HR Management, Strategic HR

If You Have ‘Actively Disengaged’ Employees, It’s Costing You Dearly

When it comes to employee engagement, there’s no shortage of information online about how to measure and improve engagement levels. But perhaps less talked about is the fact that an employee who is not a fully engaged employee may not simply be indifferent. There are different types of disengagement, ranging from mere indifference to active disengagement.

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Actively disengaged employees are on the other end of the spectrum from fully engaged employees. While an engaged employee will be productive and proactive, a disengaged employee will simply go through the motions and meet the requirements. An actively disengaged employee will show it, and actually take steps to express his or her dissatisfaction—which will likely end up bringing down morale and productivity.

Engaged employees are more likely to:

  • Be happy, productive, energetic, and enthusiastic;
  • Take on additional responsibilities;
  • Lead others; and
  • Have a clearly positive attitude.

Disengaged (or simply “not engaged”) employees are more likely to:

  • Merely meet minimum requirements;
  • Not actively seek out or volunteer for new projects;
  • Be absent more often;
  • Spend more work hours doing nonwork activities;
  • Be overlooked when assessing possible problems (they’re not causing problems, yet); and
  • Stop giving as much input.

Actively disengaged employees are more likely to:

  • Vent frequently to others, expressing their frustrations and dissatisfactions;
  • Have a bad attitude, publicly;
  • Have chronic attendance issues;
  • Not be as productive;
  • Demotivate others on the team;
  • End up costing the company in terms of the extra time required to manage them;
  • End up costing the company money from lost productivity and increased administrative costs;
  • Steal from the company; and
  • Be looking for a new job.

What Can Employers Do When Facing Active Disengagement?

There are several things employers can do to try to address active disengagement. Here are a few examples:

  • Get information about general engagement levels. If you’re not already conducting employee engagement surveys to see where the entire workforce stands, consider starting. It’s easier to measure improvement when you have a baseline; it’s not likely that disengagement is as isolated as you’d like it to be.
  • Assess what recognition programs you have in place. Often, disengagement starts when employees feel their hard work is ignored. Perhaps they were passed over for a raise or promotion or didn’t get a coveted assignment. There are many root causes that may stem from lack of recognition of employee efforts. Having programs in place to ensure employees get the recognition they deserve can help keep employees engaged longer.
  • Talk to employees about their goals, and put development plans in place (and follow through). Sometimes, employees lose engagement because they are bored or feel that their talents are not being utilized. It can be as simple as having a conversation with employees to understand their career goals—and then taking steps to help them achieve those goals over time.
  • Pay attention to workload and unrealistic expectations. Sometimes, disengagement stems from feeling overworked—which is often within the employer’s control.
  • Look for signs of bad managers. Employee engagement is often directly affected by how the individuals interact with their managers.
  • Ensure employees have the right tools to do the job well, which can reduce unnecessary stress and frustration.
  • If you’ve singled out actively disengaged individuals, talk with them to find out the root of their dissatisfaction and see what—if anything—can be done at the individual level or at the company level. In some cases, it may be too late, and you may have to consider letting an employee who is actively disengaged go before he or she causes additional problems.

While it’s probably impossible to have a fully engaged workforce at all times, these are a few steps employers can take to improve the outlook.