6 Reasons Disengaged Employees Require Your Immediate Attention

According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, disengaged employees cost the U.S. approximately $500,000,000,000 (Yes, that’s billion).

Some employees disengage for reasons that have nothing to do with their employer or work environment. Illness, injuries or major life events such as losing a loved one, going through a divorce or dealing with any kind of trauma can be distracting enough to prevent anyone from doing their job well. For these employees, empathy, support and time are the three elixirs employers can offer during a troubled employee’s recovery back to peak performance and productivity.

The employees requiring the most attention are those who become disengaged based on internal issues and/or working within an unhealthy culture. These employees are actually much more dangerous than many give them credit for, as they are not simply low-productivity team members who Facebook more than they should on the company watch. A single disengaged employee is capable of:

  • Costing their employer infinite amounts of money due to negligent and careless mistakes. When an employee no longer cares, s/he is less likely to pay attention to details, which is where the devil resides. For manufacturers, failure to pay attention to even the smallest of details can have dire consequences.
  • Angering customers into the welcoming arms of a competitor. The last thing you need is to have a disengaged employee interact with a customer – especially when an issue needs to be resolved. If customers aren’t feeling the love from that one employee, they may become more agreeable to going on a first date with a competitor, you know, just to keep their “options” open.
  • Recruiting others to start a movement – an internal resistance to the leadership team. Rarely do disengaged employees keep quiet and operate alone. They confide in others the displeasure, disappointment or resentment they have toward the company or its leadership team and pollute the minds of others. This is precisely how “Us versus them” cultures are formed.
  • Slowing projects down to a crawl. As disengaged employees rarely have any sense of urgency, they cannot be counted on to meet deadlines or work additional hours when you need them to the most. Also, do not expect them to answer their company-provided phone or respond to emails off-hours.
  • Forcing the burden and responsibilities of work s/he is supposed to do onto others. Peers will grow increasingly frustrated each time they need to pick up the slack from those who do shoddy or incomplete work, leading to…
  • Dragging down morale. If your better performers are forced to work with someone who isn’t pulling his or her own weight, they will grow impatient quickly and turn to leadership to fix the problem. If the problem isn’t fixed quickly, there will be a flight risk among your best people.

Disengaged employees turn sour for reasons that need to be identified, and fast. If ignored or dismissed for too long, disengagement can escalate to nefariousness where an employee may begin to seek revenge on his or her employer through acts such as stealing, tampering with systems and equipment, disparaging social media posts, and in extreme cases, acts of violence.

It’s the accountant who embezzles tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a few years. It’s the Director of IT who blocks a network for ransom. Or maybe it’s a customer service rep who sneaks supplies such as ink cartridges and expensive equipment from the supply room to sell on eBay. We hear and read about such corporate revenge all the time. Your best and only defense is to take action on perceived disengagement sooner than later. Look for the following signals:

  1. Change in normal behavior/demeanor
  2. Indifference, snide remarks or lacking opinions on significant matters
  3. Unwillingness to commit to large-scale projects
  4. Increases in careless errors or mistakes
  5. Taking more personal time off
  6. Consistently coming in a little later and leaving a little earlier than others
  7. Disconnecting from colleagues
  8. Easy loss of temper (a short fuse)
  9. Doesn’t participate or take notes in meetings
  10. No longer participates in small talk with peers (becomes quieter)
  11. Doesn’t ask questions / no longer curious
  12. Avoids management
  13. Opts out from fun, extracurricular, team-building activities
  14. Makes juvenile excuses for non-performance

If anyone comes to mind after reading this list, you’ll know what to do.