Disengaged employees: How to understand and motivate them in 2024

13 min read
From stale to stellar: How to motivate disengaged employees in 2024
From stale to stellar: How to motivate disengaged employees in 2024

Disengaged employees can be a real buzzkill for workplace culture. It's like trying to throw a party of the year with a group of people who just want to sit in the corner and stare at their phones.

It sounds super boring, doesn’t it? Sometimes, you wouldn’t be surprised if you heard the sound of crickets.

But yeah, that happens when you have a team full of disengaged employees. They're like the party poopers of the workplace, bringing everyone down with their lack of enthusiasm and motivation.

As the famous comedian George Carlin once said, "Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit."

But if you want to create a positive workplace culture and avoid the crickets, it's time to address the impact of actively disengaged employees.

So, let's dive into how actively disengaged employees can impact workplace culture and, more importantly, what you can do about it (besides confiscating their phones).

Table of contents:-

What is a disengaged employee?

Have you ever had an employee who just seems like they don't care about their job? Maybe they're always late, miss deadlines, or don't put in the effort you expect. If so, you may have a disengaged employee on your hands.

So, what exactly is a disengaged employee? Essentially, it's someone who has lost interest in their work and isn't fully committed to their job or the company. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as feeling undervalued or unappreciated, not having clear goals or expectations, or simply feeling burned out.

The problem with disengaged employees is that they can have a negative impact on the rest of your team. Their lack of enthusiasm and productivity can spread, affecting morale and your bottom line. That's why it's important to identify and address disengagement early on before it becomes a bigger issue.

Root causes of employee disengagement

Manger shouting at an employee
Root causes of employee disengagement

Employee disengagement can be a serious problem for any organization. Not only does it impact productivity and morale, but it can also lead to increased turnover and decreased profitability. So, what are the root causes of employee disengagement?

One common cause is a lack of communication. Employees may become disengaged when they don't feel like they're being heard or valued. This can be especially true if they don't receive employee feedback on their work or don't feel they clearly understand their role and responsibilities.

Another cause of disengagement is a lack of development opportunities. When employees feel like they're stuck in a dead-end job with no room for growth or advancement, they're more likely to become disengaged. Providing opportunities for training and development can help keep engaged employees motivated.

A toxic work environment can also contribute to employee disengagement. Most employees who don't feel safe, respected, or valued may start to disengage from their work. A number of factors, such as bullying, harassment, or discrimination, can cause this.

And workplace employee burnout can be a major cause of disengagement. Employees who are overworked and stressed out may lose interest in their work and become disengaged.

Offering support and resources for stress management and work-life balance can help prevent burnout and keep employees engaged.

Signs of disengaged employees

Employee feeling tired in the workplace
Signs of disengaged employees

It's no secret that when disengaged employees are in a team, they can have a negative impact on a business, affecting productivity, morale, and even the bottom line. But how do you know if you have disengaged employees on your team? Here are some common signs to look out for:

Lack of enthusiasm and motivation

One of the most obvious signs of a disengaged workforce is a lack of employee motivation and enthusiasm.

They may seem uninterested in their work, take longer to complete tasks, or not put in the effort you expect. They may also be less likely to volunteer for new projects or opportunities for growth.

Decreased productivity

Another sign of disengagement is decreased productivity. You may notice that the employee is not meeting their targets or deadlines or that the quality of their work has decreased. They may also be less responsive to emails or requests for feedback, indicating that they are not invested in their work.

Increased absenteeism

Disengaged employees may also be more likely to call in sick or take time off for personal lives. This could be a sign that they are not happy with their job or work environment and are looking for excuses to avoid coming in.

Negative attitude

Disengaged employees may have a negative attitude towards their work or colleagues. They may complain more often or have a generally pessimistic outlook on their job. This negativity can be contagious and bring down the entire team's morale.

Lack of initiative

Actively disengaged employees may also be less likely to take initiative or suggest new ideas.

They may be content with doing the bare minimum and not looking for ways to improve or innovate. This can be a problem for businesses that rely on creativity and innovation to stay competitive.

High turnover rate

Finally, a high turnover rate can be a sign of disengaged employees. If you notice that employees are leaving your company at a higher rate than usual, it could be a sign that they are unhappy with their job or work environment.

Resistance to change

Disengaged employees often exhibit resistance to change. They may be reluctant to adapt to new processes, technologies, or strategies implemented by the company.

Instead of embracing change as an opportunity for growth, they may view it as an inconvenience or threat to their routine, further dampening their motivation and engagement.

Decreased collaboration

Another sign of disengagement is a decline in collaboration and teamwork. Disengaged employees may withdraw from group activities, contribute minimally in team discussions, or avoid participating in collaborative projects.

So, what can you do if you notice these signs in your employees? The first step is to converse with them and identify the root cause of their disengagement. This could be a lack of communication, a toxic work environment, or a need for more development opportunities.

And make sure to identify the stage of a disengaged employee. What are the stages, you ask? Keep reading to know more!

Impact of disengaged employees in the workplace

The impact of disengaged employees cannot be overstated, as it reverberates across various facets of an organization, affecting productivity, morale, and ultimately, profitability.

This discourse delves into the multifaceted ramifications of disengaged employees within the corporate realm.

  • Escalating costs: The presence of disengaged employees contributes to burgeoning costs within an organization. Whether through increased absenteeism, higher turnover rates, or subpar work quality necessitating remedial actions, the financial ramifications of employee disengagement permeate various operational domains.
  • Deterioration of work culture: Disengaged employees exert a detrimental influence on organizational culture, fostering an atmosphere of negativity and complacency. Their pessimistic demeanor and reluctance to collaborate undermine team cohesion, impeding innovation and hindering the cultivation of a vibrant and inclusive work environment.
  • Heightened turnover rates: A prevalent consequence of employee disengagement is a surge in turnover rates. Disillusioned by a lack of fulfillment or growth prospects, disengaged employees are more prone to seek alternative employment opportunities, exacerbating recruitment costs and destabilizing team dynamics.
  • Compromised customer relations: The impact of disengaged employees extends beyond internal operations to tarnish external perceptions and customer relations. A disengaged workforce is less equipped to deliver exemplary customer service, resulting in diminished client satisfaction and potential reputational damage to the organization.
  • Innovation stagnation: Disengaged employees are disinclined to proactively contribute ideas or participate in brainstorming sessions, stymieing innovation initiatives within the organization. The absence of diverse perspectives and creative input hampers the organization's ability to adapt to evolving market dynamics and maintain a competitive edge.
  • Erosion of organizational reputation: Ultimately, the collective repercussions of employee disengagement culminate in the erosion of organizational reputation. Negative word-of-mouth, attrition of top talent, and diminished stakeholder confidence can tarnish the organization's brand image, impeding its long-term viability and market standing.

How does employee disengagement influence productivity?

Employee is less productive in the workplace
How does employee disengagement influence productivity?

Employee disengagement exerts a profound influence on productivity within organizations, permeating various operational facets and impeding overall performance.

Disengaged employees often exhibit a lack of motivation and commitment towards their assigned tasks, resulting in diminished efficiency and suboptimal output.

Their apathetic demeanor and reduced work ethic contribute to prolonged task completion times and decreased work quality, ultimately hampering workflow efficiency. Moreover, disengaged employees are more prone to errors and lapses in judgment, leading to an increase in rework and corrective actions that further disrupt productivity.

Additionally, the negative impact of disengagement extends beyond individual performance to undermine team dynamics and collaborative efforts. A disengaged workforce fosters an atmosphere of complacency and disconnection, hindering effective communication, coordination, and synergy among team members.

Consequently, organizational productivity suffers as a result of diminished employee engagement, highlighting the imperative for proactive measures aimed at fostering a culture of motivation, empowerment, and continuous improvement within the workplace.

Stages of employee disengagement

Employee disengagement can be a complex issue, and it often occurs in stages. By understanding the stages of disengagement, managers can take action to address the issue before it becomes a more significant problem. Here are the three stages of employee disengagement:

Emotional disconnection

At the first stage, employee performance becomes low, and they can also be emotionally disconnected from their work.

They may start to feel less motivated, less invested, and less committed to their job. This can lead to decreased productivity and a lack of enthusiasm for their work.

Behavioral changes

In the second stage, employees' disengagement begins to manifest itself in behavioral changes.

This can include things like increased absenteeism, decreased quality of work, and a lack of initiative or creativity. Employees may also become less communicative and less collaborative with their colleagues.


At the final stage, employees may withdraw from their work entirely. This can mean not showing up to work, not responding to emails or phone calls, or quitting their job altogether. It can be difficult to re-engage the employee at this point, and managers may need to take more drastic action to address the issue.

By understanding the three stages of employee disengagement, managers can take action to address the issue before it becomes a more significant problem.

This can involve everything from improving communication and feedback processes, creating a more positive work culture, and offering training and development opportunities.

How do you motivate an employee who is disengaged?

Employee feeling confused in the workplace
How do you motivate an employee who is disengaged?

Employee disengagement can be a challenging issue for managers to address. However, there are several strategies that managers can use to motivate employees who are feeling disconnected from their work.

Here are seven pointers on how to motivate a disengaged employee:

1. Open communication

Open communication is key to understanding the reasons behind an employee's disengagement. Managers should encourage their employees to share their concerns and frustrations openly.

Managers can create a more positive work environment by listening to and addressing their concerns.

2. Set goals and expectations

Setting clear goals and expectations can help to give employees a sense of purpose and direction. Managers should work with their employees to set challenging but achievable goals. This can help to build confidence and create a sense of accomplishment.

3. Provide recognition and rewards

Employees who feel appreciated and valued are more likely to be engaged and motivated. Managers should take the time to recognize their employees' achievements and provide rewards for their hard work.

This can be as simple as offering verbal praise or providing incentives such as bonuses or additional time off.

4. Offer development opportunities

Providing employees with opportunities for professional development and growth can be an excellent way to motivate them.

Managers should encourage their employees to take on new challenges and provide them with the resources they need to succeed. This can help to build confidence and create a sense of purpose.

5. Create a positive work culture

Creating a positive work culture is essential to motivating employees. Managers should strive to create a workplace where employees feel respected, valued, and supported. This can involve everything from creating a pleasant physical environment to promoting a healthy work-life balance.

6. Provide autonomy and empowerment

Giving employees a sense of autonomy and empowerment can significantly boost their motivation and engagement. Managers should delegate tasks and responsibilities, allowing employees to take ownership of their work and make decisions independently.

7. Encourage continuous feedback and growth

Regular feedback and opportunities for growth are vital for keeping highly engaged employees motivated. Managers should provide constructive feedback on a consistent basis, highlighting areas of improvement and offering guidance for development.

How do employee engagement activities help boost employees?

Employee engagement activities are a powerful tool for boosting employee morale, productivity, and job satisfaction.

These activities can take many forms, from team-building exercises to training and development programs. (Below, we have added a link to guide you through the top 35 activities to improve employee engagement, don’t miss out!)

They are designed to create a more positive work environment where employees feel valued and supported. By engaging employees in these activities, managers can foster a sense of community and teamwork, which can help to improve collaboration and communication.

And these activities can provide employees with opportunities for growth and development, which can boost their confidence and job satisfaction. So, they are a valuable investment in creating a more engaged employees and motivated workforce.

Top 35 employee engagement activities PPT

5 Statistics on employee disengagement

  • Only one-third of employees in the US are currently engaged at work, despite a slight rise in US worker engagement levels in 2023. (Source: Gallup)
  • Disengagement cost the world economies $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, with the blanket cost of disengaged employees in the US estimated at $450 to $500 billion annually, translating to $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary. (Source: Gallup)
  • Employees who find passion and purpose at work are more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations compared to those who don’t. (Source: New York Times)
  • Nearly 5,000 professionals surveyed by Korn Ferry identified being bored and needing a challenge as the top reason for seeking a new job. (Source: Korn Ferry)
  • Only 22% of companies have insight into what’s driving their employee disengagement. (Source: The Predictive Index)

Disengaged employees quotes that you should know in 2024

Employer having an idea
Disengaged employees quotes that you should know in 2024

Employee disengagement, a persistent state of apathy towards one's work, is a significant concern for organizations. It can affect employee engagement, productivity, morale, and ultimately, the bottom line.

Understanding the root causes of disengagement is crucial for fostering a thriving work environment. Here, we explore this phenomenon through the lens of influential figures:

  • "About 80% of the complaints in my inbox are about bad bosses." - Simon Sinek, Author. Sinek emphasizes the leadership role in fostering disengagement. Uninspiring or toxic leadership can quickly drain employee motivation.
  • "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all." - Oscar Wilde, Playwright. Wilde's observation highlights the importance of recognition. Feeling unseen and underappreciated can lead to disconnection.
  • "The best way to predict your future is to create it."  - Peter Drucker, Management Consultant. Disengaged employees often lack a sense of purpose in their roles. Drucker suggests that aligning individual goals with the organization's mission can rekindle motivation.
  • "A bureaucracy is where everyone works to keep everyone else working." - Laurence J. Peter, Educator Peter critiques stifling bureaucratic structures that impede initiative and creativity. Disengaged employees may feel trapped in a system that stifles their potential.
  • "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." - William Arthur Ward, Motivational Speaker. Ward underscores the power of inspiring leadership. Leaders who ignite enthusiasm and a sense of purpose can significantly impact employee engagement.
  • "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." - Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple. Jobs emphasizes the importance of fostering an environment that encourages innovation. Disengaged employees may feel stuck in routine tasks, lacking opportunities to contribute their ideas.
  • "The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Philosopher. Emerson highlights the power of personal growth. Providing opportunities for development can help employees feel valued and invested in their professional trajectories.
  • "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." - Albert Einstein, Physicist. Einstein emphasizes the importance of intellectual curiosity. Disengaged employees may crave intellectually stimulating challenges to reignite their passion for work.
  • "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart."  - Helen Keller, Author. Keller reminds us of the emotional aspect of work. Building a positive and supportive work environment can foster emotional engagement and connection with colleagues.

You can’t put a band-aid on disengagement

Disengagement among employees is a complex issue that cannot be remedied with superficial solutions or temporary fixes akin to putting a band-aid on a wound.

Addressing employee disengagement requires a comprehensive approach that delves into the root causes and implements sustainable strategies to foster a culture of engagement and motivation within the organization.

Merely implementing perks or incentives without addressing underlying issues such as poor leadership, lack of communication, or insufficient opportunities for growth is akin to treating symptoms rather than the underlying ailment.

Furthermore, band-aid solutions may provide short-term relief but fail to instigate meaningful and lasting change. To truly combat employee disengagement, organizations must commit to fostering an environment that values open communication, recognizes employee contributions, and provides opportunities for development and advancement.

By investing in initiatives that prioritize employee satisfaction and wellbeing, organizations can cultivate a motivated and committed workforce that propels the organization towards sustained success in the long term.

Re-energize disengaged employees using CultureMonkey

Employer helping an employee to grow
Re-energize disengaged employees using CultureMonkey

Actively disengaged employees tend to be a liability, impacting productivity, morale, and, ultimately, the bottom line. But with the right tool, there is light at the end of the tunnel. So, you can re-engage disengaged employees and create a more positive work environment with tools like CultureMonkey.

CultureMonkey is an employee engagement platform that can help you improve workplace engagement by offering a variety of employee engagement survey types, such as pulse surveys, eNPS, employee life cycle surveys, onboarding surveys, and more.

The platform’s pulse surveys are designed to gather employee feedback on a regular basis, allowing managers to stay in touch with their team's needs and concerns in real-time.

By utilizing a platform like CultureMonkey, people leaders can gather employee feedback and track employees’ engagement metrics to identify areas for improvement while also providing opportunities for growth and development to re-energize disengaged employees.



Santhosh is a Sr. Content Marketer with 2+ years of experience. He loves to travel solo (though he doesn’t label them as vacations, they are) to explore, meet people, and learn new stories.