Human Capital Management Blog

Strategies for HCM Professionals

Disengagement Warning Signs and a Preventative Approach

Employee engagement plays a paramount role in the success of an organization. But what isn’t talked about as much – and should be – is employee disengagement.

As Melissa Campeau pointed out in the September issue of HR Professional Magazine, research has found that, although most company leaders agree that having employees who are engaged is important, only 30 percent of workers are. In fact, the majority are either disengaged or actively disengaged.

I recommend a multifaceted approach to tackling disengagement among your people. For example, instead of simply considering strategies for improving engagement (offering flexible benefits, facilitating collaboration, and providing recognition and rewards), it is beneficial to look at ways to spot – and prevent – disengagement.  After all, the only way to truly fix a problem is to first identify the cause of it. This inverted approach may offer you a new and perhaps much-needed perspective on the problem. 

The warning signs – and what to do about them
There are a number of signs indicating employee disengagement. For example, a change in attitude and effort – or when an employee begins acting differently. No one is happy and can give 100 percent all of the time, but if an individual is making disparaging remarks or showing signs of frustration on a regular basis, it is worth addressing.

Sometimes, though, an employee goes about their day without showing any signs of disengagement even as their engagement is slipping. While they’re not actively talking about what is bothering them, you’ve noticed a fluctuation in their performance. Or worse yet, you haven’t noticed any change while their disengagement levels continue to mount. If workers who are known for going above and beyond, for example, suddenly start to slack off, it usually is a sign that they are starting to disengage and you better take action if you hope to change their perception.

No one accepts a new job – or hires an employee – assuming it will lead to disengagement. People truly do have the best intentions when joining an organization or offering someone an opportunity. But somewhere along the way things change. Not overnight, but gradually and sometimes it’s difficult for the employee – let alone their manager – to notice when it’s happening. But spotting it in its early stages is the key to preventing it from leading to the loss of an individual, which is why we need to be proactive. It is far more costly for us to find someone to replace a current employee than it is to retain the individual.

Tips for preventing disengagement
As I explained in HR Professional, distributing an annual survey to assess employee engagement levels within your organization isn’t always the best approach. These surveys are similar to performance reviews in that, typically, they are only conducted once in a while and don’t offer a true account of employees’ honest feelings on a day-to-day basis.

Instead, managers should be checking in with team members on a regular basis. Carving out time to sit down one on one with employees is critical because it gives them an opportunity to be heard. In these meetings, ask them about the challenges they are facing, how they feel about their responsibilities, and how their current role is fitting into their career plan. What do they need to feel happier and more engaged in their jobs?

It is also important for you to ask them what you could be doing better as their manager or employer. At the end of the day, most of the reasons for disengagement can be attributed to ineffective leadership. Consider what factors play a role in highly engaged employees – frequent recognition, strong work relationships, flexibility, meaningful work, etc. Managers affect all of these components.

Don’t just look at individual employees, either. Take a look at the team as a whole. Disengagement can be contagious. If you notice a turnover trend emerging, there’s probably a deeper issue at play. Even if employees do end up leaving your organization, try and make the process as smooth and positive as possible. Allowing them to exit on their own terms and offering a severance package is a good idea, especially considering they can influence your company’s reputation even after they leave.

Preventing employee disengagement is about being proactive, knowing what signs to look for, and addressing them as early and often as possible. Read more about Ceridian’s engagement journey from our CEO, David Ossip, in CEO Magazine. We listened to our people, we put a lot of hard work in to make changes and as David put it, “The results of Ceridian’s engagement journey show the efforts are worth it.”

This blog post originally appeared on the Ceridian Canada blog.

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