Identify Unengaged Employees: What to Look For and How to Help

Identify Unengaged Employees: What to Look For and How to Help

This article was updated on September 21, 2018.

Sometimes it's easy to identify unengaged employees. One obvious "symptom" is when an employee is frequently absent and seems to have no concern about how their absenteeism affects the business. Other symptoms are less clear-cut, but can be equally harmful.

Generally speaking, an "engaged employee" is one who displays an enthusiastic commitment to their organization's objectives. Often, this type of employee goes above and beyond what's required. In contrast, an unengaged employee's lack of involvement can damage morale, decrease productivity and have a harmful effect on customer relations. As such, it's extremely important that you identify unengaged employees and take action to fix the situation. Here's what to look for:

1. Negative Attitude

This type of employee complains frequently and finds fault in everything around them. To address the problem, you should speak forthrightly to the employee and ask what specifically can be done to resolve the source of their frustration. This individual will likely appreciate the opportunity to be heard, particularly if the discussion is framed around positive next steps as opposed to placing blame.

2. Lack of Initiative

Lacking initiative is a clear sign of disengagement. Keep an eye out for an employee who does the bare minimum on the job. A confidential and sincere conversation may help identify why this employee won't take further initiative. Once you understand the obstacles the employee is facing, you can explore different ways to build on what the employee really cares about when it comes to their job. You can then determine how to leverage these interests and passions to benefit your organization's objectives.

3. Unwilling to Take Responsibility

When things go wrong, this type of employee always has excuses, never accepts responsibility or, worse yet, points a finger at their co-workers. Rather than ignoring this behavior, you should let the employee know how it negatively impacts the workplace and try to uncover why a deadline hasn't been met or why a completed project fails to meet expectations. There may be times when additional training or access to resources can solve the problem.

4. Withdrawn and Uncommunicative

Someone who previously served as an enthusiastic team member but has since withdrawn from workplace activities demonstrates feelings of disengagement. Ideally, your employees should think of their co-workers as allies, and maybe even as friends. If you find that some of your team members appear to be particularly withdrawn, you may want to look into hosting non-work-related events (such as off-site lunches, happy hours and bowling tournaments) where people can rekindle an emotional connection. When an individual's sense of isolation decreases, they may bounce back and become a more active team player.

5. Lack of Investment in the Business as a Whole

Disengaged employees often feel that they have no stake in business outcomes. You can address this problem by offering more information on management objectives and strategies for growth. Perhaps you can acknowledge specific employee achievements in a public setting. Or maybe you can ask your team members for ideas on how to improve products or customer service. People need to feel valued before they can establish a connection with their employer.

Business owners can't afford to neglect their unengaged employees. Be quick to identify warning signs and take action to re-engage these individuals or, if need be, look to hire a different person to fill the gap.