Back Close Menu

7 Habits of Highly Disengaged Employees

August 9, 2023

Employee disengaged at desk with laptop

It’s no secret that engaged employees are a major asset to companies. They’re more productive, less likely to quit, and they’re generally happier than their neutral or disengaged counterparts. But unfortunately, having mostly disengaged employees is becoming the norm.

In fact, research from Gallup estimates that 85% of employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged. While this number may be shocking, the good news is that there are things you can do to prevent your employees from becoming disengaged.

Here, we’ll discuss 7 habits of highly disengaged employees, what it means to be an actively disengaged employee, and how to motivate disengaged employees.


What are Disengaged Employees?

First let’s establish the difference between engaged employees, disengaged employees, and actively disengaged employees.


Engaged Employees

Engaged employees are typically the people who come to mind when considering a promotion. They’re enthusiastic about their work and feel a connection to the company and its mission. They look for opportunities to learn and grow and will at times even take on more than is expected of them.

These employees do great work, are reliable, and generally bring the best version of themselves to work each day.


Disengaged Employees

There are two types of disengaged employees: disengaged and actively disengaged.

Disengaged employees are your company’s “quiet quitters.” These people aren’t bad employees, they simply do what’s required of them without going “above and beyond.” They don’t typically look for new challenges or opportunities to grow. They meet their requirements and clock out at the end of the day.


Actively Disengaged Employees

Actively disengaged employees are employees who have become “toxic” to a company. They’re actively unhappy or resentful about their work, the company, the work culture, etc. These employees may even do things to sabotage their work or the work of others.

Disengaged employee at desk

7 Habits of Highly Disengaged Employees

What’s good about employee engagement is that it’s not set in stone. An engaged employee can become disengaged, but a disengaged employee can also become engaged again.

Managers and leaders have the ability to foster employee engagement through thoughtful efforts. And one of those efforts is being aware of the signs of a disengaged employee. Here are 7 habits of highly disengaged employees.


1. Withdrawal

Disengaged employees will tend to step back from conversations, meetings, and activities. This may be especially noticeable if the team member was social at one point.

Keep in mind, however, withdrawal can also be an indication of personal issues or problems with colleagues. This is why it’s important for managers to be proactive.

During one-on-one meetings, managers should say that they’ve mentioned a difference in them and ask about what’s going on. You may find they’re juggling a lot at home, feeling bullied by a co-worker, or you may find that they’re becoming disengaged.


2. Dip in Productivity or Quality of Work

Naturally, disengaged employees show a dip in work quality and/or their productivity. In fact, research from Gallup shows highly disengaged employees show an 18% decrease in productivity.

You may notice an employee showing up late to work or meetings, missing deadlines, or simply doing lesser quality work.

There’s a delicate balance in addressing this issue, though. Addressing it too soon can come across as micromanaging or militant. But addressing it too late will only further disengagement.

Leaders will need to use their own discretion when determining when to address this issue. But be sure to come from a place of empathy and with solutions in mind.


3. Naysaying or Cynicism

It’s common for highly disengaged employees to be cynical about new ideas, goals, or initiatives. These employees likely don’t believe change is possible so they’re quick to dismiss talks of positive change.

It’s important to address this issue quickly because of the impact it can have on team morale. When discussing new ideas, it’s critical to have buy-in and support from the whole team, so naysaying can be detrimental.


RELATED: Employee Disengagement: 7 Signs Your Employees are Disengaged (and What to Do About It)


4. Rudeness

Similar to naysaying and cynicism, some highly disengaged employees will become blatantly rude and/or disrespectful. While everyone has a bad day from time to time, this type of rudeness permeates within the team or company.

But rather than jumping straight to reprimanding a rude employee, first try to get to the root. This employee may be frustrated. They may feel unheard or ignored. They may not be challenged enough and have become bored. There are many reasons why an employee could resort to rudeness. Handling it the right way could solve the issue entirely.


5. Absenteeism

Because there are many reasons why an employee would need to take time off, absenteeism alone may not be an accurate indicator of disengagement. However, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, according to a Gallup poll.

Watch for employees who consistently take last-minute time off, take long lunches, and/or take extra breaks throughout the day. Then ask them how they’re feeling and if everything is ok.

You may find their reasons for missing work are unrelated to their engagement entirely. Or you might find they are becoming disengaged, and you can work out strategies to reengage them.


6. Apathy

Highly disengaged employees will oftentimes have a generally apathetic approach to their work and may be looking to leave. You may find these employees stop giving their opinions, suggesting ideas, or fulfilling their commitments.

If you notice this happening, again, talk to your employee. The issue could be a too heavy workload, feeling burned out, or something entirely personal. But addressing it is the first step to solving the problem.


7. Difficulty Collaborating

It only makes sense that an employee who is dealing with these kinds of issues could be difficult to work with. An employee who doesn’t offer ideas, and is cynical, apathetic, and/or rude isn’t the ideal team player.

You might see employees avoiding working with this person or offering to do the work on their own. This is why it’s important to pay attention to each person on your team. You might notice a highly disengaged employee through their effects on others first.


Long-Term Engagement is the Ultimate Goal

The goal is to create an atmosphere where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated. By understanding the causes of employee disengagement and taking steps to address them, you can develop a diverse culture with engaged employees that will help your organisation succeed both financially and culturally.

Ultimately, creating a culture of engagement will lead to greater success for your organisation and help you avoid the costly consequences of disengagement, such as decreased productivity and low morale. With the right strategies in place, you can empower your employees and help them become integral players in the success of your organisation.


Work with Terryberry

Terryberry provides solutions to help build a healthy, accepting work culture through effective employee engagement. These solutions include:

  • Service Awards and Performance Awards: Recognize and reward employees based on years of service awards, anniversaries, or performance.
  • Social Recognition: Empower your employees and managers to recognize their peers and celebrate successes with an easy-to-use social recognition application.
  • Feedback and Communication: Unlock improved feedback and communications with employee and customer feedback solutions.
  • Engagement Surveys: Drive business decisions through employee engagement surveys.
  • Wellbeing Programs: We make it easy to run wellbeing programs and activity challenges that increase engagement, expand corporate health, and build team camaraderie.

Ready to learn more? Schedule a demo with our team to get a hands-on walkthrough of how Terryberry can transform the culture of your workplace.