HRM Five: Identifying a disengaged employee

Watch out for these signs of a checked-out employee.

High employee engagement is the magic ingredient that every organisation chases after. But just as an engaged employee is a great asset, a disengaged employee bring everyone down and hold an organisation back.

But do keep in mind that a disengaged employee isn’t necessarily one you want to terminate. They might simply need more guidance to get them back on track. Or perhaps they have personal issues which are momentarily distracting them. Rather than lose a potentially great employee, it might be worth a bit of extra time and effort to chat with them to see what can be done to get things back on track.

A disengaged employee could also be a symptom of a bigger problem in your organisation – perhaps incompetent leadership or toxic company culture. In this scenario, getting rid of that employee won’t solve your problems, and it will be more important than ever to discern the underlying causes for their disengagement.

Here are the warning signs to keep an eye out for.


  1. They are less productive.

A drop in output is a key indicator that something is wrong. But this needs to be examined from a bigger picture perspective – some days or even weeks will be less productive than others, for perfectly valid reasons. But a sharp loss of productivity over a few months will be a matter of concern.


  1. There is a drop in work quality.

Perhaps the worker in question is still meeting their targets, but the quality of their work is noticeably lower than before – for example, with missed deadlines or rampant typos. This suggests that they have lost pride and interest in doing a good job.


  1. They are frequently late and/or absent from work.

A disengaged employee will struggle to find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, and likely find even the smallest excuses to miss work.


  1. They are often procrastinating or messing around.

Are they gone for hours? Do they tend to wander off to have long conversations in the pantry? It’s one thing if they still meet their deadlines and submit exceptional work, but in combination with the above, this is a tell-tale sign of someone who is checked-out from the job at hand.


  1. They are apathetic.

A disengaged employee likely walks into work wondering “What is the point?” They might even be at the point where the company’s failure or success is irrelevant to them, except for how it affects their pay check. Such apathy will come through in their attitude to work - for instance, looking bored during meetings or avoiding additional responsibility. 


Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.


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