Writing Sample: How to Detect Employee Disengagement – and What to Do About It

by Mark Luthringer

This article was written for HR software company Cornerstone.

Employee disengagement is costly – and widespread. According to Gallup, over 65% of U.S. employees are either somewhat or actively disengaged. The cost can be measured not just in lost employee productivity, but also in impact on profitability, customer satisfaction, product quality, and safety incidents. Just as distressing is the fact that disengaged employees are probably looking for other jobs.

While it may be tempting to see disengagement as solely an employee problem, the causes of disengagement can go both ways. Workers can become disengaged because they are not being valued or utilized properly, don’t have a path for advancement, or have a poor relationship with their managers. In fact, these issues can carry more weight than compensation in terms of employee happiness.

Does my company have disengaged employees?
Recognizing the disengaged employee isn’t difficult. Here are some questions to help identify whether employees are engaged are not: Do they participate in work enthusiastically, even when you ask them to pitch in on extra projects? Are they personally invested in the work, and do they enjoy being part of a team? Do they have initiative? Are they curious and motivated to learn and advance up the ladder?

On the managerial side, questions to ask are: What happened to a now-disengaged employee that the company once thought enough of to hire? And what can business leaders do to make sure they’re making the most of human capital?

How to respond to disengagement
The first step is an employee engagement survey. This will give you an idea of the scope of the problem at your company. Next, start communicating, reaching out to people who are under-engaged. And make sure this effort includes everyone. Employees who are the quiet ones, who don’t generally complain, may be the most disengaged of all. No one should be out of sight or out of mind.

Once this feedback has been collected, conduct your own audit of the cases. Talk to managers and co-workers in an effort to learn where you can take action. Are employees able to create value for the company or for themselves? Does their work connect them with the company’s mission? Are they in the roles they were hired for? Are they being given too much – or too little – responsibility? Have their ideas or initiatives been pushed aside without consideration? And do employees have the proper resources to do their best work?

The personal approach
To bring an under-engaged or disengaged employee back to the fold, use a personal approach. Show them that their satisfaction and happiness – not just their productivity – is important to the company. If their efforts have been stymied by turf battles and ownership squabbles, communicate with managers to see what action can be taken to correct the situation. If they are in the wrong positions, identify the correct ones based on employee strengths and goals. To help them make a course correction, and to ensure that they remain engaged, schedule ongoing conversations about their work, their goals, and how they are being managed. An up-to-date performance management system can help you gather information while also helping employees define their goals.

This employee-centric approach to HR will become more necessary as time goes on, because the next generation of workers is more likely to expect professional development from their employers. To reduce turnover and build a workforce of the best talent, employers will have to view their employees as professional development “clients.” Ideally, the two goals – professional growth for the employee and success for the business – will merge, benefiting both parties. Employees who see clear opportunities and defined paths they can take to reach goals are more engaged and therefore likely to do their best, helping companies achieve optimal business results.

Want to make your all your company’s employees engaged employees?
Cornerstone’s Performance Suite empowers employees with clear, measurable goals, defined career paths, and targeted development plans.