How do I identify poor engagement?

Dear Ken Keller,

Your column last week got me thinking about employee engagement and whether I have it in my company. What are some of the signs someone on the payroll is disengaged?

Maybe I am naïve or perhaps I am blind to this, I do not know. But I could use some guidance. Thanks! — Frank R.

Dear Frank:

Great question, let me share ten signs of disengagement. Some or all may be visible (or audible) in your company today.

  1. Complaining. Listen for patterns of people voicing their issues. Is a once in a while thing or is it constant? Are the complaints about the company, a supervisor, working conditions, fellow employees, lack of proper equipment? If you are addressing the occasional issue, that is one thing. If it is a steady stream of noise, and nothing you do to address it is good enough, disengagement is present.
  2. Excuses. If the blame game is nonstop, especially from the same people about the same people, it could be a sign of dysfunction or it could be a serious symptom of trying to avoid accountability. Look for the distinction.
  3. Enthusiasm is gone. Winners care, others do not. If passions are not being engaged, if people are just going through the motions, disengagement should be a concern.
  4. Not helping others. Teamwork is strong in organizations with high levels of engagement. Likewise, a group of individual contributors is not a team; each person is more concerned about themselves than the group.
  5. Lying. Disengaged employees may hide behind lies to avoid accountability.
  6. Gossip. Engaged employees disregard gossip because it gets in the way of work. The less engaged someone is, the more time they have to create and spread lies, half-truths and misinformation.
  7. No initiative. This one factor most clearly sets the engaged from the rest; the disengaged wait for instructions; the engaged finish the task then tell people it has been taken care of.
  8. Growth. The engaged want to become better. They invest in themselves by taking classes, reading books and talking to others about how to get things done. The disengaged don’t see this investment as worthwhile.
  9. Know it all. You cannot teach a disengaged employee anything because they cannot be coached. Without asking, in a conversation with a disengaged employee, it will soon surface that they know everything already. The engaged employee will seek to discover if there is a better way. Engaged employees ask questions.
  10. Attendance and punctuality. Disengaged employees will use up every moment of sick time or personal days granted to them because they would rather be anywhere than at work. Engaged employees often have to be told to take time off. Employee punctuality mirrors the attitude each type of employee has about work; guess who shows up early and works late?