10 Signs an Employee Is Disengaged

One of the telltale signs of a disengaged employee is a change in behavior. Here's what to watch out for.

Written by Dawn Kawamoto
Published on Dec. 28, 2022
10 Signs an Employee Is Disengaged
Image: Shutterstock

Disengaged employees are on the rise and that doesn’t bode well for employers.

Do you think it’s a multi-billion dollar problem? Actually, it’s more.

Disengaged employees cost companies across the world a combined $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, according to analytics and advisory firm Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workplace report.

10 Signs of Employee Disengagement

  1. Lack of communication
  2. Less collaboration with team members
  3. Avoids team gatherings outside the office
  4. Lacks punctuality
  5. Takes frequent breaks and has more unexpected absences
  6. Productivity and quality of work slides
  7. Develops a negative attitude
  8. Uninterested in learning
  9. Disregards rules or expectations
  10. Remains silent on beliefs, ideas and suggestions 

And engagement levels in the United States are declining. Last year, the percent of employees who felt engaged fell to 34 percent from 36 percent in 2020, marking the first annual decline in recent years, according to a Gallup survey of 14,705 people. In early 2022, the number continued to decline, with 32 percent engagement.


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What Is Employee Disengagement?

Employee disengagement is a term to describe an employee’s lack of enthusiasm for work and involvement in the workplace. In other words, it is the opposite of employee engagement.

For starters, disengaged employees are typically apathetic when it comes to their work and the organization that employs them. They might do the work, but without passion, energy or a desire to do more than the bare minimum required for their job. Disengaged employees represent 60 percent of the global workforce, according to the 2022 State of the Global Workplace report.

Meanwhile, actively disengaged employees can be even more concerning. Feeling resentful because an employer is not fulfilling their needs at work, these employees can actively act out on their unhappiness through undermining the accomplishments of engaged workers. They might speak negatively about co-workers, projects the team is working on or management, according to a Gallup article on employee engagement. Actively disengaged employees are also more apt to be looking for a new job, as well.

Active Disengagement Is on the Rise 

Actively disengaged employees are on the rise, according to a Gallup survey. This year, 18 percent of 15,091 adult workers in the United States were actively disengaged employees, which has continually risen since 2019 when it stood at 13 percent.  

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What Causes Employees to Disengage?

Employee disengagement often stems from workplace issues. Some causes include feeling clear expectations are not outlined or that the right materials and equipment are not available, or a lack of connection to their company’s mission and purpose.

Causes of Employee Disengagement

  • Lack of recognition
  • Absence of challenging work
  • Insufficient training
  • Low pay
  • Underutilized skills and abilities 
  • Poor management

Poor management, like the lack of providing feedback, can lead to actively disengaged employees, according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report. The report found that, at some point in their career, nearly one of every two workers has quit their job, in part, to get away from their manager.

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10 Signs of a Disengaged Employee

One way to spot disengaged employees, especially actively disengaged workers, is to note any behavioral changes where they are doing something less than they previously did. This is considered a large red flag.


Lack of Communication

Is your employee no longer interacting with team members as much as they used to? Disengaged employees rarely initiate or respond to emails, texts, messages or any other communication tool. It’s a clear signal that they have no interest in conversing with other team members, according to a blog post by Risely, an AI-based executive coaching platform.


Less Collaboration With Team Members

Keep a sharp eye out if an employee begins pulling back from discussions. Their lack of interest could stem from feeling they don’t have much to contribute to collaborations and more concerning, Risely notes, is they may become more critical of their colleagues’ work.

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Avoids Team Gatherings Outside the Office 

Although out-of-the-office team gatherings are designed to build tighter bonds, it’s difficult to do when a teammate regularly skips such activities. Missing these intended fun events can be a signal of employee disengagement, according to Risely.


Lacks Punctuality

Employees who consistently show up late to meetings, team standups, company events and other business activities send the signal they are disinterested, compared to engaged employees who are excited about the work at hand and usually arrive on time, according to Risely.


Takes Frequent Breaks and Has More Unexpected Absences

Absenteeism, or when an employee is unexpectedly absent from work, and frequent breaks are hallmark traits of a disengaged employee. Both of these traits can harm the employer because it impacts the employee’s productivity and workflow efficiency.

More on Workplace AttendanceHow to Prevent Absenteeism in the Workplace


Productivity and Quality of Work Slides

If production and quality suddenly take a nosedive with a high-performing employee, it should prompt rapid action on your part to start asking questions about potential catalysts for the shift. Disengaged employees tend to care less about the work they’re generating and, as a result, the quality and productivity may begin to slide, according to a blog post by Perkbox, a rewards and benefits platform.


Develops a Negative Attitude

Employees who don’t feel rewarded and recognized for their work are likely to develop a negative attitude toward their work and employer. These feelings, Perkbox noted, can also arise if workers feel their well-being isn’t prioritized by their employer.

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Uninterested in Learning

One simple sign an employee is disengaged is if they no longer ask questions during team or company meetings, town halls or lack interest in learning more about the company’s big picture plans. As a result, they aren’t likely to feel motivated to push the business towards success, according to Perkbox.


Disregards Rules or Expectations

Employees may start to subtly disregard rules or expectations as they begin to become disengaged, wrote Courtney Pace, now a senior consultant for Deloitte, in Forbes. Employers should address that behavior early to avoid a potentially larger issue down the line.


Remains Silent on Beliefs, Ideas and Suggestions

Silence is not golden when it comes to standing up for your beliefs in the workplace or offering ideas and suggestions. In fact, it’s a potential sign that an employee is disengaged if they remain silent, according to Alex Pantich, COO at Upshift, writing in Forbes. If employees feel their suggestions, ideas or beliefs in how their company should operate is not heard, for example, they may often become discouraged and stop offering them.


How to Re-Engage Employees

Employers often place too much emphasis on measuring the engagement level of their employees via surveys. Instead, employers should be focusing on ways to improve engagement levels, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report. It’s important to remember the underlying goal of employee engagement is to improve business outcomes, given the repercussions disengagement has on productivity.

Ways to Re-Engage Employees

  • Treat employees like stakeholders in your company
  • Clarify work expectations
  • Make sure employees have the right tools to do their work
  • Offer development training 
  • Create a formal plan that outlines ways to improve engagement levels

Steps to re-engage employees can include treating them like stakeholders, clarifying their work expectations, getting them the right tools to do their jobs, and focusing on the development of employees and their teams, the report stated.

Company leaders should also realize engagement starts with them and they must prioritize engagement as a competitive, strategic advantage over their competitors. It should be given as much importance as other company goals and initiatives. 

“Employee engagement is a fundamental consideration in their people strategy, not an annual ‘check the box’ activity,” Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report stated.


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