Four Classic Signs of Disengaged Employees

It’s the end of 2017, and it seems like everyone around is talking about the benefits of employee engagement. Organizations are spending millions of dollars on employee engagement programs, yet their scores are abysmally low. How is that possible? For starters, most organizations miss the tell-tale signs of disengaged employees. The most important thing is to shift your attention towards the classic traits of disengaged employees that you may have missed before. This can help go beyond the signs of disengaged employees, and help you redesign a workplace with employee engagement in focus.


Making Excuses

I’ve had an employee who would walk into my office, with a glazed expression, I couldn’t help but lend a sympathetic ear. So, when she explained “I’ve been so overwhelmed with my family not treating me properly lately – I just didn’t have time,” I couldn’t help but show compassion and respond with, “Oh, that’s alright.”

The same thing happened when she didn’t know how to get a client to return her call, or just had too many doctors’ appointments to make into the office on time the next morning. I’d fall for it and respond with, “That’s OK,” even though I knew such excuses at work were far from acceptable.

Compassion is a natural sympathetic response, but what we’re really conveying is that it’s completely acceptable to make excuses for irresponsible behavior.

When an employee comes to you with an excuse, don’t just defer and hope it doesn’t happen again. Dig in, ask tough questions, and show your employees that you’re serious about their work and productivity. Over time, your employees will realize that there’s no room for invalid excuses.


Some employees act like they know it all and are too good for everything you have to say. As time goes by, such employees act more like a distraction from keeping a more productive discussion. As Nancy Collamer, a career coach and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement

“They tend to monopolize conversations, dismiss input from others and make decisions without first considering all the facts,” she says to Forbes. “A ‘my way or the highway’ attitude often leads to unhappy coworkers, disgruntled clients, and an unhappy work environment.”

The know-it-all are relatively poor listeners, often mulling over what they’re going to say next rather than paying attention to what you have to say. This mindset makes it hard for such people to understand that their idea or solution might not be what you need. Such close-minded attitude can serve as an impediment to the creative process by blocking any idea of their own as well as others’.

When dealing with a know-it-all employee, it’s best to ask probing questions. This would teach them that they need to have their facts in order before interrupting anyone in the office.


According to a special CareerBuilder survey, approximately 55% of employers said workers’ texting/cell phones is a constant source of distraction. Almost half of employers – 48% said smartphone distractions compromised the quality of work.

Oddly enough, it isn’t the cell phones and social media that cause distractions at work. An employee’s personal issue may follow them to work in the morning. Then there are other factors too, including hard to ignore distractions at work such as loud colleagues, strong cooking smells, etc. which often make it hard to regain focus.


Irresponsible employees shirk their responsibilities saying “It’s not my job!” and rely on others to pick up the slack. The real problem is when an irresponsible employee appears to be doing a satisfactory job while at the same time destroying other people’s morale, productivity, and attitude.

An irresponsible employee may arrive late frequently to work or return from breaks. Or, they’ll routinely miss deadlines. In most cases, they’ll always have an excuse for their actions.

What the issue is at work, regardless of who is in charge, such employees like to throw others under the bus. A customer never called. A vendor keeps complaining. A co-worker isn’t doing his bit. No matter what, it’s always someone else’s fault.

One single irresponsible employee can create a culture of irresponsibility throughout the company. It’s best to sit them down and discuss their work, motivation, and problems adding to the lack of engagement at work.

Your workplace may take a different approach when it comes to dealing with disengaged employees at work. The important thing is to focus on progressive practices around your employees to foster a feeling of belonging and purpose.

Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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