How to tell the Difference between an Engaged and Disengaged Employee

Each year, companies are spending $3 Billion on employee engagement [1], which has been a strategic initiative of many organizations for quite some time. Given that companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their competitors by 147% in earnings per share, it is obvious that organizations would want to have high employee engagement [2].

Recently, the practice of having annual surveys has come under much scrutiny and with good reason. Research shows that employee disengagement is a function of an employee’s relationship with their direct supervisors and managers [3]. Therefore, the two most important things managers can do are:

  • Provide clarity: This is to make each one of their team members understand how they fit in to the organization and how their contribution plays a role in reaching the organizational goals.
  • Provide constant feedback: Communication is the key to great teams. Feedback on work helps employees to either continue something they are doing well or to improve. This is especially important if you are dealing with millennials who want to be mentored and shown ways to improve themselves.

While creating a clear alignment of goals, communication and providing feedback is great, the actual execution method should vary based on whether you are dealing with an engaged or disengaged employee. There are a lot of definitions of employee engagement with the whole purpose of differentiating between the two types of employees. Here are some clear ways to spot an engaged versus a disengaged employee.

How to spot an engaged employee?

Companies have been viewing personal satisfaction as a proxy for engagement. There are clear signs that can help you spot an engaged employee and here is a checklist on what indicates someone is engaged at work [3]:

  1. They bring new ideas to the workplace
  2. They are passionate about the work they do
  3. They take the initiative
  4. They are constantly thinking of ways to improve themselves and organization’s systems
  5. They exceed expectations
  6. They are curious to learn new things and ask questions
  7. They encourage others and the team
  8. They are optimistic
  9. They Smile often
  10. They are committed to the organization

And most importantly they take ownership in the business and do whatever needs to be done to handle problems, save money or make more for the business.

Understanding the disengaged employee:

Contrary to popular belief, a disengaged employee is not the opposite of an engaged employee. To create employee engagement, it is equally important to understand the disengaged employee. Here are signs of a disengaged employee:

  1. Apathy and indifference is the hallmark of the disengaged employee
  2. They take no pride in their work
  3. They do the least amount of work that they can to get by
  4. They do not have an understanding of the organization’s goals
  5. They often detract from organization’s goals by withholding information from team members
  6. They feel little connection to their supervisors, peers and the organization
  7. They speak poorly of their team, supervisors and organization
  8. They bad mouth their peers and senior management, withhold information on purpose and show apathy towards work.

Disengaged employees cost billions of dollars every year and research done to understand them points to one main factor contributing to their disengagement – their supervisors. Some common complaints about their supervisors range from taking credit for their work, setting unrealistic expectations, little or no feedback and support, not asking for input, and lack of basic pleasantries like hello or thank you [3].

Putting Employee Engagement in Center:

The important part of any business is to first have a clear goal and identify what they have to tackle. If employee engagement is one of your organization’s goals, then accurately identifying whether you are dealing with engaged or disengaged employees on your team is the first step. The next is to make modifications to your processes and provide training or coaching your middle management on how to interact with their teams so you can reach your employee engagement goals.

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  • Marciano, P. L. (2010). Carrots and Sticks Don't Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT (TM). New York: McGraw-Hill .

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