Disengaged employees: how to regain employee engagement

Written by: Ana Collantes | Edited by: Jasmine Papillon-Smith | Illustrated by: Officevibe
Updated on: Published on: April 21, 2021 |  Reading time: 10m

Managers are busy and sometimes it can be hard to spot if one of your employees isn’t invested in the team anymore. This is what some people refer to as disengaged employee(s).

Learning to spot the signs of disengaged employees is important because it can take longer to do anything about it – maybe you don’t have time, or you simply won’t be sure what to do.

Engagement, when we refer to our workplace, is the level of involvement people feel in their jobs, their dedication to the organization, and the level of effort and energy they put into their direct work.

We want to help you identify early symptoms of disengaged employees, implement the right next steps and reactivate your team members’ engagement.

What are the signs of a disengaged employee?

Disengaged employees are not just unhappy employees. And you shouldn’t wait and assume that they will eventually bounce back.

Why? Because, as we see time and time again, disengagement often results in:

  • People quitting the team and an increase in employee turnover
  • Inability to deliver team projects
  • Team conflict (between engaged and disengaged employees)
  • Mistakes (sometimes minor, sometimes really bad ones)
  • Your time (and team’s) redirected from your to-do’s, into addressing all of the above

“Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement.”

According to Gallup

Your impact really matters and you shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to address disengagement.

Early signs of employee disengagement

Some early behaviours you should look out for are:
  • A team member who used to love sharing ideas, suddenly doesn’t do it anymore.
  • A team member who used to reach out to other members of the team, now isolates.
  • A team member who used to be on top of deadlines, starts missing some.
  • A team member who used to contribute to other aspects of the team (outside of the scope of work) no longer does it.

What you’re looking for here is a change in behaviour.

🗒️ A quick note: Keep in mind that it’s important to contrast the disengagement symptoms with a previous record of behaviours. Not all employees have to innovate all the time, contribute outside their scope of work, and go above and beyond. In an ideal world, sure, that would be nice. But we shouldn’t have these expectations from every employee. 

Spot early signs easily by tracking team engagement metrics

The best way to identify that something’s off before it’s too late is by having a record of engagement metrics. That way, you’ll notice a decline as soon as it happens. Software that tracks engagement, like Officevibe, runs a quick employee engagement survey each week to check in with your people and ask them for feedback.

That means no matter how busy you are, you’re still getting information about how your team feels and what they need. You can check the data and employee feedback from anywhere, at any time, and respond to their concerns as they arise.

The best part? It smoothly integrates into your team’s day-to-day. You can focus on your responsibilities as a team leader while the tool collects and analyses the data for you.

Screenshot of Officevibe's metrics that indicate reasons for disengaged employees
Officevibe engagement metrics

Drastic signs of employee disengagement

Some of the most serious signs of a disengaged employee are:
  • They start making mistakes (often).
  • They don’t have answers to questions that correspond to their day-to-day job.
  • They often reschedule and/or cancel meetings with you (their manager) or their peers
  • They openly resist change with a bad attitude
  • They stop following team protocol and dynamics

Even if you notice early or more drastic signs of disengagement, there’s still a lot you can do to retain the talent and re-engage a team member.

So what causes employees to disengage, anyway?

We need to start by knowing what caused your team member(s) to disengage so that we can tackle the problem at its root. First, we need to know what we’re looking at.

The top 11 reasons why employees disengage include

  1. Constantly feeling overwhelmed at work
  2. High levels of stress
  3. Lack of professional development
  4. Lack of trust
  5. Poor communication
  6. Poor collaboration
  7. Unfair compensation
  8. Lack of recognition
  9. Lack of resources and/or support to meet organization’s objectives
  10. Poor change management
  11. Lack of feedback

How do we know this?

Our app, Officevibe, collects millions of anonymous data points from employee engagement surveys every week. These surveys help managers see disengagement before it happens — even if they don’t have time to connect with their team face-to-face. 

This is what we’ve learned from our data:
  • 47% of employees often feel overwhelmed at work
  • 47% of people don’t feel like their pay reflects their efforts, skills, and experiences
  • 42% see no clear plan to improve their skills
  • 40% are unhappy with the frequency of recognition they receive
  • 39% feel negatively about the levels of stress related to their work
  • 35% feel like their organization doesn’t invest enough resources to measure up to its ambitions
  • 32% say they aren’t appropriately involved in decisions that affect their work
  • 30% are unsatisfied with the amount of feedback their receive
  • 30% negatively rate the way their organization makes use of their strengths
  • 30% say don’t have the opportunity to grow within their organization

It’s not surprising that our data also showed that these metrics hold a strong correlation to people’s overall job satisfaction.

How to re-engage a disengaged employee

Actionable tips for team leaders

1. Run diagnostics and identify what is disengaging your employees

The first step to solving any problem is to figure out what it is.

Signing up to Officevibe (for free) will give you access to employee engagement surveys, anonymous feedback and centralized 1-on-1s.

These are all designed to help you diagnose signs of disengagement. They also help you retain your top performers, get closer to your team, and pinpoint your strengths.

Our tool will tell you which areas of engagement are low so that you can focus on solutions. It’s that simple!

Not sure you want to use software to run your surveys? That’s okay. The key is to ask the right questions. From there, you can address each of the common causes of disengagement and explore what you can do.

2. Self reflect and be empathetic above all

Once you’re able to identify what’s causing disengagement, the next step is to put yourself in your team’s shoes and be empathetic. Try to see things from their perspective and reality.

Ask yourself and self-reflect:
  • If I was in their position, how would I react to the situation?
  • What negative changes or situations have we recently faced as a team that also affected that person (or people)?
  • Have I been proactive in making sure they have everything they need?
  • Think about moments where this person (or people) brought value to the team.
  • Reflect on the uniqueness of the employee(s) and their work.

3. Immediately, book a one-on-one meeting (and be honest)

Once you self-reflect and try to sympathize with what is causing them to disengage, book a one-on-one.

Use this as a template for your talking points during your one-on-one

  • Tell them upfront that you have noticed their disengagement (make sure you come from an empathetic point of view and genuine place to help, as opposed to this being a performance review).
  • Mention specific changes in behavior you have observed (the clearer the examples the better!).
  • Bring up stories of your self-reflection about the value they bring to their team, and their potential.
  • Give them room to tell you what they think (what is causing them to disengage, their perceptions and feelings). And really listen.
  • Set Action Items that show your team member(s) that you’re committed to their engagement, and help them know what to do next.

Using software like Officevibe, you can set Action Items during your one-on-one meetings (that are specific to each team member) and follow the progress on your discussion and next steps.

🌟 BONUS – The data behind employee disengagement

In case your team members don’t mention any subjects that you identified in your diagnoses and/or self-reflection, be proactive in bringing them up!

There’s a chance your employee might be able to verbalize why they’ve lost interest in their job or no longer feel motivated, but not be clear on where their disengagement is coming from.

To help you be proactive, we put together some topics to bring up during your 1-on-1, along with next steps. You can use these as inspiration for Action Items.

High levels of stress & feeling overwhelmed

Occasional stress is normal in any job. But it can’t be a constant, or your team will suffer from burnout and disengagement.

Our data shows that the top 3 factors affecting stress at work include

  1. Workload
  2. Access to non-material resources (like support, training, and knowledge)
  3. Pay

If, during your self-reflection and diagnosis, stress and feeling overwhelmed seem to be the issue, talk to your team member about these 3 elements and gather their thoughts.

Lack of trust, poor communication, poor collaboration

The remote context is challenging these areas more than ever. It’s not easy to translate smoothly, everything that was in-person, into a digital context.

Our data shows that collaboration, communication and trust are affected by:

  1. Levels of transparency
  2. Ability to voice one’s opinion
  3. Manager’s time availability

Make sure you include these topics in your conversation and, right off the bat, offer them a time and a place to talk.

If you’re looking for a solution to give your team a safe and permanent place to share their opinions, without having to add to your work pile, Officevibe’s anonymous feedback feature is a great – free – solution. They can instantly elaborate on specific pain points, and you can respond to their comments while letting them stay anonymous.

Professional development, lack of feedback, and lack of recognition

We all want to grow and develop. A key aspect of keeping a job interesting is to feel challenged and to know that we’re moving forward.

Knowing what we did great and the areas where we need to improve are essential to our career development.

Our data shows that recognition, feedback, and professional development are mostly affected by

  1. Frequency
  2. Timeliness

If you want to turn a disengaged team member into an engaged employee, you need to focus on offering constant development, feedback, and recognition.

Ask your team how often they would like to receive feedback from you, and brainstorm ideas to better recognize them.

Software like Officevibe asks employees how satisfied they are with the feedback and recognition they get – helping you identify if that’s a problem for your team.

Lack of resources & poor change management

Organizations and company cultures evolve and change, and that’s a good thing! But we need to make sure we help our teams adapt to those changes, too.

Our data shows that employee motivation and engagement are strongly correlated to

Having the ability to connect with the organization’s values and purpose.

That includes its leaders’ ability to communicate those values and that purpose.

Take the time to bring up any changes your team and/or organization have gone through. Have these impacted how your unengaged employee(s) perceive the company? Do they still have everything they need to meet their (sometimes new) objectives?

Unfair pay

If employees don’t feel their efforts are being compensated fairly, it will be easy for them to disengaged and start looking for other opportunities.

We know that team leaders don’t always have the ability to change their team members’ compensation. So what can you do?

We suggest taking time to align expectations with your unengaged employees. This can help you fill some of the gaps, look into any excessive workload, and gather some insights for upper management to drive change.

Use the information you gather during your one-on-one’s about the work that it’s being done. Then, use Officevibe’s employee engagement tool to supplement that with data that shows how much it is impacting your team and work their engagement levels. Make it as factual as possible and connect it to the business interests (retention, performance, efficiency, etc.) to help your company understand how people are being under-compensated.

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Key points of the article: the 11 factors that result in disengaged employees, and the action plan to regain engagement.

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