Disengaged Employees: How To Recognize And Deal With This Hidden Issue

Mar 26, 2018 | 0 comments

Disengaged employees are bad for business, but what you may not have realized is just how bad for business they are. Research suggests that companies are losing between 20-25 percent of their revenue each year due to disengaged employees. That’s a startling statistic and a massive wake-up call for organizations. And so, if your company hasn’t recognized the issue of disengaged employees, then now’s the time to do so. In this article, we look at how to identify the characteristics of a disengaged employee and we discuss some strategies for dealing with the issue so that in your workplace engaged employees outnumber the disengaged.

How To Identify A Disengaged Employee

How To Identify A Disengaged EmployeesBefore you can tackle the problem of disengaged employees, you first have to know how to spot them. Chances are, we can all identify a disengaged colleague in the office. They’re that grumpy individual with a long list of complaints, a lack of enthusiasm and all-round negativity. In short, a disengaged employee is one that has mentally checked out. They tend to do only what’s absolutely necessary to get the job done. They rarely work late, hardly ever participate in team social activities and usually never give work a second thought once they have left the office. The problem with such negativity is that it is catching. Disengagement has a ripple effect and can cause employee morale generally to sink with a consequent decrease in performance and productivity.  There are a number of characteristics that disengaged employees tend to display which makes it easier to spot them in the workplace. These characteristics include:

Lack Of Enthusiasm

If nothing seems to interest your employee, whether it be a new project, work opportunity or even the Christmas party, then chances are there is a deep-rooted apathy that goes beyond simply having a bad day.

Complaining Attitude

The disengaged employee will be a perpetual moaner – nothing is ever right or good enough for them.

Doesn’t Help Others

Not wanting to work as part of the team is a classic symptom of the disengaged. If your staff member is regularly saying “It’s not my job,’’ then beware – chances are they have lost interest in their work.

No Initiative

Engaged employees will go the extra mile and use their initiative to get a task completed.  A disengaged employee in comparison will stand around waiting to be told what to do next. They are also unwilling to ask questions and learn new things.

Easily Distracted

An engaged employee is likely to stay focused on the task, whereas disengaged employees are easily distracted. The ability to be distracted can have knock-on effects on the team as the disengaged employee is likely to sidetrack or divert their colleagues from the job at hand.

No Growth

Often the professional development conversation in the annual performance appraisal is on the short side and that’s because the disengaged employee is not interested in growing and developing within the company. The truth is they’ve lost their mojo along with the desire to invest in their future.

So, now that we have a better understanding of how to spot disengaged employees, it’s likely that there will be at least a couple of people in the office that you will have immediately identified as being disengaged.  But don’t be under the misapprehension that a couple of individuals in a team isn’t that big a deal. It’s when you multiply the two individuals in a team by the number of teams in an organization that you begin to appreciate the scale of the problem. What’s more, the negative vibes that disengaged employees give off can easily infect others in the team. Have you noticed that rates of sick leave in the company are starting to creep up? This is a classic sign that the disengaged virus has taken hold in the office, especially if there are noticeably more absences on a Monday and a Friday.  And if team meetings tend to be a monologue rather than a lively two-way discussion, then you may well be facing a wider problem of disengagement than just a couple of individuals.

Disengagement: Is It Really That Big A Deal?

Well, the short answer is yes. The economic costs of disengagement are not to be underestimated. What’s more, in today’s highly competitive marketplace the problem of disengagement is one area in which companies can potentially make significant gains if they get it right. So let’s see what the statistics tell us about the economic cost of disengagement in the workplace.

Disengaged Employees Statistics

Here are some headline employee engagement statistics that will help you to put the issue in perspective.

Tackling the issue of disengaged employees head-on, therefore, makes good economic sense. What these statistics clearly illustrate is that disengagement is costly both in terms of lost productivity and lower levels of performance. Disengagement will have a huge impact on your business’s bottom dollar and ability to compete in the marketplace.

So, armed our understanding of how to spot a disengaged employee and the economic consequences of failing to do so, let’s turn our attention to how to tackle the problem. Before we can do that though we need to have an understanding as to why staff members become disengaged in the first place.

Why Employees Become Disengaged

We can all recount stories of the employee that started at work with all guns blazing, totally engaged, enthusiastic and keen to be involved. However, five years down the track and it’s a different story. That same employee has transformed into a grumbling, whinging, negative influence in the office. But, what are the reasons behind these sorts of transformation? Why do employees find themselves disengaged? Not surprisingly when dealing with the human psyche, there is a wide variety of reasons; however, below we identify the four most common ones.

One of the major contributing factors to disengagement is the absence of a sense of connection to the organization’s vision and purpose. If your employee is alienated from a view of how their job impacts overall on the organization, or even better society at large, then there is little motivation for them to expend any more energy than is absolutely necessary. When an employee can see that they are contributing to some greater good, whether it be on an organizational or societal level and that their efforts have some purpose to them, then they are more likely to feel motivated and enthused about their job.

Another important factor behind disengagement is a feeling from the employee that the organization is failing to provide opportunities for them to grow or advance. All employees want jobs that allow them to develop their skills and abilities. Encouraging and empowering employees to continue learning and growing will be rewarded by higher levels of productivity, a more positive sense of company value and greater loyalty.

A belief that their contribution is undervalued and their opinions do not matter is also a key driver for disengagement within a workforce. Disengaged employees will often complain that their ideas and opinions do not count at work or that the organization as a whole is not interested in hearing the views of all employees. Finding ways to ensure that all employees feel valued and listened to by the organization will have a positive influence on levels of engagement.

The final common factor is stress. Whether it’s due to a perceived threat to job security, in response to a period of organizational change, the employee’s belief that the company has poor practices and a lack of adequate tools to get the job done, or simply a feeling of being overloaded, stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to disengagement. Finding solutions and offering strategies to staff members on how to handle stress, will be important considerations for businesses seeking to reduce employee disengagement.

Having an understanding of the some of the key drivers behind employee disengagement is the first step to doing something about it.  It’s then necessary to get a sense of the extent of the problem and its precise nature from the perspective of your organization. The best way to achieve this is by conducting a staff satisfaction survey. This is easily set up via your company intranet portal software and giving employees anonymity on completing it will ensure that the results are frank and honest. You need to fully diagnose the problem in your business before you can begin to find ways to address it and this will be an essential step in the right direction.

How To Re-Engage The Disengaged

The first point to make is that there will be no one solution: the complex and varied reasons behind employee disengagement will require a variety of responses from management. In addition, there are unlikely to be any quick-win solutions. It will require a company investment of time as well as an ongoing process of fine-tuning. For those companies that make the investment, the potential rewards are great:

  • Employees who are committed to and enthusiastic about their work are 43 percent more productive than employees who consider it as just a job.
  • And companies that have 60-70 percent of their employees engaged have an average total shareholder’s return of 24.2 percent.

So what practical steps can your business take to re-engage with the disengaged? Perhaps the most crucial step is to open the lines of communication with employees and actively listen.

Open And Honest Communication

In the same way that you have a two-way conversation with your customers, so you should with your employees. Companies that encourage open dialog, communication and feedback score higher on the spectrum of employee engagement. This two-way conversation can easily be hosted on the company intranet via a blog or discussion forum. Additionally, the views of employees on single issues can be sought via an intranet poll. And regular surveys can be utilized to canvass staff views on a range of other issues and topics. As well as being seen to be seeking and listening to staff views, management must also be seen to be acting on those views. So regular feedback to staff on what’s happened as a result of that survey or poll is essential. And if something can’t be implemented for whatever reason, then be open and honest with staff.

In a period of organizational change, many employees can become stressed about job security or changes to their job role. Keeping the lines of communication open with staff, being honest and listening to and responding to their fears will be even more critical in this context. A discussion forum or special page dedicated to managing change on the intranet is a very useful tool for achieving just that. In addition, the wellness portal on the intranet can give staff practical tips and strategies for coping with stress.

Promote Positivity

Being positive can be just as infectious as negativity so empower your employees, particularly those that are already highly engaged, to share stories, exchange ideas and disseminate best practice across the organization. Collaborative spaces or project areas on the intranet is one obvious way to do so or use the staff newsletter, team briefings and meetings.

Reward Effort

Allied to this notion of a positive company culture is the need to recognize and reward the efforts of employees. As an organization, you should be looking to offer credit where it is due, give acknowledgment freely and simply say ‘thank you’ often. We all respond better to praise and positive feedback so instilling a company culture that rewards effort will be an important aspect of dealing with disengagement. Formal employee recognition programs such as employee or team of the month highlighted on the intranet login page are one visible way to reward employees. A ‘hot news button’ on the intranet homepage could also highlight employees or teams that have gone the extra mile or made some significant contribution.

Make It Easier For Staff To Do Their Jobs

Giving staff the tools they need to get the job done more efficiently and effectively will have a huge impact on staff morale. The office intranet provides the opportunity to streamline business tasks and automate forms workflow. Furthermore, within the one platform, the intranet will deliver all the tools that staff need in their daily work: from staff directories, through to corporate calendars, company manuals and policies as well as online forms. The intranet can, therefore, enable staff to get the job done faster and more easily and this will help to improve all-round levels of engagement within any organization.

Encourage Learning And Development

Employees that are left to stagnate or fend for themselves when it comes to training and development are likely to fester into disengagement. Employers with highly engaged workforces encourage and promote a company culture in which ongoing learning and development are valued very highly. The company intranet offers the possibility for the ongoing online training and development of staff. The e-learning could take many forms including podcasts, webinars, quizzes, how-to videos or blogs. E-learning has the advantage of delivering consistent content to all learners, minimizing disruption to normal business activities and allowing staff to train at their own pace and outside of normal working hours. Furthermore, e-learning systems provide an electronic record of training and achievement for each individual employee.

E-learning can also be used to re-state and re-engage with employees on the overall vision and values of the company – what the business is trying to achieve – as well as a sense of where the individual employee and team fit into the bigger picture.

The Importance of Employee Engagement Metrics

Re-energizing the disengaged and promoting employee engagement, in general, isn’t just a short-term project with a few milestones to tick off, then that’s it job’s done. It’s a continuous journey and so it’s essential that organizations compile a set of metrics to assess progress and check that things are on track. Just as you have key performance indicators for other aspects of the business, so you should collect performance information in relation to employee engagement. So, what kind of data are we talking about?  Well, we’ve touched on it already but an annual employee engagement survey is a good place to start.

Employee Engagement Survey

The best surveys are those that are short, to the point and only require a few minutes to complete. In addition, to be of real value, the survey needs to go beyond merely measuring employees’ job satisfaction or how happy they are at work.Given the correlation between disengagement and a disconnection with the company’s vision and values, the survey should try and gauge employees’ sense of how they contribute to the bigger picture.Questions such as ‘do you understand the organization’s broad strategic direction’ and ‘do you see a clear link between your job and the company’s overall mission’ will help you to measure that aspect. In addition, asking questions around whether team members inspire and help the employee to do their best work will also provide a sense of that important social connection and culture of mutual support. Other important questions to ask that address the key drivers of dissatisfaction include whether staff feel as though they have the right tools to enable them to do their jobs properly and whether there is a clear career path or sufficient training and development on offer. Gallup has come up with a core set of questions to guide you, known as the Q12 employee engagement metric use this as a helpful starting point for devising your own survey.

Whatever specific questions you end up adopting, the employee engagement survey will provide a baseline assessment of where you’re at. And, over time, it will enable you to measure how much progress you’ve made.

Net Promoter Score

Another metric commonly used by companies is a variation of the Harvard Business Review’s customer net promoter score. Instead of asking customers how likely they are to recommend the company, employees are asked for their responses. The responses are then placed on a scale of 1-10 with the positives or promoters at one end, passive neutrals in the middle and the negative detractors at the other end. The ideal is to have a positive score with more promoters than detractors. In fact, a score of 50 or above is a good indication that you’re doing a great job of creating a positive company culture.

Conduct Exit Interviews

Employees that are leaving the organization can provide a wealth of information about what’s really going on. Staff will have plenty of valid reasons for wanting to leave the organization, but the practice of conducting exit interviews gives you an overview of any underlying trends or issues that might be causing wholescale dissatisfaction and disengagement.

Conduct Intranet Polls Or Surveys

Providing opportunities for staff to feedback to management on issues of importance or concern through polls or surveys conducted on the intranet is a valuable data source. What’s more, staff members often feel more comfortable giving feedback under the cover of anonymity, and so removing the fear of repercussions – even if unfounded – with an anonymous poll sends an important message to staff and allows them to give honest opinions and views. And from an organizational perspective intranet surveys are a quick, easy and cost-effective way to gather useful employee engagement metrics.

As well as reporting on these employee engagement metrics at the senior management and board level, it’s also essential that organizations report back to staff members on the true state of engagement. It’s all part of that two-way, honest and respectful dialog that underpins successful employee engagement.

Disengaged Employees: The Bottom Line

Disengaged employees may traditionally, and almost by definition, have kept themselves hidden from view. Businesses have often largely overlooked their impact both in terms of team morale and the company’s bottom dollar. As we’ve seen though, it’s an issue that companies can no longer afford to ignore.

If you are grappling with the issue of disengagement and would like help in identifying some solutions, get in touch with the knowledgeable team at MyHub. With a minimum investment of time and resources, a company intranet can go a long way to addressing the drivers for disengagement.

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