Employee Wellbeing

How to Identify Disengaged Employees: 5 Alarming Signs to Watch Out For

May 29, 2023

‚ÄćImagine a workplace where every employee radiates their peak creative energy, is brimming with ambition, and does their best towards organizational growth.¬†

Given the surge in the number of disengaged employees in recent years, you might think it's a utopian fantasy. According to a recent Gallup report, only 33% of employees are fully engaged, while 18% are actively disengaged globally. The remaining 50% were neither fully engaged nor actively disengaged in their jobs.

But it is not an ideal or even normal situation. We are not saying that every employee can perform at their peak potential every hour of every day, but being actively disengaged is an alarming condition that demands urgent intervention from employers.

Remember Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? The unhappy guy is the perfect example of how a disengaged employee finds it difficult to find motivation and purpose in what they do. But Pooh and his friends never leave their disinterested friends behind, and neither do we.

Before we look into the signs of employee disengagement, let’s understand how to spot it.


Here’s what you will take away from this blog:

  • Employee disengagement is a growing concern for businesses worldwide.
  • Difference between engaged, disengaged, and unengaged employees
  • Disengaged employees can have a significant impact on workplace productivity.
  • Disengagement at work can negatively affect team morale, productivity, and overall business performance.
  • Five signs and causes of employee disengagement and effective strategies for addressing them.

Engaged vs. Disengaged Employees

An engaged employee is wholeheartedly committed to and invested in the organization's growth. They feel valued, connected, and find their personal goals and ambitions aligned with their professional responsibilities. They are better positioned to understand the importance of communication and coordination and are willing to contribute their ideas and expertise to the team. In short, they are satisfied with their job and their working conditions.

On the other hand, employees who are actively disengaged at work might feel that what they are expected to do has no purpose or meaning. They gradually become disenchanted because they need to see the value or personal achievement in working towards the company objectives.

Disengaged vs. Unengaged employees

Unengaged employees have a different level of engagement from both engaged and actively disengaged employees, usually lying somewhere on the spectrum between the two conditions. While they might fulfill their job description, their productivity remains within the bare minimum threshold. 

They may show up to work, complete their tasks, and meet expectations, but they are no more passionate about their work or committed to the organizational objectives. Also, it is their default state and is usually not caused by drastic external factors. While both unengaged and disengaged employees may not be fully invested in their work, disengaged employees pose a greater risk to an organization as a sudden change in their attitude can destabilize team productivity and overall business success.

Source: Zippia

Why does this happen? 

From physical and psychological issues to the workplace environment, multiple factors make an otherwise hardworking employee disengaged at work:

  • An upheaval in personal life or relationships
  • Feeling not valued or cared for at work
  • Lack of motivation and positive feedback
  • Undefined job responsibilities¬†
  • Overwhelming workload

Signs of Employee Disengagement at Work and How to Deal With It

Some signs of disengagement have overlapping consequences for business growth, but managers need to understand each of them clearly. 

Lack of Initiative 

A disengaged employee would rather take a nap at their desk than take on a new task! They barely keep up with ongoing tasks while showing zero enthusiasm for accepting new responsibilities. They appear distant, avoiding active communication during team calls or meetings where they might be expected to participate in any out-of-the-box discussions to suggest new ideas. 

Disengaged employees avoid taking the initiative and may demonstrate a lack of interest by clock watching. Clock watching at work refers to the habit of continuously checking the time, particularly towards the end of the workday, in anticipation of leaving work or the end of a shift.     

It can slow the entire team's progress, making it lag behind schedule and drowning in deadlines. It leads to an imbalance in team workload, causing resentment and frustration among other team members who feel like they're picking up the slack. 

How to encourage a proactive attitude in employees?

To address the lack of initiative in employees, managers must provide them with more autonomy and let them take ownership of their work. It also implies setting clear goals and expectations and allowing employees to choose how to achieve them. It is also the responsibility of management to provide regular feedback and support to help employees develop their skills and feel confident in taking on new tasks and responsibilities.

Acknowledging the employees who take the initiative and go above and beyond their job responsibilities is also important. This creates a culture of proactive behavior and motivates others to follow suit.

Employees must be encouraged to develop project ideas to help the company achieve its goals. They should have the resources and support, but the decision-making should be left up to them. They become more aware of their capabilities when they brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other.


Disengaged employees can be a real challenge for managers when they exhibit procrastination tendencies, such as delaying tasks or missing deadlines. They may take a long time to start a project, put off certain tasks until the last minute, or simply avoid them altogether. This can seriously impact individual and team performance, leading to missed opportunities, lowered morale, and decreased productivity. 

When an employee regularly delays tasks, it can lead to a backlog of work, missed deadlines, and increased stress for the employee and the whole team. It creates a negative cycle as the employee becomes overwhelmed and disengaged, leading to even more procrastination.

Causing delays can potentially damage relationships with clients or stakeholders, directly impacting team performance. Missed deadlines can lead to lost revenue, increased costs, and disrepute in the market.

How to deal with employee procrastination?

One reason for procrastination could be that employees feel overwhelmed by a large project, causing them to delay or avoid the task altogether. By breaking the project down into smaller manageable tasks, managers can help employees feel more in control and make progress toward their goals. It can also help employees feel accomplished as they complete each step, boosting their motivation and engagement.

Providing supportive resources and clear expectations can help employees overcome their tendency to procrastinate. It could include training on time management, goal-setting, and task prioritization. Access to productivity management apps, collaboration tools, or project planning resources can also help disengaged employees feel more confident and capable of tackling their work.

Sometimes, employees may not take deadlines seriously, leading to missed opportunities and below-average performance. By setting deadlines with clear consequences for non-compliance, managers can help employees understand the importance of meeting deadlines and create a sense of urgency around completing tasks on time. Consequences might include lost bonuses or promotions or negative performance evaluations.

Negative Attitude

The most eye-catching sign of disengagement is when an employee becomes openly critical of their coworkers and develops an attitude of cynicism around work. They won't have passive dissatisfaction but rather show a clear disinterest in achieving the team goals and objectives of the organization.                          

These behaviors can be toxic to the workplace and dampen team morale and performance. It creates a pessimistic atmosphere that can spread throughout the workplace and may eventually become a culture of negativity that can be difficult to overcome.

Employees with negative attitudes may resist change and prefer the status quo. They resist new initiatives or ideas and are unwilling to adapt to innovations. They often blame others for their problems or mistakes, do not take responsibility for their actions, and may deflect blame onto others.

What to do when you identify a negative attitude?

Managers can deal with this issue by communicating clear expectations for behavior and performance. It can involve outlining company policies and procedures and explaining what is expected of employees regarding their attitude and work ethic.

If an employee is exhibiting a negative attitude, it's important to address the issue directly by identifying the specific behavior, providing feedback, and explaining how it's impacting the team and the company.

Managers should provide professional support and resources to ease the workload if an employee is struggling with a personal or professional issue that is driving their attitude. They can connect the employee with an employee assistance program, provide counseling services, or offer flexible scheduling or work arrangements.

Recognizing and appreciating positive behavior can help motivate employees to improve their attitude and performance. Managers should lead by example and exhibit the positive attitudes and behaviors they want to see in their employees. Dedicated leadership can be reflected by providing respectful and supportive leadership, communicating effectively, and demonstrating a commitment to the company and its values. 

Low Quality of Work

Deteriorating quality of work is one of the first signs of disengagement. A disengaged employee loses motivation, focus, and attention to detail and thus becomes prone to making mistakes, missing details, or being careless. Poor quality of work directly leads to decreased customer satisfaction and lost business.

A common factor related to unsatisfactory performance is boredom or lack of challenge. If employees are not stimulated or given challenging and meaningful work, it creates a lapse in their mental faculties. Similarly, employees who feel undervalued or unappreciated may not put much effort into their work, resulting in a dip in performance.

In some cases, disengaged employees may deliberately produce low-quality work to express dissatisfaction with their job or leadership. Lack of appreciation and acknowledgement alienate them at work, and they gradually become emotionally disconnected and apathetic.

How to improve employee performance?

Managers have to identify the root cause of the issue and try to understand the employee's concerns. It can be done by gathering employee feedback, conducting employee surveys, and having direct one-on-one communication.

Once the causes are pinned down, managers can help employees improve the quality of work by providing clear expectations and feedback and offering additional training or resources. Introducing productivity management software like timegram can be a groundbreaking solution for businesses struggling with employee performance evaluation.

Lack of Collaboration

Collaboration and teamwork are crucial components of any successful project, but disengaged employees may refrain from contributing to group discussions or interacting with team members to coordinate projects.

Disengaged employees tend to withdraw from the workplace and isolate themselves from others. They may avoid contributing to group discussions or avoid interactions with team members. It leads to poor communication and coordination among team members, ultimately impacting project outcomes and team dynamics. 

They may feel that their contributions are not valued or that their ideas are not being heard. As a result, they may be less willing to participate in collaborative efforts and prefer to work independently. It can create silos within the organization and hinder the free flow of information and ideas, leading to inefficiencies and missed opportunities.

How to re-engage withdrawn employees?

To address a lack of collaboration among disengaged employees, managers can provide opportunities for team building and communication, such as team-building activities, cross-functional projects, and regular team meetings. 

Informal meetings are also important to allow team members to get to know each other better and build mutual trust. By fostering relationships and building a sense of shared purpose, employees are more likely to work together effectively and support each other during challenging projects.

Open discussions and idea sharing can be encouraged by creating a culture of psychological safety, where employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions and perspectives without fear of judgment or retribution. It creates a diverse pool of solutions and better outcomes for the project.

Employees who feel valued and appreciated for their contributions are more likely to continue collaborating toward shared goals. Managers can acknowledge and celebrate team successes by publicly recognizing and rewarding team members who have made significant contributions to promoting teamwork.


Employees can't be happy-go-lucky all the time. But when they become actively disengaged from work, it creates a snowball effect that undermines workplace productivity and business performance.

To avoid a zombie-like work environment, managers need to recognize the signs of employee disengagement and implement strategies to address them. The five strategies suggested above are proven to improve team morale, performance, and overall business success.

Managers also need to support employees by providing all the required resources and training to prevent burnout which is a major cause of employee disengagement.

Looking for productivity tracking tool to keep track of your employees’ behavior and level of engagement? timegram can help. 

timegram is a privacy-first, time-tracking app that monitors employee activity and helios managers see employees’ productivity patterns while giving them complete autonomy and flexibility to present their best work.

With its easy-to-use interface and powerful time-tracking features, timegram can help employees stay on top of their workload and achieve business goals by aligning them with their personal priorities.

You can find out more about our key features here.

Signup today for free and support your employees with the most effective time-tracking solution!


What are the benefits of employee engagement?

Engaged employees are more likely to collaborate and work together to achieve common goals, leading to better problem-solving, increased creativity, and improved project outcomes.

How do you prevent employee disengagement?

We have suggested the most effective strategies to prevent employee disengagement in this blog. To summarize; 

  • organizations should invest in employee development
  • offer clear expectations and feedback
  • provide competitive compensation and benefits
  • recognize and reward performance
  • address concerns and conflicts
  • build a positive workplace culture
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Sidra Ali Shah

About the author

Sidra is a research scholar and a philosophy nerd who fell in love with language at a very young age. She believes it's words and their combinations that make the world go round. In her free time, she likes to brainstorm with her children.

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