

If a normally vocal employee becomes unusually quiet, it might indicate disengagement. This behaviour change can signal unhappiness or disconnection from their work.

2. Declining Work Quality

A noticeable, consistent drop in the quality of work over several months is a clear sign of disengagement. It suggests a loss of interest or pride in their work.

3. Negative Interactions

An employee who starts making condescending comments or becomes outright rude might be disengaged. This behaviour often reflects frustration or a lack of investment in their role.

4. Frequent Breaks

Spending more time in the break room and less time at their desk can be a sign of an employee trying to escape their work responsibilities.

5. Chronic Tardiness

Regularly arriving late without a valid reason can indicate a lack of commitment and care for their job.

6. Early Departures

Similarly, an employee who often leaves work early might be showing signs of eagerness to disengage from their work environment.

7. Increased Sick Days

A sudden uptick in sick days can be a red flag, especially if it becomes a pattern over time.

8. Avoiding New Responsibilities

An unwillingness to take on new tasks or responsibilities can show a lack of interest in growth or contribution to the team.

9. Lack of Opinions

Showing no interest or opinions in meetings or discussions can indicate that an employee is mentally checked out.

10. Vocal Negativity

Expressing dislike for their job or spreading negativity among colleagues is a strong indicator of disengagement and can affect team morale.

11. Isolation from Team Activities

An employee who consistently avoids team activities or group discussions might be feeling disconnected from the team.

12. Lack of Initiative

A noticeable drop in proactivity or reluctance to contribute ideas can be a sign of lost motivation.

13. Resistance to Change

Showing resistance or negativity towards new changes or processes in the workplace can indicate a lack of engagement.

14. Decreased Productivity

A significant reduction in output or failure to meet deadlines can be a symptom of a disengaged employee.

15. Lack of Personal Development

An employee who shows no interest in training opportunities or personal development may be feeling disengaged from their career progression.

Identifying these signs early is crucial for addressing disengagement effectively. Timely interventions can help re-engage the employee, benefiting both the individual and the organization.

How can leaders re-engage with disengaged employees?

Employees today want to feel valued, want to learn, grow and contribute to something meaningful.  Here are some ways leaders can create better engagement.

1. Create leaders, not followers

Trust employees to do their jobs and give them the space to handle challenges that come up. It could be a dissatisfied customer or making a judgment call. When they have the space to handle the challenge, they take on a higher level of personal responsibility and leadership. A true leader understands the importance of reaching back to help others grow and is not intimidated by others’ growth.

2. Create an environment of growth

It’s been said if we are not learning and growing, we are dying. Employees today want to continue to learn and grow. If this need is not being met they are not contributing to their full potential. This also contributes to high turnover if employees do not feel they have the capacity to grow in their position. Keep your environment up to date digitally.   Operational Digital Transformation is key to employees’ success and in turn business success.

3. Welcome input and new ideas

Give employees the space to give suggestions and be a part of the decision-making process. Some of the best, most innovative ideas can come from the least expected people when they are given a chance.

4. Don’t micromanage

Give people the space to make decisions, take action, and be a leader. When people feel they have this freedom in their lives, it gives them a sense of control and fulfilment. It will also translate into how they deal with your customers.

5. Offer flexible work environments

If a job can be done from home, offer the option to employees that prove they can handle it. This builds trust and often they will put in more work at home than they would in the office.

6. Share the vision of where the company is headed

This gives employees hope and a sense of future, which helps them feel secure. When they feel more secure, they feel more valued.

Leadership today has no room for outdated management styles. Today’s managers need to focus more on leading, not managing, and creating new leaders alongside them. This dramatically increases the growth of a company, while building more personal responsibility within individuals. Ultimately leaders should remedy the problem of disengaged employees.

  • About the Author
  • Latest Posts

Debbie Ruston has been an entrepreneur and trainer since 1986. She works with individuals, and groups interested in developing their entrepreneurial leadership mindset.