The 7 Warning Signs of Disengagement

How many of us have been driving our car when a flashing warning sign shows up unexpectedly on our dashboard? I will admit it; that freaks me out. I stop as soon as I can, go into the glove compartment and pull out the owner’s manual so I can try and figure out what the picture means. Most times you can avert trouble before it really starts just by being aware of warning signs.

I was thinking about this concept of warning signs and how it relates to the critical business imperative of engagement in the workplace. While the signs of a disengaged employee may not be constantly flashing bright like a neon sign in Las Vegas, they really are there for all to see if you just know what to look for. So, assuming we are on the journey to full engagement in the workplace, here are the 7 warning signs to look for on your dashboard.

I Don’t Care Attitude. These employees have given up on even making a pretense of caring about the work. They show up and do what is expected but don’t expend energy to make sure the work is high quality. It’s all about just getting it done, not about getting it done right.

Increased Absences or Tardiness. Disengaged employees have trouble getting up in the morning and arriving to work on time. They show up when they want, not when they are scheduled to be there. They tend to suffer more than their engaged colleagues with stress-related illnesses. These symptoms could be as small as a headache or cold, but as large as depression, anxiety or deep sadness.

Declining Quality of Work. Employees who used to care about the quality of their work and paid attention to small details no longer have the energy or desire to do so. They simply don’t care if all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. It’s more about just checking off the box and moving on to the next task. Error rates increase when employees are not engaged in the job at hand, and work is done at a slower pace.

Mood Swings. Is today a good day or a bad one? People who are disengaged tend to have more mood swings than others. Usually they wear their emotions on their face. It gets harder and harder for them to hide their moods, and they prefer to just go with their feelings. They don’t care if others notice because how they feel is how they show up.

Isolating Themselves From Others. Isolation can take two forms. One can be intentional, where the disengaged employee chooses to opt out. That happens a lot in larger group settings. Someone sits back and does not participate in the conversation. They don’t join in hallway conversations or at the local lunch joint with the rest of the team. The second way it can show up is in their own heads because many disengaged employees feel like they are invisible even in a very visible role . They believe others ignore them in the group, even if there is no validity to this feeling.

No Creativity or Input. Something happens when a person falls into disengagement. They suddenly appear to become mute. A once defining voice is seemingly nonexistent. They make the choice to stay silent and don’t offer their input or advice, even when asked directly to do so. They stop being creative and trying new things. They retreat to the familiar and routine and do everything they can to stay under the radar.

Lethargic. You can usually tell when someone crosses over from engagement into disengagement by focusing on their energy level. When it comes to how people show up on a daily basis, there is a marked change in behavior. All of their movements slow down and things seem to move at a snail’s pace. Even Type A personalities are not immune from this telltale sign, and in fact, with them it’s even more noticeable.

Doing routine, preventative maintenance is the best way to head off bigger problems down the road. Be aware of what’s going on in the hearts and minds of your employees or you might be seeing flashing warning signs before you know it.