From Disengagement to Productivity: 24 Key Approaches for Managers Handling Disengaged Employees

From Disengagement to Productivity: 24 Key Approaches for Managers Handling Disengaged Employees

Although the percentage of actively disengaged employees saw a small decrease, only 33% of employees were engaged in 2023. This state of things costs the U.S. almost $2 trillion in productivity loss. That means it's affecting your revenue, too.

It's not all about the money, though. To cite one expert, “I am convinced that a company can only be as good as its employees are and how they function together as a team.” So, to engage your employees is to improve your whole organization.

Read on to discover how to boost your company culture by spotting and working with your disengaged employees well.

What are employee engagement and disengagement?

Employee engagement is all about productivity, loyalty towards the organization and a positive attitude to work, heightened by a sense of purpose and meaning. When employees are engaged, they care for other team members and are vested in the organization's success.

On the other hand, employee disengagement refers to a lack of job satisfaction. It’s connected to a slower work pace, lower productivity and a general disinterest in company matters. Disengagement goes hand in hand with higher frustration and stress levels, and can spread toxicity throughout an organization if left unchecked.

9 signs of disengaged employees

Here are some early signs of disengaged workers to look out for:

  1. Decreased productivity
  2. Low-quality work
  3. No feedback given/received
  4. Social withdrawal
  5. Frequent late arrivals to work
  6. No proactivity
  7. Negative behavior toward coworkers
  8. No friends at work
  9. Negative attitude and/or apprehensiveness to change

Note that it's more about change in typical behavior than the overall performance.

What is the cost of disengaged employees?

Disengaged employees cost the world about 9% of the global GDP — a whopping $8.8 trillion in lost productivity. Moreover, it impacts these aspects:

  • Customer experience, loyalty and engagement
  • Work quality
  • Productivity
  • Staff turnover — engaging employees means lowering your turnover by 18-43%

Consider this: 61% of disengaged employees are looking for a new job. Engaged employees might consider changing jobs, but usually for a much higher salary boost or even an elevated title.

You can't put a band-aid on disengagement

A proverbial pat on the back or a small raise isn’t enough to counteract this. To minimize the problem, identify the root cause of why your employees are disengaged. There are currently many HR performance software options to help you with this.

How do I identify disengaged employees?

Determine their engagement level

Maslow's hierarchy of employee engagement chart
Source: B Inspired

An engagement survey helps to communicate employee needs and gives managers a good indication of aspects that need to be prioritized straight from the source — via employee feedback.

Measuring engagement levels is much easier with performance management software.

Taking more breaks or time off without good reason

A tendency to break away from routine and standard working times, especially when paired with increased absenteeism, should be worrying.

The employee may tend to reschedule and cancel meetings or make excuses for their recurring absences. They could abuse employer trust by taking frequent, drawn-out breaks.

While this is something to watch out for, remember that overworking is also wildly unhealthy.

Additionally, it's worth considering that such behavior may sometimes be a response to increased workload and work commitments, highlighting the need for a balanced approach to managing both employee well-being and productivity.

Poor change management

A disengaged employee typically shows a negative attitude toward change and prefers to stick to what they know. This defense mechanism acts as a shield against new challenges and potential stress.

Notice a lack of interest and/or less time for development

Employee disengagement may mean more frequent delegation of tasks to others. Previous top performers start to avoid new responsibilities. They also lose interest in learning, stop asking questions and skip necessary research.

Analyze recent behavior change

As we mentioned, disengagement is when behavior and performance drop below a person's standard. Not everyone's basic level of engagement is equal.

Worrying changes are, for example, when someone who used to share their ideas frequently stops doing so. Or maybe a person who used to be very communicative in meetings becomes isolated.

Pinpoint poor performance

These are some performance red flags that can indicate employee disengagement:

  • Frequently missed deadlines
  • A drop in the level of contribution to areas outside of basic responsibilities
  • A surge in the number of mistakes made
  • A person can't answer queries or resolve issues related to their role.

Recognize poor behavior

A disengaged employee will sometimes let you know how they feel. They may become rude, careless and generally unpleasant to be around. Moreover, they could take satisfaction from bringing others' morale down.

However, people are people; all the behaviors listed could indicate personal issues. Don't treat disengaged employees harshly. Promote a culture of open communication and trust, where team members aren't afraid to speak out when faced with challenges.

What causes employee disengagement?

Workplace science specialist Ryan Pendell says, “Engagement is not a characteristic of employees, but rather an experience created by organizations, managers and team members.”

The main reasons for low employee engagement include:

  • Poor relationships with immediate supervisors — five out of the top ten disengagement drivers concern the employee-manager relationship 
  • High levels of stress, which concern about 55% of Americans, according to recent research
  • An excessive workload (closely linked with the point above, for almost 40% of U.S. employees)
  • Insufficient opportunities for professional development
  • Lack of feedback and recognition
  • Low levels of trust in the work environment
  • Unfair compensation (although it takes more than financial incentives to foster a sense of ownership and engagement at work)
  • Insufficient support and resources
  • Poor change management

Remember that employee motivation is also closely linked with their personal lives. 

Let's dive into some of these causes in more detail.

Lack of recognition

When asked about changes that should be made in the work environment, over 40% of quiet-quitting employees said they would like to see everyone recognized and appreciated for their input. This includes positive feedback but also promotions.

Almost 30% said this should be linked to pay — i.e., salaries proportional to performance and rewards for outstanding results.

Lack of connection

The study mentioned above showed that 16% of workers would like to have a place to connect with their colleagues during working hours. A hybrid or fully remote team means employees are now more disconnected from each other than ever, so this is a vital area of focus for managers.

Lack of trust, poor communication, and poor collaboration

41% of disengaged employees are frustrated by the following aspects:

  • Unapproachable managers
  • Little autonomy when performing tasks
  • Not enough respect
  • Unclear career goals
  • Little guidance or expectations and goals

More food for thought: Only 24% of U.S. employees feel their company cares about their well-being.

Actionable tips to re-engage disengaged employees

Create a personal development plan

This aspect is one of the first steps in a performance management cycle.

All goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) so you can measure their progress and track accountability.

Personal objectives should align with the company's mission. It makes people feel like they're part of a bigger picture. At the same time, it gives them motivation to participate in company goals — because they're working on themselves, too.

Peoplelogic dashboard for making a personal development plan

Continually monitor employee performance and potential

Workforce analytics and performance management tools like are perfect tools for this. It’s a platform that automates collecting employee engagement, productivity and activity data. After implementation, you receive a holistic view of team dynamics and workplace health.

Take action to solve the disengagement issue and gather data about your whole team to spot the notable changes we’ve discussed.

Feedback and recognition

80% of employees feeling fully engaged say they have received feedback within the last week. Meaningful feedback is when it's focused on recognition, collaboration, objectives, priorities and strengths.

One common mistake in performance reviews is focusing on just the negatives; the core idea is to have inspiring conversations.

Psst: You can use to set up a feedback loop and make it a constant part of your work.

Peoplelogic feedback form

Conduct regular 360 feedback

Don’t focus only on downward feedback. Collect reviews from everyone about everyone (including peers and yourself!). Not only does this give a well-rounded view of every employee's performance and personal work ethic, but seeing words of praise from teammates can also boost morale and improve workplace relationships.

Identify adequate skills

Only 45% of employees know exactly what's expected of them.

Set clear expectations for your team members so they can feel confident in their roles. Foster a culture of learning and provide adequate training for employees. Everyone likes to know they're getting better at what they do!

Recognize wins — even small ones

Make praise a part of your daily routine. Spread kindness publicly to make your employees feel appreciated and promote your company values at the same time.

Peoplelogic employee recognition

Talk to your leaders

According to research, team leaders are more likely to be disengaged and burnt out than their subordinates — three out of 10 feel they don't have all the information they need and less than 50% agree that they have the skills to excel at their job.

To fix this, start by listening, improve cross-hierarchical communication and focus on manager training. Regular one-on-ones are also valuable — they allow you to check in with everyone and provide coaching support.

Ask questions

Not sure what type of questions will give you the answers you need? A good place to start is the Gallup Q12 survey. You can set up different recurring survey types with

Peoplelogic employee engagement and satisfaction surveys

Skip the small talk

Focus on meaningful conversations. These are the top five aspects that make for influential discussions:

  1. Appreciate recent work
  2. Build relationships and collaborate
  3. Talk about current goals and priorities
  4. Keep the meetings weekly and about 15-30 minutes long
  5. Highlight what each person does best

Encouraging engaged employees within your organization

This aspect circles back to our point about recognition and rewarding the behavior you want to see more of.

Discover employee motivations

The data you collect with will help you see the dependencies between actions. Test different motivational methods and look for productivity and well-being surges in your dashboards.

For example, healthy competition could work best for your team.

Explore manager impact

Leaders play a key role in inspiring their employees to produce their best work. Coaches/managers account for about 8-18% of increases in employee engagement.

To conclude

Unhappy employees are not likely to be engaged or productive. And, they're more likely to suffer from stress-related health issues and look for other job opportunities.

Use our tips to counteract surges in the number of disengaged employees. Making your company a place where people love to work will accelerate the journey towards your big goals and give you a competitive edge.

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