Skip to main content

15Five acquires Emplify and relaunches human-centered platform Learn more

The 3 Symptoms of a Disengaged Employee

Stefanie Jansen
Stefanie Jansen

If you’re a business leader who has any intention of building a successful company and culture, you’ve probably already turned your attention to improving employee engagement. But if you’re looking for a “quick fix,” you’ll be greatly disappointed. Like any other aspect of your business—data management, customer relationships, sales cycles, etc.—big results require big changes, as well as careful planning. Why should your employee engagement (which has the power to affect your bottom line) be any different?

Instead of trying to solve the problem of disengaged employees with a simple Band-Aid like offering free snacks or increasing bonuses (job satisfaction), it’s crucial that you get to the heart of the matter (employee engagement). The first step is knowing the problem when you see it.

How to Spot Disengaged Employees

The symptoms of disengaged workers might not be as “surface level” as you think. Resist the temptation to rely solely on external symptoms like increased vacation time, time away from desk, or recurring sick days. Remember that employees are humans first, and taking time out to care for one’s self isn’t a reflection of their engagement level.

Instead, look to how employees behave while on the job. Are they engaged in their work when they’re actually in it? Here are three classic symptoms of disengaged workers while in their work environment:

  1. Lack of Zest/Energy
    When employees are disengaged, they lack the zeal and motivation to be successful in their role. This may include lack of participation in meetings and absent ambition around projects. While employees like these are often the norm in Hollywood’s depiction of office culture (think Office Space), it’s truly detrimental to your business in the real world. When employees are not inspired or motivated by the work they do, it results in forfeiture of new ideas and lost product innovation—causing you to miss out on any new business those ideas may have resulted in.


  1. Disconnectedness From Culture
    “Friendship” may seem like an elementary reason for employees to disengage from your culture, but peer relationships are actually a huge part of an employee’s engagement level—and the health of your business. In fact, Gallup reports that having a best friend at work not only boosts employee satisfaction, but prompts full engagement in one’s work by seven times. The opposite is true too—when an employee doesn’t show effort in creating or nurturing relationships at work, he or she also negatively affects team dynamics and causes unhealthy culture. Disengaged employees tend not to participate in company events either, resulting in a lost sense of “team” and deterioration of culture.


  1. Lack of Meaningful Feedback
    A disengaged employee has no motivation to perform well or see the company thrive, so providing feedback for the company’s improvement is at the bottom of the priority list for those who have “checked out.” This may manifest as a lack of meaningful contributions in meetings and projects, resulting in missed opportunities for company/team improvement and a culture of negativity.

Can employees exhibit other symptoms of their disengagement besides those listed here? Sure. But you can bet that at least one or two of them are showing up in the employee’s daily interactions.

Emplify Measure

Emplify’s Measure solution benchmarks engagement levels at your company through annual/quarterly surveys.

You’ve Identified the Problem. Now What?

When employees are disengaged, it affects more than just the individual. It affects your entire company ecosystem—everything from the engagement levels of other employees all the way down to your bottom line and ability to compete with other companies. Identifying the problem is just the first step in “sucking out the poison” to create a culture full of engaged, motivated, and productive employees.


Ready to take action? Get seven tips for turning disengaged employees into contributing team members with our newest ebook, The Symptoms of a Disengaged Employee.

Unlock the true potential of your people.

Get Started