The 7 Signs of Disengaged Employees and What You Can Do To Win Them Back

  • By Jordan B
  • December 2022

Engaged employees are workers who are passionate and look forward to coming into work each day.

Their work gives them a sense of purpose, and that shows up in their performance.

Disengaged employees, on the other hand, are workers who lack passion for their work.

A disengaged employee is emotionally and psychologically “checked out” and dreads going to work each day.

Disengaged workers do only the bare minimum.

Employee disengagement can become toxic to your organization if left unchecked.

A disengaged employee with his head on his desk.

Read on to learn more about the prevalence of employee disengagement, warning signs to look out for, and what you as a manager can do to re-energize your team.

How Common is Employee Disengagement?

Research from Gallup shows disengaged employees to be a major factor in the success of your business.

  • Disengaged employees are less productive than engaged employees.
  • Disengaged workers are less profitable than engaged workers.
  • Disengaged employees are absent from work considerably more often than engaged employees.
  • Employee turnover is much higher for disengaged workers than engaged workers.

And possibly the most alarming statistics of all:

  • Only 30% of American employees are engaged at work!
  • Only 15% of workers worldwide are engaged at work!
A woman with a bored expression in front of a laptop.

Given how common disengaged employees are, and how harmful they can be to your organization, it is important to be able to recognize signs of employee disengagement.

The 7 Signs of Disengaged Employees

There are many undesirable behaviours that reflect employee disengagement. Below are the most common and easy to recognize signs to help you identify disengaged employees:

  • 1. Decreased productivity
    • An employee who was once productive is now missing deadlines or declining to take on new projects. This can reflect a loss of passion for their work, and by extension, a loss of intrinsic motivation to perform.
  • 2. Increased absenteeism
    • An employee who frequently arrives late, leaves early, or avoids work altogether is likely not passionate about their work. Greater motivation to avoid work than to perform is a strong indicator of employee disengagement.
  • 3. Withdrawal from inessential social activities
    • A disengaged employee tends not to value their relationships with work colleagues. An employee who uniformly declines to attend holiday parties, staff lunches, or polite conversation during coffee breaks may be disengaged.
  • 4. Decreased communication
    • Disengaged employees are less likely to solicit feedback from colleagues and managers. They are also less likely to offer thoughtful feedback to others. This loss of interest in collaboration may reflect a loss of passion for their work.
  • 5. Complacency
    • A disengaged employee is largely uninterested in opportunities to develop their skills. They also have little to contribute in discussions of how to improve the organization. This lack of interest may indicate a lack of passion for their role.
  • 6. Exhaustion
    • An employee who always seems tired independent of their workload may be experiencing burnout. While burnout is not the same thing as employee disengagement, it can be a strong predictor of future disengagement.
  • 7. Negative attitudes
    • Disengaged employees often have pessimistic attitudes towards new ideas. When someone lacks passion for their work, their most comfortable working environment is one where things never change.
A man sleeping in front of a laptop.

Needless to say, decreasing the number of actively disengaged employees can greatly improve the health and success of your business. So what drives the high rate of employee disengagement?

Disengaged Managers Create Disengaged Employees

The greatest predictor of employee disengagement is management disengagement.

When manager engagement is high, employee engagement is high.

Unfortunately, only 35% of American managers are highly engaged; a similar rate to workers.

If you are an engaged manager, there are many things you can do to improve employee engagement.

If you are an executive dealing with disengaged managers, the following advice also applies to you.

Improve Employee Engagement By Improving Behavioural Fit

The most common source of disengaged employees we see at TRAITS: Poor behavioural fit.

Behavioural fit is how closely an employee’s natural behaviours match the expected behaviours in their role.

Poor fit is not the same thing as an employee missing skills, education, or experience.

Poor behavioural fit occurs when there is a conflict between an employee’s natural behavior outside of work and how they feel they are forced to behave at work.

A statue depicting young people sitting on a bench looking at their phones. Two are sitting together and one is sitting alone.

Highly introverted workers will have poor fit in roles that involve constant face-to-face communication with clients.

Perfectionistic and planful employees will have poor fit in roles that encourage “quick and dirty” solutions to problems.

When natural behaviours are consistent with job expectations, employees will be naturally more engaged, more productive, and will look for ways to do their job better.

Employee engagement is, therefore, improved by reducing responsibilities with poor fit, and increasing responsibilities consistent with their natural behaviours.

Psychometric tools like TRAITS For Hiring can help you develop a better understanding of your team’s natural behaviours and their role requirements. These insights allow you to improve fit and reduce actively disengaged employees.

Using Personality Traits to Improve Behavioural Fit of Disengaged Employees: Examples

Example #1 – Highly Assertive Employees

Highly assertive employees prefer roles where they have the freedom to express their ideas.

They enjoy challenging, competitive work environments that reward merit and performance.

Photograph of men racing on a track.

Highly assertive workers find power and authority motivating. They enjoy opportunities to take risks and make decisions with minimal oversight.

Highly assertive workers risk becoming disengaged in roles with an expectation to be less independent and more accommodating of others.

Engagement among highly assertive workers can, therefore, improve by giving them more opportunities to express their opinions, make decisions, and receive recognition for their performance.

Example #2 – Highly Sociable Employees

Highly sociable employees prefer roles with regular opportunities to communicate with and influence others.

They enjoy making new connections and contributing to team efforts.

Highly sociable people, therefore, risk becoming disengaged in roles with a strong focus on individual, task-oriented responsibilities.

Engagement among highly sociable workers can, therefore, improve by giving them more opportunities to interact with colleagues and clients.

Sometimes it’s just that easy!

Example #3 – Less Patient Employees

Less patient workers prefer to handle a large number of responsibilities at once.

Fast-paced environments and deadlines motivate them.

A blurry photograph of cyclists quickly passing by.

Less patient employees enjoy planning their own activities, setting their priorities, and initiating change.

Less patient workers risk becoming disengaged in roles with less variety and more slow, methodical projects.

Engagement among less patient employees can, therefore, improve by giving them more activity and variety to maintain their energy and interest.

Disengaged Workers Want More Opportunities To Be Themselves!

To summarize, disengaged workers often feel frustrated because their job responsibilities require they be someone they’re not.

Engagement, therefore, improves when workers get to perform their natural behaviours.

This may seem like common sense reasoning, but it’s easy to overlook!

The tricky part is figuring out what your employees’ natural behaviours actually are.

We often have to stretch our personalities at work; it can be difficult to recognize when someone is their true self or acting the way that is expected of them.

Using psychometric tools like Traits For Hiring can take the guesswork out of improving worker engagement.

TRAITS helps you reliably quantify your employees’ personality traits and their roles, allowing you to readily identify gaps that cause frustration and lead to worker disengagement.


  • Forbes: 12 Signs Your Employee Is Disengaged (And How To Respond)
  • PerkBox: 9 signs that your employees are disengaged (& how to re-energise them)
  • OfficeVibe: 9 Signs of disengaged employees (and how to re-engage them)
  • Gallup: State of The American Manager
  • Wikipedia: Occupational Burnout

Looking for more insights into employee behaviour that can help you minimize turnover, retain top performers, and meet your organizational goals? Subscribe to the TRAITS Newsletter!

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