According to Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workplace poll, around 85% of employees classify themselves as being either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. Yikes-with-a-capital-Y!  Your HR team may have some work to do.

Let’s unpack that statistic for a second: “Not engaged” is the better of those two responses, but not exactly the best benchmark, right? No wonder employee disengagement is a perennial issue. But what exactly do disengaged employees look like? There are some definite warning signs of disengagement to keep an eye out for, such as:

  • doing just enough to get by (if that)
  • complaining to teammates on a regular basis
  • avoiding interactions with their manager beyond what’s absolutely necessary
  • making excuses for mistakes instead of working to rectify them

You get the idea. That said, it’s not as if disillusioned workers go around the office passing out flyers to announce their negative states of mind.

In addition to properly understanding disengagement and addressing its effects, company leaders have to consider the impact disengaged employees have on other employees and the overall workplace. Here, we’ll take a closer look at three of the biggest problems low employee engagement can cause, and explore ways to reduce or prevent them.

Combating mediocre or poor performance

The above-mentioned poll from Gallup estimates the average cost of employee disengagement at about $7 trillion in lost productivity for businesses around the world. All things being equal, this suggests that greater engagement should translate to better job performance (and vice versa).

But it’s not always that simple an equation: A disengaged employee isn’t guaranteed to perform poorly; in fact, their performance may be fine. But, it will be clear that they’re not doing their job to the best of their ability. And if they’ve been operating at full potential until recently, disengagement is often the reason.

To assess the cost of disengagement-driven performance declines, you must consider cause and scope:

For example, one worker’s disengagement could stem from personal circumstances (a break-up, a death in the family) rather than job dissatisfaction or inability to do the work. You should still address this discreetly with the employee, but there’s a strong chance it’s temporary.

More alarming is the employee whose lack of interest grows stronger over time and, as such, has a dip in productivity. This likely indicates that the employee is strongly dissatisfied with their role, co-workers, a particular supervisor, the organization’s overall direction or a combination of things.

You also need to determine if an individual employee’s low engagement is representative of a larger problem throughout the company. If you are experiencing widespread low engagement, you will need a far-reaching, systemic change to reverse the tide. Individual cases can be dealt with on a more granular level; however, it’s better to be safe than sorry and implement changes to HR policy that are generally applicable rather than situation-specific.

Work toward increasing employee engagement by paying proper attention to your staff’s performance – and re-evaluating how you assess and quantify this critical benchmark. Your performance review system should:

  • Help managers establish clear expectations for workers’ day-to-day and long-term performance
  • Hold people accountable for positive and negative results
  • Encourage performance-related conversations between staff and supervisors more than once a year
  • Offer clear rewards for performance above and beyond the limits of employees’ typical responsibilities
  • Be agile enough to respond to employees’ changing circumstances 

Adopting the right HCM software can be a huge step forward on the path to improved employee engagement (and ROI). Your HR platform should be flexible enough to accommodate changes  you make in your performance management best practices – and prompt the right action at the right time when signs of low engagement start to surface. This keeps performance management on track and at the forefront of everyone’s attention.

Course-correcting the lack of teamwork

In most industries, good teamwork translates to better performance for individuals, their departments – and the entire organization. Disengaged employees with low job satisfaction typically avoid teamwork. They’re unlikely to support their co-workers or ask for support from anyone else, and tend to feel little or no enthusiasm for team activity. If your organizational structure depends on optimal interdepartmental and interpersonal cooperation – as virtually all business environments do – this can be a major problem.

Take a close look at how your team members are interacting. Signs of a strong teamwork environment include:

  • Regular team meetings that foster  genuine discussions, not people waiting their turn to talk (or worse, supervisors speaking to mute, blank-faced audiences)
  • Team members eating lunch or having coffee together, or meeting informally
  • A willingness among workers to get up and ask questions of co-workers when they need help
  • Prioritizing face-to-face communication over email or instant messaging

While every team is different, supervisors should encourage (and involve themselves in) team activities. They should also plan and execute structured team-building events, ranging from off-premises team lunches to social events with environments and activities that everyone would enjoy. If you have remote employees, implement strategies – like weekly or bi-weekly calls, video conferencing and regularly scheduled on-site visits – to ensure they feel like part of the team

Alleviating stress that can lead to disengagement

Highly stressed employees are more likely to disengage, and the disengaged are more likely to be majorly stressed. Pressures that often cause decreasing engagement include unrealistic or excessive workloads (creating a poor work-life balance), insufficient resources to get the job done, a corporate culture that doesn’t respect employees’ time (whether consciously created or not) and poor company performance (e.g., an extremely bad fiscal quarter that necessitates layoffs).

HR and management should strive to provide a challenging but not unmanageable workload, in a work environment that supports success. This includes direct signs of support, like ensuring employees have the right technology and guidance to carry out their responsibilities, but can also encompass demonstrating a commitment to your employees’ well-being. (And remember: “Wellness” pertains as much to mental health and financial stability as it does to physical fitness for the majority of employees.)

The key to reducing stress, and the disengagement connected to it, is to create an environment that values and fosters work-life balance. An end-to-end HCM platform like PeopleStrategy eHCM can help you achieve that objective by providing access to data on scheduling, resources and performance that will provide the insight you need to create an implement actionable solutions.