How To Spot Disengagement at Work and What To Do About It

How To Spot Disengagement at Work and What To Do To Fix It Quickly and Effectively


It may be irrelevant to anyone on a personal level that one of their colleagues may be disengaged at work. However, the situation, if not contained will most certainly trickle down the cracks of an organization. Quickly and with certainly, it will impede productivity and performance and what good is a Manager, if he cannot lead his team, set clear goals, communicate expectations, figure and fix issues and most importantly get his team to do as asked and when asked?

Having said that, sometimes, as a Manager, disengagement is inevitable. It literally isn’t possible or feasible, when pressed for time, results and figures to conduct frequent meetings to go over revised policies or justify every move in the boardroom.

Two things worth remembering are:

  1. A rotten apple spoils the barrel and
  2. It costs much more time and money to replace a seasoned and skilled employee.

Let’s try and simplify the situation a bit for better understanding:

Meet Trevor


He’s been an employee at Corporate and Sons since the last three years now and when he first joined the company he was promised avenues of growth, annual incentives and a great collaborative team. Having had served the Corporate & Sons loyally over the last 1095 days, he has come to the realization that the incentives never happened always owing to snail-sales figures. He has been serving in the same capacity with no indication of a potential promotion or a salary raise.

Trevor feels that he is overworked and underpaid despite having outperformed his previous records on several occasions. Over all, Trevor is an accomplished Sales Executive, but every time he brings it up with Dickly (his direct Manager) ‘the timing is just never right’.

In order to avoid a potential sticky at work Dickly explains to Trevor the mounting pressures to generate revenues and promises to address the issue as soon as he can.

Dickly doesn’t bring it up again and instead decides to wait it out, because its convenient.

Over the next 14 weeks Trevor’s attitude has undergone a complete transformation. And a once ‘star-employee’ is starting to show the following personal and professional attributes:

Trevor shows up late to work these days. He has trouble getting up in the mornings and thus arriving to work on time. He takes longer lunch breaks. He bails on internal meetings because he claims that he has ‘very important meetings with clients’. The sales figures don’t justify his investment of time outside.

Trevor’s also been gradually free falling into an “I couldn’t care a damn space” and at this point he’s given up on even making a pretense of caring about his work.

He shows up and does what is expected out of him but doesn’t expend energy to make sure his work is high quality, as he used to. It’s all about just getting it done. He no longer cares about the minute details of his work. He just doesn’t have the energy or desire to do so. To him, it’s more about just checking off the boxes and moving on to the next task. He also takes longer to finish his work; he uses this as an opportunity to procrastinate before taking up the next task.

He is curt in responses to his colleagues and is often preoccupied with his computer or mobile screen. He’s been wearing his emotions on his sleeve. Its getting harder and harder for him to hide his moods and he prefers to just go with his feelings. He doesn’t care if others notice, in fact he makes a display of his disappointment to garner support for his cause.

Apart from the occasional bouts of complaining and rants about how much Corporate & Sons sucks, he avoids all kinds of interaction with his colleagues. At Lunch Trevor feels invisible. Despite there being no validity to this feeling.

As for Dickly, Trevor responds to requests in monosyllables and goes so far as to avoid complete eye contact. Trevor has a generic sense of nonchalance toward his 9to5 and is a classic example of the Disengaged Employee.

What should Dickly do?

Chances are if you were to get the IT to check what Trevor was busiest doing, with on his screen, it would be job hunting.

Its time that Dickly realizes that a disengaged employee can and will disrupt performance on a very deep level in an organization. The age old adage of ‘a rotten apple spoils the barrel still holds true. The sooner he tackles the problem head on, the better it will serve him eventually reflecting well on his managerial skills and most importantly saving unnecessary costs involved in replacing an employee.


Work, at the end of the day is learning how to deal with people appropriately. We may be aping machines but we cannot completely ignore the intricate matrix of human emotions at play in all situations involving human interactions.

If your Company, has a history of high disengagement rate in the past, its time that you take stock of the expectations that your employees have of you, you know – the promises you made to them while selling them on your company at the interview. The thing is, at the end of the day, it’s the workforce that makes profits for you during the office hours and represents you beyond. If for whatever reason, they aren’t delivering and you have a history of disengagement, your ability to churn profits will deplete over time.

Alternatively, at this point you may need to let go of the ‘bad apples’ and incur the cost of first finding and then hiring someone to fill their processors shoes, invest time in training them while simultaneously losing business in order for them to become knowledgeable enough to turn the green around.

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