29Apr, 2020

Warning signs of disengaged employees during the lockdown

For managers and business leaders, having an engaged workforce is one of the top priorities. Even more so during this COVID – 19 crisis.  Aside from the many benefits of employee engagement, there’s a very real reason why you should strive for a team who’s invested in what they do. That’s because the cost of employee disengagement has the potential to be detrimental to your business. 

Employee Engagement is challenging for companies both, big and small. Engaged employees are far more productive than their disengaged counterparts. But before we leap into how they can affect businesses, here’s how you can spot one! There are actually three classifications; engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. An ‘engaged employee’ is one who is involved with his job, enthusiastic and highly productive and contributes significantly to the organization. In reverse, a ‘disengaged employee’ is one who is unhappy with his job, doing just enough to get by and adding little value if any, to the organization. The most toxic is probably an “actively disengaged employee” who maybe actually working against the organization! Actively Disengaged employees are negative outliers in workplace cultures. The narrative they spew almost always undercuts the company, the leaders, and even other members of the team. They are the most likely to miss deadlines, to be contrarian, and full of drama. They tend to be problem-focused rather than solution-focused. They’re prone to being cynical and disparaging of the company and the intent of leaders. Leaders at all levels often struggle to understand their behaviour. 

There could be many reasons for employees to be disengaged and unsatisfied with their employment. The most common reasons being lack of effective leadership, the monotony of work, insufficient monetary benefits, or not getting along with co-workers or bosses. The extent of the direct financial costs that face businesses with a disengaged workforce is often underestimated. Many corporations find it difficult to put a number on the sum of money the business is losing through disengagement and therefore struggle to justify investments in engagement schemes. While this is a discussion for another day and time, let’s review employee engagement levels in the current lockdown scenario. 


 Disengagement warning signs to watch out for in your teams while they work from home during the Pandemic 


Frequent client complaints about the employee: Customer complaints are important because direct customer feedback is the best way to gather insights about employee performance and their dedication levels. During a  usual business day, one would expect employees, especially those who are customer facing to be on top of their game at all times. Available over calls and emails and solving queries and addressing complaints as and when they come in.  

However, the lockdown might look different. Not all employees have access to a dedicated working space and are still adjusting to the new normal. This is bound to cause delays in their TAT’s. However frequent complaints from clients with respect to a particular employee might be indicative of fluctuating engagement levels. For instance:  For telework to work effectively, remote workers need to ensure that it’s easy for coworkers to reach them, which generally means being especially responsive to calls and emails during business hours since people can’t just pop by their offices. If your remote employee is hard to reach and takes longer than other team members to get back to people, at a minimum, it’s a sign of productivity problems and you need to re-establish accessibility standards or check for disengagement. It can also be a flag to take a closer look at her work output. 

The complaints could be something like “the agent lacks promptness and a take-charge attitude” or “the representative does not reach out despite repeated attempts” and sometimes even an even a rude or unhelpful associate, who does not help navigate clients through bad experience! If you too are receiving frequent complaints like these, it’s time to stop and address it before your employee becomes actively disengaged and detrimental to business operations. 


Non- responsive virtual body language: Organizational behaviour experts tell us to pay attention to “virtual body language” when it comes to your remote workers. If leaders are missing the signals, it’s a people problem not a proximity problem. Behaviours like missing stand up meetings, slow or no reply to emails and messages, missed deadlines, or a lack of participation in team activities or chats are some obvious signs that something is up. A lack of communication must be addressed as soon as possible before any situation worsens. 

 The pandemic looks different for different individuals, but as an organization and leader, you do your best to communicate by implementing regular check-ins or calls. While it’s normal to be unavailable or slow at times, it isn’t acceptable if the behaviour is exhibited frequently. Let’s assume there are team engagement activities over the weekend and the entire office participates, baring a few employees. The leaders must look into it, analyze and understand if it’s a behavioural trait or the employee is actively disengaged and take immediate action to rectify the situation. Have an open and honest conversation and create an atmosphere of trust. 

Previously Disengaged: Spotting disengaged employees is one of the trickier tasks a manager deals with. But when you add in remote employees, it becomes even trickier. If body language, enthusiasm, and attentiveness are great engagement signals for employees inside the office. The stakes just got higher during the pandemic, as employees work from home. People are working remotely and in all possibility, there are employees who were already disengaged even before COVID struck. The pandemic just did the job of adding fuel to the fire. When people work remotely, it can be easy to get detached from why the work matters and how it fits in with the larger picture. With employees who are already showing signs of disengagement, this stage occurs almost instantaneously. But the good news is, these employees are not too tough to spot. Poor quality of work is a barometer for disengagement. An employee may feel disconnected from your organization but might still perform because of a personal work ethic. Or maybe their job is too easy and they are not being challenged. Don’t be fooled into thinking that employee engagement is high simply because the person is achieving their goals for work. 

 Look for the signs, run polls and surveys regularly to spot these employees. A simple and effective employee engagement platform like Let’s Buzzz can help you spot disengagement easily. The unique mood-o-meter feature alerts team leaders and subsequent managers when employees repeatedly express a negative mood. It also gives employees an option to state reasons that are kept anonymous so that feedback can be neutral and effective. This helps leaders to track disengagement. They can reverse this situation by talking to them, expressing trust and expending liberties like trust and autonomy. 

Declining participation: 
 Pay attention to a decline in a remote employee’s participation in group activities or chats, as this may be indicative of decreasing engagement. Silence indicates a problem in the workplace – Maybe some employees are just introverted. Some people feel they perform best when they have their own space. But when the entire company or specific teams are experiencing a win and a select few show no excitement or celebration, that’s an employee engagement issue. If your employee shows lack of enthusiasm, it’s time to take a closer look at their employee engagement status. 

Check when the last time that quiet employee shared an article of interest about your company, marketplace trends, or interesting research dealing with their role? When is the last time they shared anything at all? Does he get appreciated often or does he appreciate his peers or is he just invisible? Curiosity is a good sign that an employee cares about the bigger picture and absence of activity or curiosity suggests a disengaged employee.  People who are truly motivated by purpose often derive fulfilment simply by working diligently even when they are working at home 

Overburdened employees: Overworked and overburdened employees can often get temporarily disengaged. In an office environment, it’s easy to spot when employees are becoming unengaged. For employees who see one another on a daily basis, it’s obvious when a team member is checked out and unmotivated. However, because you can’t observe them in person, it’s typically much harder to spot when remote employees become unengaged. That being said, there are employees who work diligently despite remote arrangements and manage to be productive. However, it must be pointed out that sometimes they face ridiculous timelines and deadlines that take a toll on their mental bandwidth to deliver work efficiently. This usually happens when employees’ face too much communication like – multiple catches up calls over the day, strict management scrutiny leaving little space for independence and autonomy or even micromanagement. 

 As managers/ leaders you should also consider requesting feedback from remote employees so you can learn directly from the source. Send out an anonymous survey, offering remote workers the opportunity to share feedback on their experience working with the company. Once you start spotting signs that remote employees are becoming unengaged, you should take proactive steps to address it—before they disengage completely.  

Well, coming to the critical question – is it possible to revive a disengaged employee? Its difficult but not impossible, an immediate solution would be to focus on improving one on one communication. A great way to improve engagement among your remote employees is to improve internal communication. Make it a point to touch base with remote employees often, checking in and offering opportunities for them to provide updates, ask questions, and share any concerns. 

Sometimes all an employee is looking for is just some appreciation. Make sure you celebrate successes even while working from home- everybody likes to be recognized now and again. Your employees deserve it! They have been working really hard on both personal and professional fronts. Ensure that you provide easy access to helpful resources and start building a digital culture of engaging employees. Because let’s face it, we don’t know how long the lockdown will last and encouraging digital networking opportunities and relationship building is the way into the future.  

Looking for more ways to engage remote employees at your organization? Try Let’s Buzzz, click here for a Demo tour! 


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