Top Posts of 2012: 6 Things Disengaged Employees Do

Symptoms are everywhere. It’s not terribly difficult to find them if you look. There are symptoms of everything, really. If you have an amazing culture full of passionate employees, there will be symptoms. Conversely, if you have oodles of employees who couldn’t give two shekels about their team or organization, there are symptoms of that as well.

Here are six things disengaged employees tend to do. They may do one or more of these to varying degrees. If you see these popping up, watch out–they may be a sign that something deeper is going with that team’s culture, or even the larger organization’s culture. Any of these sound familiar?

1. Employees withdraw by frequently missing work or by quitting altogether. The former often leads to the latter.

2. People stay on the job physically, but withdraw psychologically. They become indifferent, apathetic, and passive.

3. Folks simply aren’t as productive. Sometimes this is an unintentional consequence of their lack of engagement; other times it can be an intentional thing.

4. Members of your team try anything they can to get out of their department. This could be through transfer, promotion, or both. Sometimes people want to advance for positive reasons; other times it’s just an escape.

5. Employees form alliances–both formal, like committees, for example, and¬†informal, like the grapevine–to¬†deal with what they perceive to be organizational injustices or inadequacies.

6. Through their conversations and conduct, they teach their fellow employees that their work isn’t rewarding, the outlook of the organization is grim, and/or that your organization simply sucks.

What do you think? See these much? What others could you add to the list?


  1. I have found the last one (#6) to be the most dangerous, because when the weed starts taking out other members of the garden, the impact can be devastating to the business. It’s best to identify the problem and make a change with the employee, whether a move or a “removal”…

    I had a staff member once who was having all kinds of problems at home and anything that upset him on the job was amplified (not enough of an annual raise, a short deadline, a co-worker not carrying their weight). He started poisoning the well for everyone, and ultimately left. The rest of the team breathed a sigh of relief when the negative energy exited!

  2. […] up to you to figure out ways to help your team–and maybe especially folks you perceive to be disengaged–understand that it’s not any of those things–it’s a privilege, a […]

  3. […] not, you can be assured one or more parties is either completely disinterested or completely disengaged. And neither of those is good. So speak up, and encourage your team to do the same. Culture is as […]

  4. #7 Make Work. When it is unclear who they are accountable to and for what, the desire to be competent (or relevant) takes over and peole create work they can own when it doesn’t need to exist. Symptoms include too many meetings, too many emails, too much consensus. Sometimes they do this to create false authority (as seen on project teams). Or simply, they just aren’t busy enough so assign greater responsibility.

  5. Thomas says:

    All too often management blames “problem employees” rather than face up to their own shortcomings. Problem employees are almost always a symptom of a dysfunctional organizations.

  6. […] Very few people, if they’re honest, enjoy going to work every day in an environment filled with distrust, political maneuvering, and so many of the other ugly things that characterize too many groups and organizations. And most folks, if you ask them, would say they wish things were different where they work. In fact, a recent Gallup poll suggests that up to 77% of individuals said they were miserable in their jobs. […]

  7. […] really is a shame, but many employees trudge into work every day on autopilot. They’re corporate-logo-bearing zombies. They punch a clock, meander to their workspace, plop […]

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