6 Tell-Tale Signs of an Actively Disengaged Employee

6 Tell-Tale Signs of an Actively Disengaged Employee

The Term Employee Engagement Isn’t Binary.

Gallup has divided it into three distinct categories: engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged. Understanding the difference between these is necessary as each kind of employee represents different levels of scope for organizations to tackle disengagement.

Engaged employees are what organizations want. Not only do they give their best at work every day, they also believe in the overall organizational goals and values. The culture is in alignment with their preferences and they love contributing to the success of themselves, their teams and the organization at large. They also speak highly of their company elsewhere, and always walk that extra mile to see the company succeed in all spheres.

Employees who are “not engaged” are those who have problems with the way things work. But inherently they aren’t bad people. With the right strategies and level of involvement from leaders, “not engaged” employees can be turned into “engaged” employees.

According to Gallup, 18% of employees who are actively disengaged cost around $500 billion in lost productivity each year.

The biggest threat that is posed to organizations is the third category of employees, those who are “actively disengaged.” They are a huge cost to the company.  It is extremely crucial for organizations to understand who these employees are as they actually set out to damage businesses. Not only do such employees show their resentment through being unproductive, but they also indulge in unprofessional behavior and demotivate those around them. Their activities plague companies and drag down productivity that can damage businesses.

Every organization has such employees and it is important to take notice of them and make changes to remedy it. Such an initiative needs a lot of mature thought and execution, as it involves human emotions.

Here are some of the signs of an actively disengaged employee:

1. Drop In Productivity

The most obvious sign of disengagement is a drop in the level of employee productivity. Along with less output and missed deadlines, the quality of the work also goes down. If you see a consistent drop in quality of an otherwise good performer, it’s time to take some action. A brief reduction in productive work can be because of various reasons such as personal problems, or a lot of work pressure. However, if the trend of lower quality of delivery continues, it clearly means that the employee cares less about it.

These employees need to be approached in a non-threatening manner. Clearly, they are already not happy with either their work or the office culture. Trying to have a conversation with them about what is wrong can enable managers to understand where the problem lies. However, if things are not reconciled after multiple efforts, then serious action might need to be taken.

2. Withdrawal

If an employee suddenly goes quiet and stops participating in groups activities, there is a risk that they are becoming disengaged. If an otherwise active employee goes into their own shell and avoids fellow colleagues or get-togethers very often and their behavior towards them also changes, it might mean that they are consciously trying to pull themselves away from the work environment. Again, it needs to be measured only when there is a change seen. Some employees are quiet and reserved from the very beginning, they need not be targeted in such a case.

Look out for employees who have become quieter than they used to be. Figure out a way to talk to them and understand what the issue is. Offer support and cooperation once you find the reason, instead of undermining it or overreacting.

3. Too Many Breaks

While offering flexibility is a need that employees display in today’s world, overusing it can be a clear sign of disengagement. Walking up to the break room for coffee or snacks, going out for a smoke multiple number of times or asking fellow employees to take longer breaks aren’t healthy signs. Actively disengaged employees might also indulge in gossip that can destroy morale and team dynamics. Overindulging in such unhealthy behaviors may be damaging to the productivity of other employees as well.

Employees who are serious about their work and are truly motivated by purpose often derive fulfillment by working diligently and taking a break only when they have the time to do so.

4. Late To Work Or Early To Leave

There are employees who finish their work on time and can leave early or arrive later. But if this happens on a regular basis, such that there is almost an urgency to spend as much time as possible at work, it can be a sign of disengagement. Even the time they are at work, they are mostly distracted or wasting time. These are signs that they don’t really want to be at work. And once again, those employees who are regular and disciplined when it comes to time can turn into a disengaged lot if this continues.

Related: How to keep employees motivated

Making excuses each and every time they are late is a sign of a disengaged employee. They never take responsibility for their actions. Lying and making up stories to get away from the reality can be really dangerous to the team.

5. Take Too Many Sick Leaves

Irregularity to work is a big sign of disengagement. If the patterns of the employees do not change and they take too many spontaneous leaves, it is not a good sign. Actively disengaged employees use up all their sick leaves, mostly on a Monday or a Friday.

Take note of such employees and try and find out the real reason why this is happening. There can be a probable chance that the organization or leadership might be responsible for making an employee disengaged.

6. No Excitement Or Motivation To Contribute

Actively disengaged engaged employees are always looking out for challenges and work that helps them push themselves and contribute to their own and organizational success. In case of a disengaged employee, it is usually the opposite. They are generally underwhelmed about achievements or new progress and try to avoid contributing to new opportunities. They do not ask questions about anything existing processes or anything new that has taken shape. They also do not invest in themselves or others for growth.


Watch out for these signs within your company as well. Actively disengaged employees do not support a good company culture, and hence need to be dealt with immediately. Once you identify who these employees are, it is important to take necessary steps to take remedial action. Managers and leaders need to play a key role here by asking what the key to employee motivation is and what employees actually expect from their jobs. Employees should be asked to share their thoughts and ideas and encouraged to highlight their concerns with an open heart.

Workplaces that value open communication and feedback and help foster positive relationships between managers and employees are those that have high engagement levels.


Want to learn more? Check out on how managers can give effective feedback and why the focus for effective engagement needs to shift to goal management.