7 Common Causes of Employee Disengagement Managers Should Beware Of

  • By Jordan B
  • January 2023

Disengaged employees are employees who — independent of their skills, education, or experience — lack motivation and attachment to their work.

Despite having the capability to be a top performer, their lack of passion leads to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and a variety of other negative consequences discussed in a recent blog on symptoms of employee disengagement and what managers can do to fix it.

Research from Gallup shows that as many as 85% of employees worldwide are disengaged at work or show signs of disengagement.

This research also finds that the majority of worker disengagement can be explained by disengaged management.

While the above statement might come off as discouraging, it is also reassuring: If you are having issues with disengaged employees, there are many things you, as a manager, can do!

Managers can’t prevent all sources of disengagement — such as personal or family issues — but there are many avenues you can explore to improve engagement.

A disinterested man looking at a laptop screen.

So what disengages employees? What are the causes of employee disengagement that management can look out for?

The following list contains 7 common causes of employee disengagement that you have the power to solve or prevent.

A disengaged employee may have any number of these issues in different measures. An understanding of your team’s work traits can help you predict which potential sources of disengagement would be the most influential.

7 Common Causes of Employee Disengagement

1. Lack of Clear Direction and Goals:

When employees don’t understand how their work fits into the larger mission of the company or how it contributes to their personal and professional growth, they may become disengaged.

A lack of clear direction is more likely to discourage highly detail-oriented employees than those more attuned to strategic and leadership roles.

Detail-oriented workers pride themselves on the thoroughness and accuracy of their work.

If well-defined guidelines and benchmarks don’t exist in their role, detail-oriented employees can become indecisive and anxious.

Their fear of failure can cause them to stagnate, preferring to produce less work than to produce anything they feel is short of perfect.

Ensuring detail-oriented employees have clear goals and targets can help you avoid this conflict between ambiguous circumstances and the employees’ perfectionistic tendencies.

The corner of a brick building with two diverging directional arrow signs.

2. Boredom or Monotony:

When employees feel like they’re doing the same tasks over and over again, they may lose interest and motivation in their work.

While highly task-oriented employees might enjoy the repetition that comes with these sorts of roles, those who are more relationship-oriented may flounder.

Relationship-oriented workers prefer roles that involve regular interpersonal communication and interaction.

When a relationship-oriented person is placed in a task-oriented role, they may show signs of becoming bored and disinterested, which in turn, predicts disengagement.

Ensuring relationship-oriented employees have plenty of communication-focussed responsibilities can help mitigate this risk of boredom and disengagement.

3. Lack of Autonomy:

When employees feel like they have no control over their work or that their ideas and opinions are not valued, they may become disengaged.

Highly accommodating employees, who prefer the sense of security that comes with not making their own decisions at work will mostly feel unconcerned with a lack of autonomy.

More assertive employees, however, thrive in roles which give them opportunities to take risks, make decisions, and delegate responsibilities to others.

Assertive workers enjoy this sense of responsibility, and are comfortable being held accountable for these decisions.

If not given this sense of autonomy, assertive employees may begin to feel they are not being fully utilized, and may disengage or consider other opportunities.

A man with outstretched arms standing on a barricade facing the ocean.

4. Lack of Recognition and Feedback:

When employees don’t feel acknowledged or appreciated for their contributions, they may lose motivation and become disengaged.

Accommodating and relationship-oriented employees find praise and recognition highly motivating.

Their desire for reward often comes secondary to the sense of accomplishment that comes with supporting the team.

Ensuring that these employees receive recognition for their performance is an easy way to keep them motivated and engaged.

5. Feeling Undervalued:

When employees feel that they are not being paid or promoted fairly, they may lose motivation and become disengaged.

While most everybody will experience some degree of disengagement if they are living paycheck to paycheck and barely making ends meet, more assertive employees strongly value compensation and opportunities to advance.

Highly assertive people enjoy compensation based on performance. For this reason they are often drawn to commissioned sales roles.

When assertive people feel their efforts are not fairly rewarded, they begin to lose the motivation to go above and beyond, and may seek out opportunities elsewhere.

A person's hand putting a coin into a piggy bank.

6. Toxic Work Environment:

When employees are subject to a toxic or hostile work environment, they may become disengaged.

Workplace toxicity can come in many different forms — from colleagues, management, or organizational culture in general.

If you’re concerned about possible toxicity in your team, check out our guide to toxic employees in the workplace. Once you’ve identified a toxic employee, use our handy script to put them on notice.

7. Burnout/Lack of Work-Life Balance:

When employees are overworked and stressed, they may become disengaged.

This threat to engagement is particularly common for highly patient, behaviorally consistent workers.

Employees who approach work with a sense of urgency often enjoy being very busy, especially if their increased productivity translates into greater compensation.

Employees who approach work methodically, who take their time and strive to ensure accuracy and thoroughness, are less likely to appreciate a faster pace of activities.

Highly patient workers may lose motivation when they have too many responsibilities or deadlines if they no longer have enough time to invest sufficient care into their work. They no longer get the sense of satisfaction that comes from the high quality work they are used to producing.

Many matches standing upright. Several are burnt out.

This is not an exhaustive list of all causes of employee disengagement. Rather, the focus is on common predictors of disengagement that managers have the power to remedy or prevent.

The common thread between the listed causes of employee disengagement is that what leads to an employee feeling disengaged varies as a function of their personality.

What predicts disengagement in a highly assertive and sociable employee is different from what predicts disengagement in a more careful, methodical worker.

Engaged managers who get to know their people and understand their personalities can recognize which circumstances lead them to thrive, and which circumstances cause them to languish.

We hope you’ve found this discussion of the causes of employee disengagement helpful. As a manager, if you keep these warning signs in mind, you are sure to keep your employees happy, motivated, and engaged.

Interested in learning more about your team’s behavioural traits so you can better predict potential sources of disengagement? Contact the team at TRAITS today! Our world-class talent assessment offers tremendous insight into your people’s motivations and behaviour, helping you prevent disengagement before it starts.


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