How to work with disengaged employees?

Written By Sakcham Tiwari

June 9, 2021
When a new employee joins the company, they are mostly full of energy and determination. They find their new workspace and their new colleagues exciting. They want to impress their managers and so they put their all into their work.  However, after a year or so, the excitement and determination…
disengaged employees

When a new employee joins the company, they are mostly full of energy and determination. They find their new workspace and their new colleagues exciting. They want to impress their managers and so they put their all into their work. 

However, after a year or so, the excitement and determination wear off. Many employees start finding their working days tedious and repetitive and that often leads to disengagement with their work. 

Such employees can be a huge hassle for your business as they tend to push your company back when it comes to achieving business goals. These employees not only underperform but also create friction for the high performers of the company and so, it is highly imperative that managers learn to work with them.

Why are employees disengaged?

Several factors can contribute to disengaged employees. However, employee disengagement is usually caused by the lack of the following aspects in the employees’ working life:

  • Feedback from managers
  • Communication between employees and managers
  • Recognition 
  • Work flexibility
  • Trust
  • Control
  • Development of the employee
  • Teamwork
  • Respect from coworkers and managers 
  • Autonomy
  • Proper remuneration

Of course, the reasons for disengagement can be different from the factors mentioned above and can be much deeper and personal. Whatever may be the factor, it is crucial to identify the disengaged employee and also the cause of the disengagement.

Types of employees on the basis of engagement

There are three classifications of employee engagement: engages, partially disengaged, and totally disengaged. Let’s compare the three levels of engagement in employees as it will help you in identifying them in your organization.

dissengaged employees

Engaged employees

The characteristics that you are likely to find in engaged employees include passion and innovation. They feel a profound connection to the company they are working for and they tend to move the company forward.

2. Partially disengaged employees

These are the employees who seem unhappy at work. It’s not like they are not working. They are putting in the time and working on whatever they are supposed to work on, but without an ounce of energy or passion.

3. Totally or actively disengaged employees

These employees are not just unhappy at work but they actively display their unhappiness by actively not engaging in work. They tend to shrug off their responsibilities and or delegate them to their juniors or interns. Such employees damage the overall productivity of the organization.

How to work with disengaged employees

Once you have identified the disengaged part of your workforce, you need to take measures to manage such employees and re-engage them. Here are some tips that may help you in increasing the engagement level of your employees:

1. Lead them towards efficient workflow

Disengaged employees can become highly responsive to good leadership. So, sometimes it is good to remind your employees that their performance is being tracked by their manager or business owner. Let them know that their good work will be rewarded and if they don’t work well, try to work out the problems with them. 

This might push them to be more dedicated to their work if they know that they are being watched. Watching does not mean that they are being spied but it can be in a more of a caring sense. It can make the disengaged employees feel that their work matters and so, they might try to re-engage with their work.

2. Set goals together

Many times, employees lose their focus in the workplace because they do not have any goal to work towards. Thus, it can be a game-changer to refocus their attention by placing a deadline for a project. Without a deadline, employees may feel that they do not have a tangible goal and so they become lethargic in their work. Therefore, having deadlines can be a great way to get back the attention of employees.

3. Show appreciation

A simple ‘thank you’ can act as a big encouragement to the disengaged employees and can push them to work harder. When an employee feels underappreciated, they will lose their motivation and passion towards their work. 

If you do not want that to happen, it is a great idea to show them appreciation and say phrases like ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’ when they complete a project. This will show them that their work is valued and they will put more of their effort and energy into future projects.

4. Keep them in the loop

In simple words, do not forget to communicate with your employees about your business goals. Many managers commit this mistake of giving tasks and projects to their employees without letting them know the goal behind those projects. Tell them why you want them to do something and what purpose it will serve in the long term. 

An easy way to do this is by holding regular staff meetings in which you sit down with your employees and discuss the current and future projects and objectives of the company. This will make the employers feel like they are a part of the team and they will not feel left out. Consequently, when they know the reason behind the tasks they are supposed to carry out, they will be more passionate and enthusiastic about doing them.

5. Providing more flexibility

The 9-5 workday is a cause of disengagement with work in the case of many employees all over the world. Many employees complain that these working hours make their work feel mundane, tedious, and unexciting. This is so because some humans cannot work at their best potential when confined in the same routine every day. The routine makes them feel stuck and thus, they feel the need to break out of their routine which can lead to slacking off work. 

This is why we are seeing a trend in freelance work recently and many organizations are trying out more flexible working hours for their employees. Especially since Covid-19 hit the world and work-from-home became the new normal, flexibility in working hours has turned into a necessity rather than a luxury. 

Therefore, the takeaway from this is that if your business goals allow it, you must consider experimenting with flexible working hours and creating a dynamic working environment. 

6. Make your expectations known

If you do not set clear goals for your employees and let them do their work at their own pace and rules, they are very likely to become disengaged. Thus, it is essential that you communicate your expectations that you have from your employees so that they can work towards meeting those expectations. 

Without proper communication with your employees about the objectives, they will lose their motivation to do the work. Communication is a big part of employee engagement and so, make sure that your employees are made aware of the expectations regularly.

7. Allow them to use their hidden talents

There are certain talents and skills that may not be mentioned on the CVs of your employees. They can be talents that you can only see when you provide the employees with opportunities to showcase them. 

In many cases, an employee may feel disengaged if they are not allowed to reveal their talents and true potential. These talents can be a big asset to your business and thus, it is for your benefit as well as for the employee’s to let them shine. 

Thus, as a manager, you must give opportunities to your employees and give them tasks outside of their job description, to uncover their hidden talents.

8. Pursue customer testimonials and reviews

When an employee or a team is made aware of how they have made the customers happy, it lets them know that their work is valued. This boosts their engagement and motivates them to continue working hard. 

Therefore, what you can do is, seek out stories from customer reviews that show how any of the staff members have impressed them. Then, share these stories with your entire team. This is likely to have a positive impact on not just the staff member mentioned in the review but will also motivate other employees to follow in their footsteps.

What not to do

We have just shared with you all the things you can do to increase the engagement of your employees. However, sometimes there can be things that you are currently doing that can be a cause of disengagement in employees. Thus, here is a list of things that you should avoid doing if you do not want your staff members to lose their productivity: 

  • Making assumptions about their performance

Many managers commit the mistake of making assumptions about the performance of their employees based on their engagement level. Thus, even if your employees are not completely engaged in their work, you should not overreact or be dramatic about it because they might still perform highly. You might expect them to underperform but there have been many cases where the engagement level did not have a negative impact on the performance of the employees.

  • Forcing employees to be someone they are not

Every person has unique skills, talents, and temperaments. You cannot force them to develop skills in one day and you must not force them to act like someone else. It is good to push people out of their comfort zones but you should be careful not to cross the line between pushing and forcing your employees to do something.

  • Getting emotional

You must not associate emotions with the work as it can have a negative effect on your co-workers. Disengaged employees will cooperate more if you adhere to a formal style of communication and do not try to incite their emotions.


At the end of the day, you must remember that disengaged employees do not mean that they are not assets to your company anymore. Their engagement levels can be increased if you try the tips mentioned in this guide. Even if nothing changes, you must learn to work with them because they still might provide great results for your business. However, as a manager, you must try your best to keep your employees excited and passionate about the work of your company.

manage staff

Written by Sakcham Tiwari

Hi! I am a content writer and editor with a master's degree in Digital Publishing from Oxford Brookes University. I have worked for a myriad of websites, blogs, and digital magazines. When I am not writing/editing articles and content for clients, I am either immersed in books, or scribbling poems, watching Netflix, or just scrolling through Twitter.

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