Disengaged Employees Cost Money

Do you know that allowing employee disengagement to go unchecked costs your business thousands each year? 

Disengaged employees are losing the US economy between $960 billion and $1.2 trillion in productivity losses, poor management, and floundering engagement initiatives every year. 

Companies are throwing money at a problem they don’t seem to grasp. 

Employees are not going to volunteer their disinterest and management is not picking up on it. The cost is months of productivity through absenteeism, lethargy, slow productivity, and turnover. 

So, how do you recognize disengaged employees?

What is a Disengaged Employee? 

Employee engagement is the passion and full-bodied commitment your workforce brings into every day. 

It means your business personally motivates each employee. Their career goals are aligned to the work they perform day in day out. 

By contrast, a disengaged employee is apathetic. They don’t care about the work and it doesn’t motivate them intrinsically. They present negatively at work and do enough to get by and collect a paycheck.

There are, however, important notes to make on disengagement. Firstly, it can be caused by a range of factors including: 

  • Disruption to personal lives. 
  • Deteriorating relationships with management.
  • Outgrowing work duties. 
  • Misalignment with personal career goals. 
  • Lack of acknowledgment for efforts. 

Secondly, disengagement to engagement is a scale. Gallup estimates that only 15% of the workforce in the US is fully engaged. That leaves 85% somewhere between reasonably motivated and couldn’t give a toss. 

How do you spot the latter? 

Symptoms of a Disengaged Workforce

1. Constant Negativity and Complaint

Some signs are more obvious than others and if you miss them, you need to assess your leadership skills. 

Employees who are constantly at loggerheads with the company can be disengaged. However, there is a clear distinction to be made here. 

The high-performing employee who offers solutions and new directions but rarely sees them implemented is not disengaged. They are disempowered and possibly disenfranchised. These employees need their talents and commitment to progress nurtured. Without support, disengagement will result. 

The cynical who complains relentlessly to peers and only brings negativity into the workplace is disengaged. Their attitude is toxic to your working culture and should be identified as early as possible. 

2. Dip in the Quality of Work

A drop in the quality of work provided is the most typical standard of disengagement. It often shows through customer complaints or pure indifference when it comes to success. 

Quality dips should cause concern but the source is typically what you need to figure out. Are the employees complacent or absent-minded or is there more to it? 

Consider the employee’s tenure. The average is 4.1 years in the US. Many will feel that their chances of making career progress at this company have gone by this point. Furthermore, they will feel the company is no longer aligned to their career goals so they don’t feel motivated. 

Simply; they need a new challenge because we know a third quit when they are bored.

3. Routines are Broken

Behavioral and routine changes should be noticeable to management. If you don’t notice a shift in your employees, you probably have too big a span of control or you are not paying attention. Both of which incite disengagement.

Provided routines changes are not imposed on the team, negative adjustments are symptomatic of disengagement. 

  • Lateness
  • Absenteeism
  • Extended cigarette breaks or lunches
  • Poor timekeeping or meeting preparation
  • Missed deadlines 

Each of these changes indicates an employee could be on the lookout for a new job or are distracted. With most matters of engagement, this can just as easily be a sign of personal struggle. In this case, it is wise to open dialogue with the individual team members. 

4. Lacking Initiative

Engaged workforces come with many benefits. Chief among them is their willingness to absorb new tasks and do extra in pursuit of collective success. A win for the company feels like a win for their career and ambition. 

Lining up engaged and disengaged employees together illuminates the initiative issue.

Disengaged team members just don’t offer. They don’t have an appetite for new tasks and don’t see themselves in your vision. Furthermore, they withdraw from unnecessary tasks and meetings. Their voices are rarely heard in meetings and only speak when spoken to. 

In the same breath, they should not be confused with introverts who will give each task their full effort even if they are quiet. 

5. Correspondence Left Hanging

Communication is always a healthy barometer of a functioning workplace. Where it is compromised or rare, problems and friction typically follow. 

In the case of employees, tardy response rates should concern you. Communication should always be free-flowing. 

As a leadership figure, you should feel obligated to learn if correspondence blockages are systemic or only with certain individuals. Without investigation, the problem will fester.

Employees who fail to respond either don’t read your or the team’s messages or don’t bother getting back to workmates. Either way, it is an obstacle. In the long run, they will likely bring everyone else down with them. 

6. Managerial Communications Failures

30% of managerial figures themselves feel engaged and just shy of 50% of people have left a job because of a bad manager. In addition, management is responsible for engagement in 70% of employees in Gallup’s study of over 27 million people. In summary, you may be leaking the problem to others.

Is your engagement, behavior, or style contributing to the problem? Managers and leaders should conduct a self-assessment or better yet, survey the employees. For self-assessment ask yourself the following:

  • Do I feel motivated every day at work?
  • Do I love my job? 
  • Does my span of control (team that reports to me) exceed 6 people? 
  • How often do you conduct 1:1 sessions with the employees? 
  • Are my communications constructive? 
  • Does my team feel comfortable admitting mistakes, raising concerns or offering new ideas? 
  • Do I foster psychological safety?
  • Do I inspire and lead employees or am I just here longer?

To acknowledge disengagement, you have to be willing to look at yourself. Are you disengaged? If so, is it affecting your team? 

Disengagement can be your subconscious actions and not taking responsibility invites further failures. 

7. High Churn Rates

Employees fleeing your company is the most obvious sign that something is wrong. Typically engagement, boredom, poor management and lack of fulfillment are to blame. In fact, 63.3% of companies find keeping employees harder than hiring them.

The churn or turnover rate refers to the number of employees quitting your jobs in a given year. To figure out yours, the calculation is simple

Number of Employees Who Quit
X 100
Total Number of Employees

A healthy turnover rate stands around 15%. Many industries like retail and hospitality will have higher rates but this is a great place to start to know if you have a problem. 

Conduct exit interviews to find out what is going wrong. Ask honest, hard questions.

What is it about your company that turns people off working there? Are you doing enough to engage the team? Are your hiring processes finding the right people? Are your managers causing turnover?

Over a third of workers are actively looking for a new job. It is costing businesses over $5,000 to replace employees by the time productivity, HR salaries, onboarding and other expenses are incurred. That is $5,000 per departure. 

Asking yourself the hard questions could save your business. 


Engagement may seem like the new fad but there is a reason. Companies with the highest scores of engagement outperform low engagement by 202% in revenue and profitability. If that isn’t enough to convince; workplace accidents and inefficiency decrease while innovation, recruitment, and sales improve with healthy engaged workforces. 

Disengagement almost always comes back to management – either to spot it or to change the environment employees are struggling with. 

The remote and hybrid working world asks more of you as a manager. It asks you to understand the psychological commitment of their teams and their motivators. It asks you to know your people inside out and how to get the most out of them. 

It asks you and your leadership team, can you spot what is going wrong in your team?