How to Inspire Disengaged Employees and Manage Detachment

You have a rockstar employee on your team. They always go the extra mile, wrap up projects before the assigned due date, volunteer for new work, and always lend a helping hand. 

Suddenly, you start to notice that employee pulling back. They stop going above and beyond and barely meet minimum requirements, start missing deadlines, and act bothered every time you interact with them.

Why the change? You might have a disengaged employee on your hands. Don’t panic yet. With a solid understanding of disengaged employees, how to identify them, what they cost your business, and how to help get them back on track, you’ll have your top-notch employee back in the groove in no time. 

What is a disengaged employee?

Employees can exhibit levels of disengagement in various ways. But generally speaking, a disengaged employee isn’t enjoying their work, is unlikely to go the extra mile on any project or task, and may actively dislike the company they are working for.

Even worse? Disengaged employees are sometimes known to spread negativity amongst other employees — meaning it’s important to nip disengagement and detachment in the bud.

How to identify a disengaged employee

The first step in addressing the problem is identifying disengagement by spotting the warning signs. Keep an eye out for these red flags and common characteristics of a disengaged employee: 

  • Employees withdraw or act disinterested. Disengaged employees may not become disengaged overnight. This change might happen slowly over time, and it starts with signs of withdrawal and general disinterest. Say you have an employee who always used to raise their hand and dive into new projects, but lately, they seem less likely to volunteer or avoid new work altogether. This is a common sign of someone who is becoming disengaged.
  • Employees frequently become absent without prior planning or reasoning. Absenteeism is a red flag when it comes to a detached employee. If you notice that an employee stops coming to work suddenly or starts using multiple sick days back to back, your employee is potentially displaying signs of disengagement (although, of course, remember that they could actually be ill too).
  • Employees miss deadlines and don’t seem to care. Disengaged employees likely aren’t striving for maximum quality and may not care if they aren’t fulfilling expectations. These employees might be doing just enough to keep their jobs or continuously ask for extensions on projects because they aren’t making any progress. If an employee’s productivity is declining, it can signal low engagement.
  • Employees show a negative change in attitude. We all have bad days, but if an employee repeatedly acts out through rudeness, cynicism, or other negative feelings, this change in attitude might signal a larger problem. No matter the cause of the attitude shift, it’s essential to get ahead of this type of behavior before it impacts your other employees, or even worse, your clients and customers.
  • Employees start defying the rules. Resistance to feedback and suggestions and refusing work when it’s assigned can be a sign of disengagement. Defiance could be an employee’s way of trying to feel heard or expressing their anger or boredom resulting from feeling disengaged. Sure, there could be other issues at hand like company-wide changes, for example, but constant defiance is a behavior that you should keep an eye on.

How can employee disengagement impact a business?

So, how costly is having disengaged employees? Disengaged employees leave their marks on businesses and can cause more of a ripple effect than you might realize.

According to a Gallup report, companies with higher employee engagement see better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, and higher profitability by 21%. 

If that’s not convincing enough, another study revealed that disengaged employees in the U.S. cost companies anywhere between $450 and $550 billion per year.  And when we look at turnover, a Korn Ferry study revealed that 33% of respondents cited boredom as their top reason for looking for a new job. So, when disengagement is severe enough, businesses have to deal not only with the cost of losing employees, but having to train new hires to replace them as well.

How to help and manage detached employees

Needless to say, employee disengagement has a big impact on businesses, from cost to culture and everything in between. With an employee engagement strategy and thoughtful plans for managing disengaged employees, you can help your detached employees and your business before it’s too late. Let’s take a look at tips for managing detached employees.

1. Communicate more frequently with detached employees

Communication is crucial for creating a high-engagement culture. A disengaged employee may start communicating less with their teammates and manager, but increasing communication is a must to help them get back on track. 

Using a centralized tool like Wrike can ensure that your teams communicate and connect frequently. Keep in mind that communication is a two-way street, which means if your employee has feedback to share with you, it’s essential to hear them out and make a note of areas of improvement on your side. 

2. Identify motivators and create a professional growth plan

An employee might be tasked with work that isn’t motivating or exciting, leading to disengagement. Knowing how to motivate a disengaged employee can help you get them back on track. Spend some time with your employee, identify natural talents and hidden motivators, and see if you can squeeze in new work that aligns better for them.

Maybe your employee is in a role that isn’t a good fit any longer, but there might be another role better suited for them within the organization. In this instance, you should follow the same process of identifying key motivators and where that type of work might appear within your organization. 

If a transition plan is needed, consider developing a professional growth plan together. Put that plan into a project management tool like Wrike to keep track of progress and hold each other accountable for the transition’s agreed-upon timeline. 

3. Reward positive behavior and improvement

Communicating with your detached employee and identifying an actionable path forward together provides the opportunity to see positive behavior change. That change shouldn’t go unnoticed.

When you see a shift in behavior and your employee starts to become more engaged, pause and take time to reward the improvement you’re seeing. Consider asking your employees how they prefer to be recognized for their achievements in advance (such as when you onboard them), so you can recognize them in a way that’s meaningful to them.

4. Regularly conduct employee engagement surveys

Employee engagement surveys are a useful tool to help you get ahead of disengaged employees by giving them an opportunity to share feedback and voice their concerns. Conduct surveys of your workforce at least annually to gather feedback and address areas of improvement on the business side. 

Be mindful of any concerns that multiple employees raise. When possible, follow up with employees who seem disengaged or frustrated through their survey results to get ahead of more severe levels of disengagement down the road. 

Disengagement doesn’t have to be an inevitability

When you notice an employee is becoming more detached and disengaged, that isn’t the point of no return — instead, it’s the time when you need to step in and right the ship.

Getting disengaged employees back on track isn’t easy, but it’s almost always more than worth the effort. 

Give all of your employees the transparency and visibility they need to succeed. Get started with Wrike today

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