Employee disengagement – and the remedy

The benefits of a highly engaged workforce are well known. When companies invest in their people – their EVP and their Employer brands – their staff are likely to be more committed. When the company communicates with them effectively, their engagement increases and the likelihood of turnover decreases. All good stuff that can ultimately have a positive effect on the bottom line.

We’ve all experienced the co-worker, direct report, manager or CEO who doesn’t seem as fully engaged as they could be. They come in all shapes and sizes and can exist at any level within the organisation. Their behaviour, demeanour, words and actions can destabilise otherwise stable employees without them even realising it. Sometimes it’s insidious; sometimes it’s more overt. But either way, it can negatively impact performance.

Over the years I’ve worked with many organisations that struggled to address, manage and navigate the potential turnaround of disengaged staff. But before we fast forward to the remedy, I thought I’d share my view of some common characteristics displayed by disengaged staff as a means of helping identify what to look out for:

  • Time wasting: Often late, leaving early, taking long lunches and not completing tasks/projects on time, these people seem to spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn and are rather au fait with the ‘ALT TAB’ function to switch between screens when someone walks behind them.
  • Resentment: They don’t feel like their opinion is heard and become inward looking as a result and therefore unproductive.
  • Confusion: They never quite know what they’re meant to do and where it fits in with everything else; therefore they lack focus and find it hard to contribute to the team.
  • Gossiping: If management isn’t communicating and informing staff about what’s going on within the organisation, I can guarantee you these people will make it up – and it might not be pretty!
  • Over it: These are the people you’ll find on Seek (and every other job board at lunch time) searching for their next role as they’re over their current one.
  • Anxiety: These people are often long-term employees, or in roles that are non revenue generating or administrative, and will work themselves into a state when the media covers the worsening economy, job cuts and redundancies – thinking they’ll be the next to go.
  • Martyrdom: These employees work harder than everyone else, longer than everyone else, contribute more than everyone else and don’t receive the recognition commensurate with their efforts (according to them).
  • Protectionist: These people are like the kids in the sandpit that won’t share their toys and think that by withholding information they’re making themselves indispensable and their jobs secure.
  • Bare minimum: There’s often an apathy with these people that ensures they’ll only ever give you the very least they’re capable of giving.
  • Clock watching: I once worked with someone who arrived right at 9am and was packed and ready to go at 4.55pm every single day, no matter how busy or engaged the rest of the team was. Unfortunately this person had a knack of uninspiring and de-motivating the unsuspecting around them to behave in the same way.
  • Don’t care: These people have already ‘left the building’ and are in a shiny new role in a new company, so they end up behaving like they don’t care one iota about their job, colleagues or the organisation.
  • Negativity: This person has a great ability to turn clients and employees (existing and potential) off your business by pointing out everything they believe is wrong with it.

The Remedy?

Armed with the knowledge of what characteristics and behaviours to look out for, how do you address disengaged staff and turn them into highly engaged, productive ambassadors for your business?

Without seeming overly simplistic, the answer can be found through communication. Demonstrate to your employees that you actually care about them, that you understand their wants and needs and are prepared to enter into meaningful dialogue about them.

Internal communications provides the platform to tackle the intangibles of a company and its culture that go way beyond salary and benefits. Take the time to explain the hard to explain. Address the elephant in the room and build trust with your staff. Show them you respect them, involve them in processes, provide feedback and guidance and importantly, listen to and get to you know your employees.

If the organisation can truly say and demonstrate that it cares for its employees, appreciates their efforts, respects their abilities and contributions and can provide career paths and opportunities that meet their individual needs, then eventually these engaged employees will start to show themselves… and that’s a good thing.


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