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Spotting Low Employee Engagement in a Virtual World

Published Fri Apr 02 2021


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When a leader sees employee engagement slumping, they often panic. They struggle to develop ideas that will excite the employee and fix whatever’s causing low engagement before good employees head for the door is a lot to handle.

Low employee engagement is a problem everywhere. Change creates uncertainty. Leaders try to keep teams on board with company strategies and people energized by their jobs. Leaders may also collect engagement scores. But that’s not enough. In an increasingly virtual world, leaders miss some of the signs of a disengaged worker, such as employees expressing frustration. It’s harder to read body language and interpret nonverbal cues in a virtual meeting. As the workforce continues to transition from the concept of work-life balance to work-life integration, it also can be tricky to differentiate a disengaged employee from an employee experiencing burnout or distraction as they try to attend to the nonwork aspects of their life. The stakes of ignoring the signs of low employee engagement are [staggering](file:///C:/Users/sgholston/Downloads/Gallup%20(https:/www.gallup.com/workplace/321965/employee-engagement-reverts-back-pre-covid-levels.aspx). Estimates are that about 13 percent of employees are actively disengaged in their roles, while 36 percent are engaged. Someone who is actively disengaged have a miserable work experience and spread their unhappiness to colleagues. And the remaining 51 percent? They’re not engaged, meaning they don’t feel attached to their work or company.

Warning Signs of Decreased Employee Engagement

What are signs of low employee engagement? On their own, none of these are sure signs of disengagement. However, if many of these signs are present, the likelihood that an employee is no longer engaged heightens.

1. Their Job Performance Suffers

One of the first signs of a disengaged employee is a change in job performance, and it shows in various ways. Someone who has high work standards may begin to miss deadlines or make careless mistakes. A highly productive worker may fall to the middle of the pack. A disengaged employee may be less receptive to feedback or show little motivation to improve, often rationalizing their poor performance (for example, by attributing it to factors outside of their control).

2. They Will Be the Most Resistant to Change

Whether it’s getting behind a new company initiative or following a new process, disengaged employees are slowest to adapt. They will glamorize the status quo or past ways of working, and they will frequently and loudly voice opposition to change. Their tendency will be to focus on the disruptive parts of the change while ignoring potential benefits. An engaged worker tends to be more committed to and energized by the company and its vision. Disengaged employees often lack the motivation and energy to push through challenges associated with change.

3. They Avoid Activities That Show an Investment in the Company

An engaged employee is willing to contribute beyond the minimum tasks required by their job and often volunteers for activities contributing to the team or corporate culture. They are the ones to sign up for a task force or volunteer to train a new employee. They do these things because they are committed to the company, and they see the value of helping improve the workplace. A sign of low employee engagement is withdrawing from these kinds of activities and focusing on doing just enough to get by. This can also indicate that an employee has one foot out the door. After all, why would someone volunteer to help the team or company if they don’t plan to stay?

4. They Approach Problems Differently

One characteristic shared by engaged and disengaged employees is a willingness to discuss workplace problems. The signs of low employee engagement can be found in how they do this. Engaged employees present problem-seeking solutions. Disengaged employees focus on the problem itself, without any aim toward solutions. Their focus will be on venting and commiserating. Colleagues who propose ideas for solving problems will often be met with dismissiveness or criticism.

How can low employee engagement affect other team members and the business? What are disengaged employees missing? And how can leaders counteract low employee engagement? Find out here.

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