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Employee disengagement: an increasing issue for HR to tackle


June 27, 2023


June 28, 2023

In 2022, employee disengagement reached its highest level since 2013, according to a Gallup study. In other words, workers are losing engagement and enthusiasm to do their job. 

To stop this phenomenon, famously called “quiet quitting”, organizations need to understand what has caused disengagement in the workplace in the first place.

Employee centricity plays a key role in reversing this situation. But what does it mean in practice? How do you support team members that feel disengaged at work?

A lack of purpose often leads to workers losing engagement. Poor management also triggers this behavior. Career stagnation makes people less enthusiastic about their job too. These are just a few examples of the reasons why disengagement emerges

Let’s dig deeper into this crucial topic to understand why it occurs, the risks for you as a business, and how to avoid this from happening in your workplace

What causes employee disengagement?

Between 2013 and 2021, employee engagement kept increasing. But then, 2022 registered the highest level of disengagement since 2013. This led to the “quiet quitting” phenomenon. 

So, what happened? What has triggered employee disengagement? Various factors have triggered this lack of enthusiasm in the workplace. But the recent Gallup study about U.S. employee engagement reveals the main reasons why it occurs.

The flexible work earthquake

Although flexible work arrangements fetch more pros than cons, companies and employees must rethink their way of working. This shift doesn’t happen overnight. HR professionals must establish a set of remote work best practices and train leaders in hybrid team management. Indeed, letting managers and team members figure out how to operate in this working model is the perfect way to enhance employee disengagement. 

Unclear expectations

Employees get tired of not explicitly knowing the company’s next steps and goals and of not being involved. They are also upset by managers not sharing their points of view about team expectations

In the long run, this lack of transparent communication and clear guidelines significantly impacts your staff’s motivation and enthusiasm to do their job. Not only does it create misunderstanding and frustration, but it also affects performance and employee morale.

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woman working on laptop
Employee working on a flexible schedule

A disconnection between employees and the workplace

Workplace connection is a core aspect of a positive corporate culture and engagement. It creates a bond between workers and their job, their colleagues, and their organization. If one of these three bonding threads breaks, the door to employee disengagement opens. 

People then start wondering, “Why am I doing this job?”, “Am I at the right place with the right people?”, “Are the company’s values aligned with my personal values?”

Career stagnation

Many of our articles have mentioned the importance of career development and growth. Without a professional evolution opportunity, people have nothing to look forward to and no reason to stay motivated. 

More than ever, employees are willing to strengthen their skill sets and learn new abilities. Not answering this expectation is a direct ticket for a workplace composed of disengaged workers.

Workplace stress and anxiety

Unrealistic deadlines, unhealthy workloads, poor leadership practices… So many aspects can trigger stress and anxiety in the workplace. According to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report, stress at work has been increasing for over a decade.

The more employees feel stressed at work, the higher the chances are they become disengaged and quit quietly. The main reason is that stress and anxiety directly impact their mental health and personal lives. 

Absence of recognition and consideration

When people start a new job, they are usually full of eagerness and motivation. One of the main goals of managers and HR departments is to keep this enthusiasm up. 

However, acknowledging and considering team members is a crucial rule leaders sometimes forget to put into practice. Many employees complain about not feeling cared about and valued. 

Slowly but surely, this lack of recognition drives workers down the path of disengagement.

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What are the risks and the impact of disengaged employees?

The percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. was 36% in 2020, 34% in 2021, and 32% in 2022. From a global perspective, these data are stable but low since the pandemic. At an international scale, employee engagement is at 21%. In Europe, this figure is not higher than 14%! 

So, what happens if these numbers keep being low or dropping? What are the short-term and long-term consequences on your business?

employee engagement by region
Source: Gallup State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report

Disengaged employees’ behaviors have a snowball effect

Whether your staff is right or wrong about feeling less engaged, there is a risk that it can have a snowball effect on your team. Allowing it to spread can lead to a negative work environment, lowering team morale and performance. It's essential to address the issue promptly.

Yet, it also means that it is harder to overcome. When only one team member is disengaged, discussing the issue and finding solutions to boost their motivation is easier. When it affects the entire team, this gets more challenging.

Productivity and performance drop

Even if workers don’t let themselves be impacted by the lack of engagement of other team members, it still has a domino effect that affects their work.

They might no longer be able to perform their job in the best conditions. For example, they might be blocked in their tasks because they haven’t received their colleague’s report on time. 

Therefore, a disengaged workforce impacts everyone in the workplace and can have significant consequences for your business. 

Employees’ experience and morale go down

As soon as you notice a decrease in employee engagement, tackling the problem is as crucial for your business as it is for your team members. 

Employee disengagement is a warning sign that something isn’t right. Ignoring this sign can lead to mental health issues among your staff and, ultimately, workplace burnout.

​​🤯 To prevent work depression from emerging in your team, have a look now at the symptoms of workplace burnout

Absenteeism and sick notes increase

If you don’t provide your employees with what they need to succeed and thrive in their professional lives, how can they be willing to go the extra mile? Not only would they do the strict minimum, but they would also take every opportunity to skip work. 

Listening to them and discussing the issue is key to preventing the situation from escalating and, eventually, experiencing employee burnout. Even without reaching this point, feeling unwell and unsatisfied at work can result in other health issues forcing employees to take sick notes or ask for PTO (Paid-Time Off).

The company’s reputation weakens 

If the problem persists and spreads among your workforce, your company’s reputation can be significantly affected. Not only does it develop a talent attraction issue, but it also creates a bad image for your organization. 

While people tend to pay more attention to ethics and social matters, they might stop supporting your product or services. Moreover, disengaged employees are less likely to promote your business, impacting your image. 

How do you re-engage team members and avoid disengagement in the workplace?

Adjust to the new ways of working

Covid-19 is mostly behind us, but its impact on the workplace is still present and requires companies to keep improving their operational policies. The biggest mistake organizations can make is assuming that people will accept going back to pre-pandemic working models. 

Employees are unlikely to revert to the traditional ways of working, particularly regarding physically going to the office every day and performing tasks that do not allow them to excel. Understanding this point and adjusting your strategy is key to avoiding seeing employee disengagement in your workplace.

Stay updated about the new trends of the future of work

Does your office answer the needs of your team members? Is your management style aligned with the modern ways of working? Do you create strategies to foster collaboration among your workforce?

Remember, if you have a multigenerational workforce, the needs of Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace vary from the ones of older generations. Moreover, the reports of employee disengagement are higher among these two demographic groups. Knowing their expectations plays an important role in enhancing engagement among these generations. 

Listen and discuss with your employees

Don’t assume you know how to make your staff happy. Ask them. Communication is fundamental in any work environment. It undoubtedly implies a mutual feedback strategy and constructive talks. 

Exchanging with your employees about the strengths and weaknesses of the company is essential to understand their needs and spot any rising issues. Team meetings, anonymous feedback surveys, one-to-one appointments… Choose the format that matches your workers the most. 

Make trust, recognition, and transparency, the three core pillars of your management strategy 

Valuing your employees and their skills is crucial too. It implies preventing micromanagement and empowering your staff. This requires sharing your expectations clearly and building trust between you and your team. 

Making trust, recognition, and transparency, the core pillars of your leadership style is key to avoid creating a toxic work environment and building a positive and thriving one. 

➡️ Are you wondering if the culture of your work environment is toxic? Go through our toxic workplace checklist to know and take action if needed!

Woman working at desktop in office
Hybrid employee who is engaged in the office

Focus on employee satisfaction and well-being

Although it might not always be obvious as Artificial Intelligence and other modern technology enter the workplace, the future world of work is more human and employee-centric than ever.

Employee satisfaction, well-being, and happiness are all topics that are interconnected and reduce the risks of workers feeling disengaged at work. Focusing on these aspects is crucial to prevent disengagement and quiet quitting. 

Organize team-building activities regularly

Workplace connection significantly helps make team members feel good at work. Yet, working from home sometimes makes it difficult for teams to interact, create genuine relationships and share moments.

To boost this aspect, we recommend you suggest team-bonding ideas. They can either take place virtually or in person. The objective is to boost teams’ morale and build a sense of belonging and community. 

Establish a tailored-made hybrid work model

Engagement among hybrid and fully remote employees also dropped in 2022. Last year, team members who worked only on-site had a decrease in engagement by five points.

Knowing these numbers is important as it reveals that developing flexibility at work is essential. People don’t want to work only in the office or at home. The best combo that can flip disengagement is a mix of the two. 

A tailored-made hybrid work model is the answer to this problem. It entitles team members to benefit from the perks of both working styles and improve their work-life balance.

You now have a clear overview of what is currently happening in the workplace regarding employee disengagement. Numerous factors have led to people feeling disengaged at work. Yet, the common point of all of them is a lack of employee centricity

If businesses resist adopting new ways of working, their employees will likely become less enthusiastic and motivated about their work. To avoid reaching this stage, your goal is to focus more on your workers’ needs and the trends of the future of work.

The good news is, deskbird publishes several articles every week covering these topics! So, subscribe to our newsletter, and, most importantly, if you’re looking for an employee-centric tool to manage your hybrid workplace, request a free demo of the deskbird app!

Employee disengagement: an increasing issue for HR to tackle

Paulyne Sombret

Paulyne is a highly respected expert in hybrid work. She's known for her writing on sustainability in the hybrid office, flexible work models, and employee experience. With a strong background in content and SEO, her work explores the exciting trends and latest news in the world of work.

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