Engaged and Disengaged Workers

10 min. read

Engagement is a huge factor when it comes to productivity and morale of employees.

Overall, companies with high employee engagement are 21 percent more profitable. When your team is not motivated things slow down and productivity falls. An engaged team of workers pulls together because they care about what they are doing and want the business to succeed. Studies show that engaged employees outperform their peers that are not engaged at work. Employee engagement improves morale in the workplace. When your team is engaged in what they are doing they feel like they are part of a bigger movement. This makes their organization a great place to work.

Employee engagement doesn’t just increase profits it also saves money.

People who want to be there and want the business to win don’t take as much time off. Engagement has been seen to reduce absenteeism. In fact, a Gallup study shows that highly engaged workplaces saw 41 percent lower absenteeism.

It costs businesses over $5,000 to hire new talent each time an employee who is not engaged leaves. On boarding new staff is time consuming and expensive. Making your team feel like they are part of a culture of a great place to work is the first step on the road to engaged workers and a stronger group that works together seamlessly. What is the difference between an engaged worker and someone who is not engaged? How do you tell if your team is emotionally invested in what you are doing?

How to define engagement:

Employee engagement describes the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward their job. A great place to work has engaged employees and engaged managers.

Research has been done by experts who have delved into the details of employee engagement. When it comes to engaged behavior although there are some similarities there are also specific differences between them.

If you are trying to work out how to identify who are the disengaged workers under your care it really shouldn’t be too hard to get the feel of your team. You should be able to spot them fairly quickly if you have your finger on the pulse of your operation. Disengaged team members do not feel like they are part of the group at heart. They have no real connection to their jobs and therefore they will tend to do the bare minimum required of them. They obviously don’t feel like it is a great place to work or they would be more present and would strive to do better because it would matter more to them emotionally.

  • Sibson Consulting defines an "engaged" employee as those who know what to do and have the desire to do it. "Disengaged" employees are those team members who don't know what to do and don't want to do it. There can also be “renegades”. Renegades can be very destructive. A renegade is someone or a group of people who know what to do but don’t want to do it.

  • Gallup distinguishes between "actively engaged" workers who are loyal and productive, and those team members that are "not engaged" or worse "actively disengaged”. Gallup also refers to something they call ROAD warriors. This is a worker or manager who is just punching the clock and not actively doing anything other than pushing bits of paper about and attending meetings. They are essentially "retired on active duty".

Disengagement shows itself pretty quickly if you take the time to observe the signs. When someone becomes disengaged it is for a reason. If they were a part of the team and were normally outgoing and enthusiastic and full of bright opinions and ideas and now they seem to fall by the wayside – take a closer look. A sudden 9-to-5 time clock mentality and nothing positive to contribute in meetings should send alarm bells ringing. If they have an unwillingness to participate in social events outside the office and they are hiding away in their cubicle or office and not joining meetings there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. A tendency to fox hole oneself apart from peers shows individuation, a manifestation in the physical world of their active disengagement.

Take a look at the following behaviors and see where your team members fit. What traits do they display? Ask yourself if they fall on the left or the right of this.

Optimistic or Pessimistic

Optimistic attitudes breed positive sentiments all around. A pessimistic person constantly looks at the negative outcomes and is convinced of failure. Having negative energy like that on a project can be the kiss of death. Sometimes pessimism is born out of failure and you can help them to switch gears and believe in change and success. It takes energy and persistence. Optimism in a team brings smiles and joy to the job and makes your tasks and goals feel achievable together. The organization is a great place to work when you have an engaged team of optimists.

Team-oriented or Self-centered

Teams are groups of individuals. Running a team of people who are all egocentric and want to only focus on their own success makes it impossible to have a great place to work because no one is pulling together. A self-centered person does not work well with a team. Team building might work but if they really only care about themselves you may be fighting an uphill battle.

Goes above and beyond or Does the bare minimum

Going above and beyond makes a huge difference. Actions speak louder than words. If you do more to get the job done and make certain that customers are happy and things are running smoothly this person is a huge asset to your team and the business overall. If they move at a snail's pace and just punch the clock robotically they are not “engaged” in what you are trying to achieve. They are merely turning up for a paycheck.

Solution-oriented or Bogged by problems

When a team member constantly comes to you with problems instead of solutions and needs you to solve things for them they’re not engaged. Problems need to be solved in business and life constantly. If you can’t work out solutions to problems and frustrations that occur you will be a detriment to the other people that are in the same area. An engaged worker will try and solve the problem themselves or present a solution or a choice of solutions to a manager to sign off on. They care about results and getting things completed and goals achieved. Solution-oriented people don’t give up easily they try and work out ways to save an issue rather than mope about it and throw their hands up in the air and say "Oh well! At least we tried."

Passes along credit but accepts blame or Accepts credit but passes along blame

Someone who passes on blame but takes the credit at every turn is not engaged in working at the organization and can be dangerous to the company. If they are constantly blaming others for things going wrong but stand up and tell you how great their ideas or projects are you need to take a deeper look at their work record and behavioral patterns. The exact opposite is true of an engaged worker. Engagement looks very different when it comes to credit and blame. Instead of blaming someone else, engaged workers look at themselves first, think about how they can learn from the experience, and applies changes to eliminate any error in the future. They also share in the glory of success and pass along credit where credit is due. This brings the team closer together rather than pushing them apart.

What Drives Employee Engagement?

Many smart folks have done extensive research trying to figure out what influences employee engagement levels. There are two different things that increase engagement among employees. Organizational drivers and Managerial drivers.

Organizational drivers

The Organization itself drives engagement. The leaders of the organization are committed to making it a great place to work and the folks who work there not only believe they are on the path to success but trust in the leadership of the company to get them there. The leaders value their team members and the staff members react accordingly. It is a culture of trust and cohesion. When a company has goals that align with the ethos of the workers, things start to happen that don’t happen in assembly-line cookie-cutter organizations. The people who work there take on a responsibility to do the best they can through passion and a genuine desire to do good. Work becomes more than work. It is a lifestyle and the brand becomes a part of your life. When an organization achieves the ability to engender a feeling of desire to help the company and all of its employees succeed they have gained a team member that is far more valuable than someone who just wants a check at the end of the month.

According to Willis Towers Watson, employee engagement is "employees' willingness and ability to contribute to company success".

Management drivers

Employee engagement is something that should be driven by the management. Your managers and supervisors need to lead by example and be engaged in what they are doing daily. If you feel positive energy and passion from a leader you are far more likely to feel that way yourself. Conversely, if you have a negative manager who is not present and doesn’t care about what you are doing, the team will suffer and production will decline rapidly. Without faith in your supervisors or management, you won’t be engaged in what you are doing. If the daily experiences of your workers are bolstered by positive relationships with their team leaders or direct supervisors they will be far more productive.

Decision making

It’s very important to give your employees the freedom to make decisions at work while they are doing their jobs. This gives them the power to solve problems that arise and fix any issues they need to while they are occurring, rather than stopping and asking for help or advice. It stops stalling and keeps everyone moving. It gives them a feeling of entitlement and the power to make their job a more engaging experience. With the power to make decisions, you also do yourself a favor. Delegation gives you more time to be a manager rather than fixing a team member's problem. Delegation when successfully building a strong team that can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds because they work faster and with more agility than other teams.


The necessary equipment to do the job well has to be provided. Providing technology is one thing but if you have a machine and no one can operate it at its optimum level you won’t be as productive as you could be. On-the-job training is something that should not just be offered but insisted upon. Log with regular updates if needed. Safety is a priority, for both staff and customers. You need to be aware of any shutdowns or slowdowns if you rely on manufacturing as well as supply lines. Good management takes care of their team member and keeps safety in mind at all times. You have to give your team the right tools for the job and make sure they feel safe and taken care of as well as accomplished and capable.

Strive to create a more engaged team

Having engaged employees is not just better for profits but it is better for you as a manager or owner for many reasons. It increases productivity by boosting morale and the human quotient comes into play. The energy of the team is lifted by being engaged and believing in the organization and its goals. The team pulls together through a joint cause and passion takes over. Together they push forward every day in the knowledge that they are right in what they are doing and care and attention are given without a second thought because they do really care.