Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Take care of your people and protect your business

Employee disengagement is as critical to an organization as employee engagement. Organizations must understand employee disengagement and its impact. Read on to learn more about employee disengagement and what it means for your organization.

What is Employee Disengagement?

Employee disengagement is the opposite of employee engagement—it’s when your employees are less motivated and disconnected from the organization, mission, vision and goals. Pennsylvania State University refers to employee disengagement as the “symptoms of a slow working tempo, lack of interest in work, easily and prolongingly distracted, and minimal output.”

Why Should HR Pay Attention to Employee Disengagement?

HR must pay close attention to employee disengagement for several reasons. Disengagement can cause loss of production, negative client experiences, low morale and increased turnover, all of which negatively impacts an organization’s revenue and sustainability.

  • Production loss. A Gallup survey found that disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism and 18% lower productivity. Employees who are engaged tend to be motivated by more than personal reasons, such as earning more money for prestige. They work more efficiently towards organizational goals and increase productivity. Disengaged employees tend to care less about what they’re doing, and when this occurs, they don’t believe that their efforts are important or contributing to your organization’s success.
  • Client experience. As previously mentioned, employees who are engaged are motivated beyond personal ambition. Because of this, they go the extra mile, boosting their performance, creating a better customer experience and increasing your organization’s bottom line. When your employees are disengaged, performance decreases and your client/customer experience is impacted. For example, if a hostess is disengaged and does not greet customers with a smile, she has created an experience that disappoints customers’ expectations, creating a negative customer experience. As she is part of your brand, that could be disastrous for your organization.
  • Low morale. Employee morale is a key factor in driving your organization’s success. It’s how your employees feel about the job they’re doing. When low, it means lower performance or results. Low morale can mean employee gossip, absenteeism and illnesses. A 2022 Gallup survey found that American businesses pay almost $550 billion a year when employee morale is low.
  • Increased turnover. High employee turnover can lead to a loss in productivity and resources, and it’s costly. A culture of disengaged employees will not help attract great talent and it doesn’t help you keep your best employees. It’s estimated that turnover costs an organization approximately 1.5-2 times an employee’s salary depending on the role.

Factors that Lead to Employee Disengagement

Several factors lead to employee disengagement, such as poor management, lack of career development and toxic work environment.

Poor Management

There’s an old saying: “Employees don’t leave companies, they leave bad managers.” Sadly, bad managers are not scarce, and this unfortunately leads to disengaged employees. A 2017 Gallup survey found that 1 in 2 employees left their jobs due to poor management.

Examples of poor management are non-responsiveness to employees’ questions and/or concerns, over promising and under delivering, not leading by example, assigning the same tasks to multiple employees, lack of communication, multitasking (engaging in other activities while speaking with employees) and the inability to understand the role and responsibilities of the employee. Though poor management isn’t limited to these examples, these behaviors lead to disengaged employees and can have long-lasting effects on your organization, such as high turnover.

Lack of Career Development

The Great Resignation is still among us, and it’s not due to employees wanting to work from home but because of their inability to grow professionally. A McKinsey survey found that 41% of employees who voluntarily resigned left due to the lack of career growth opportunities with their current employer.

Why does this matter? Because employee development is one of the driving forces behind engaged employees. Many studies have found a correlation between employee development/growth, motivation and retention. For example, when there is a lack of career growth/development opportunities, employees tend to not stay with the organization or underperform because they feel that developing their careers is not a priority for the organization.

Toxic Work Environment

A toxic work environment is one where negative behaviors exist, and an environment in which the employee feels psychologically unsafe. A toxic workplace culture might include bullying, harassment, high levels of stress, employee burnout and lack of resources. Furthermore, disengaged employees can also create a toxic work environment.

Signs of Employee Disengagement

There are several signs of employee disengagement; however, we will explore low productivity, absenteeism and turnover.

Low Productivity

Low productivity is when an employee is not utilizing their competencies to their maximum potential. For example, there may be delays in their projects, they may exhibit low team-member morale, and show a lack of creativity. In 2021, Product Prohibitors found that low productivity cost U.S. organizations 1.8 trillion dollars annually.

Absenteeism

Though we understand that life happens and there will be times when an employee must miss work, absenteeism in the workplace is a pattern of employees who are frequently late (or leave early), no-call no-shows, or calling in sick at the last minute.

Turnover

Employee turnover occurs when an employee leaves your organization whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Companies with high employee turnover face a number of challenges, and disengaged employees is one of them.

Tips for Preventing Employee Disengagement in the Workplace

Here’s a few tips to consider to prevent employee disengagement.

Tip 1: Improve Company Culture

To prevent disengagement in the workplace, it is imperative for organizations to create a positive workplace culture. To do so, consider growth opportunities, work-life balance, practical organizational perks and open and effective communication as a part of your organization’s culture strategy.

Tip 2: Offer Comprehensive Career Paths

As previously mentioned, employees become disengaged when there aren’t growth opportunities available. Create a comprehensive path plan that takes into account your employees’ knowledge, skills, abilities (KSAs) and interests, and consider services that support your initiatives, such as offering professional training or career coaching.

Tip 3: Use Communication to Build Belonging

Employees want to know and feel as though they’re a part of something. You need to know your organization’s mission and vision so that you’re able to communicate it and apply it in the workplace. By doing so, you help employees understand and know the purpose of your organization while instilling a sense of belonging and identity.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Disengagement

Yes, employees who are disengaged can become engaged. Consider utilizing some of the tips listed above and see what happens! 

Both the employer and employee are responsible for employee engagement; however, disengagement is primarily the responsibility of your organization’s leaders (e.g., managers, directors). 

It depends. There are things an employer can do to re-engage the employee. However, if the behavior has festered and you’ve tried motivating and setting goals with no improvement, termination may be considered after careful consideration. 

Wendy is an HR professional with over 10 years of HR experience in education and health care, both in the private and non-profit sector. She is the owner of KHRServices, a full service HR management agency. She is also SHRM and HRCI certified, serves as a HRCI Ambassador, and voted 2021 Most Inclusive HR Influencer.

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