Disengaged employees present a business challenge that shouldn’t be underestimated. While it might be tempting to dismiss the occasional slacker as an insignificant anomaly, the reality is that a disengaged workforce can lead to substantial costs for employers.
Fortunately, in most instances, organizations have the ability to tackle this issue, provided they can identify and understand what employees truly seek. Let's delve into this topic.
Cost of disengaged employees
There also might be additional costs stemming from low morale, which can spread if many employees are feeling disconnected from their work. For example, individual organizations may spend an extra 34% of a disengaged employee's salary due to related factors like more frequent absences, higher employee turnover and reduced profits, according to a Gallup study.
The same study found that only 21% of the U.S. workforce feels actively engaged in their jobs, highlighting the need for organizations to improve their overall employee engagement efforts.
Engaged vs. disengaged employees: spotting the difference
Engaged employees consistently demonstrate their commitment. This means reliably fulfilling their role responsibilities, actively participating in learning and development, attending office events, and taking on volunteer roles or participating in other activities that add to company culture. They take a proactive role in their own career development, contribute enthusiastically to projects and go beyond basic job requirements.
Signs of disengaged employees
On the other hand, disengaged workers may be a little harder to spot – especially if they’re still meeting their role requirements. Here are a few signs to look out for:
- Silence and apathy
When employees are disengaged, they might remain quiet during team meetings, and may not express enthusiasm or engage in work discussions.
- Social withdrawal
Disengaged employees tend to avoid social interactions with their colleagues and may hesitate to seek support, whether it's related to work or personal matters.
- Limited participation
Similarly, disengaged employees might not attend optional workplace events, and when they do, they may keep a low profile and refrain from active involvement.
- Conflict avoidance
Disengaged employees may exhibit people-pleasing behaviors, which can manifest as a reluctance to voice their opinions, an unwillingness to assert themselves and a hesitation to provide feedback.
- Lackluster performance
Disengaged employees often demonstrate a decrease in the quality of their work and may have higher rates of absenteeism.
This list is not exhaustive, and the prevalence of these indicators likely varies among different companies and individuals. Establishing comprehensive engagement metrics can support a data-driven approach to identifying other signs of disengagement within your organization.
Why employees become disengaged at work
There are certainly a variety of factors that influence an employee’s level of engagement, some of which can be personal. However, there’s also strong evidence showing that an employee's level of engagement is closely related to how much their employer invests in them:
This connection between how much effort an employer puts in and how engaged their workers are holds true in various areas, such as DEI, learning and development and work-life balance, among others.
Converting disengaged employees into high-performers
Boosting employee engagement is a complex challenge with no one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are several tactics you can implement today to help get disengaged workers back on track.
You can’t fix what you don’t know. Make use of regular employee surveys, insights from conversations between managers and direct reports, and other sources of information to get a sense of current employee engagement levels and pinpoint areas that need improvement.
Invest in employee learning and skills development
Access to learning and skill-building opportunities is a major driver of engagement. Data shows that 4 out of every 5 employees say they would feel more engaged at work given better access to learning opportunities and education.
When employees have the chance to continuously learn and develop their skills, they feel that their employer is invested in their individual growth, which in turn boosts their motivation and fosters a sense of support. Additionally, as employees acquire new skills and knowledge, they become better equipped to contribute meaningfully to their roles, enhancing their job satisfaction and productivity.
An L&D strategy that promotes engagement is one that accounts for every employee and their unique learning needs. This means taking a comprehensive approach that includes all different types of training and education, from short-term skills courses to degree programs and professional certifications.
Prioritize career advancement and internal mobility
Continuous learning is powerful in its own right, but its impact can be elevated by aligning it with concrete career advancement opportunities within the organization. This involves creating clear career paths and collaborating closely with people managers to equip employees with the skills to guide their teams regarding individual career aspirations and the steps to achieve them.
Almost half of college-educated employees polled by Randstad say a limited career path within their current workplace would have them considering jobs with other employers. So whether the goal is to get promoted or transition to an entirely new team, knowing that this type of internal mobility is possible can motivate employees and increase retention.
Take action on diversity, equity and inclusion
Prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion is critical for engagement. For instance, when organizations ensure that all employees have access to the same opportunities and resources, the workplace is perceived as fair, with promotions and rewards being based on merit rather than bias. Therefore, employees are more likely to be engaged because they see a path for growth and advancement.
It’s also imperative for organizations to not only communicate their commitment to DEI but to follow through with tangible actions and measurable progress. Authenticity is key. When employees witness concrete efforts and meaningful changes, trust is reinforced, and they are more likely to become active advocates for DEI initiatives, which in turn contributes to a more engaged workforce.
Engage, elevate, excel: From disengaged to valuable contributors
The journey from disengaged employees to becoming valuable contributors is a transformation worth investing in. By prioritizing employee engagement, nurturing their growth and providing opportunities for career advancement, you pave the way for a brighter, more productive future that fuels your organization’s continued success.