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Slackers, Clock-Watchers, and Chronic Complainers: How to Spot Disengaged Employees


Blog contributed by Pamela Jett communications skills and leadership expert

It is no secret that employee disengagement, both active and passive, takes a toll on productivity and the bottom line. Often, it’s all too easy, as a leader, to wait until an employee is actively disengaged and exhibiting obvious signs before addressing the issue.

High caliber leaders are aware of the “not so obvious” signs that an employee is becoming or is disengaged. And, high caliber leaders address the issues promptly rather than waiting until they have blossomed into full blown active disengagement. Here are some significant things to be watching for. They are the subtle signs of disengagement.

Not attending “optional” functions or gatherings

Obviously, not everyone will attend every gathering. However, if you have an employee who exhibits a pattern of not participating in group activities, team builders, potlucks, or other “optional” activities, it might be a sign of a more serious issue.

Not taking initiative for self-growth or development

When an employee rarely, or even never, asks to attend a workshop, participate in a webinar, check out a resource from the lending library or is even “sick” on training days, you might have someone who is disengaged. Never asking to take on a challenging project or work on something new can also be a sign that they are checked out. While they might participate when “mandatory,” never displaying any initiative towards growth can be troubling.

Failing to ask questions

An engaged employee is curious. An engaged employee will want to fully understand an issue or idea. A disengaged employee will assume “if you wanted them to know, you would have said something.” This passive attitude and resulting lack of curiosity and questions, particularly when new ideas are being launched or discussed, can be an early warning sign of disengagement.

Have a “flat attitude”

Flat attitude is neither positive or negative. While the actively disengaged can be overtly negative, “flat attitude” is not displaying any enthusiasm or energy for anything… ever. Again, an early warning sign.

High caliber leaders watch for these signs and intervene early. Early intervention done in a non-threatening way can actually boost engagement, uncover hidden barriers to success, and reveal coaching opportunities. Sometimes, having a leader take an interest or make an attempt to find out more about the above behaviors can be enough to stop the downward slide to active disengagement and might even be a boost towards engagement.

Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.


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