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How to identify (and reverse) employee disengagement


A recent Gallup Poll says less than one-third of U.S. employees are actively engaged in their jobs. That’s why it’s important for managers to watch for the early signs of employee disengagement and try to pull those employees back from the edge.

How can you see the slide? Employees stop offering suggestions. They contribute less in meetings. They’re negative or indifferent to co-workers’ ideas. They hesitate to volunteer for projects. They make less eye contact. Breaks are a little longer. Absenteeism and tardiness increase, along with criticism of the organization.

Don’t wait until a worker flips the disengagement switch. Talk to the employee in the early stages. Say, “I’ve noticed a change in your performance lately and I’m wondering what’s contributing to it.” Stress that you want the employee to succeed.

In fact, the best strategy is prevention. Managers who maintain good relationships with their employees are more likely to keep them engaged, experts say.

Here are seven other ways managers can help keep employees engaged:

1. Accept diversity of ideas and thought. Managers who show an interest in what employees say are more likely to keep them engaged. “They don’t listen to me” is a common complaint of disengaged employees.

2. Share responsibility for success, and don’t blame others for your mistakes. When you make a mistake, say so. Otherwise, employees lose respect.

3. Demonstrate honesty and integrity. Do what you say you will do. Employees never feel good about working for managers they don’t trust.

4. Help employees solve problems. Assist different employees in different ways. Some workers are entrepreneurial and require minimal assistance. Others require more of a partnership approach.

5. Show respect. It starts with basics like “hello,” “please” and “thank you.” Demonstrate your interest by asking, “How was the camping trip?” Employees who feel invisible become distant.

6. Don’t set unrealistic performance goals. Make sure employees have the skill and training—and are in the right job slots—to meet your expectations.

7. Be passionate about success. Recognize, acknowledge or reward your employees’ contributions to the organization’s success in front of all of them. Continuously ignoring employees’ victories will feed disengagement.

A final note: Employee disengagement can be contagious. By tuning in to early signs of employee tune-out, managers can help cut turnover, keep productivity humming and maintain morale. 

The 3 types of employees

1. ENGAGED employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to the organization. They drive innovation and move the organization forward. (Engaged employees are 29% of the U.S. work force, according to a Gallup Poll.)

2. NON-ENGAGED employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time—but little energy or passion—into their work. (56% of the work force)

3. ACTIVELY DISENGAGED employees aren’t just unhappy at work: They’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish. (15% of the work force)