How to Know If You Have an Engagement Problem

September 7, 2021 Sarah Bloznalis

looking down on woman at desk with laptopHumans are the heartbeat of any organization. The notion that employees are an organization’s greatest asset is slowly but surely gaining traction among business leaders, publications, and companies alike.

Considering this, would you rather your organization have a strong, steady heartbeat, or a weak, tired one? Of course you’d choose the strong and steady heartbeat. And I’m willing to bet you’d also rather have a strong and steady workforce rather than a weak and tired one.

So how can you ensure your employees are working at their full potential? The key is understanding employee engagement.

Dr. Meisha-ann Martin, director of people analytics at Workhuman®, explains: “When we’re talking about engagement, we’re not just talking about satisfaction. We’re talking about people personally connecting to their work and being enthusiastic and energetic around it. Engagement is the outcome of the different aspects of the overall employee experience.”

And while it’s important to understand what engagement is, it’s equally important to understand what it isn’t. Being able to identify a disengaged employee helps organizations find gaps in their engagement strategy, fill those holes, and improve productivity and morale moving forward.

Here, I’ll break down how to recognize an engagement issue, the problems it causes for organizations, and what steps can be taken to mitigate it.

Spotting a disengaged employee

It’s like constantly waking up to a low-grade fever. Not feeling your best, but not bad enough to get back in bed. So you go through the motions of your day, lackluster and exhausted, counting the minutes until you can call it quits for the day.

That’s what low employee engagement feels like.

Some symptoms of low engagement may be obvious – frequent absences or tardiness, missing deadlines or making careless mistakes, and a negative attitude. The more subtle signs, on the other hand, are just as important, but often missed. Whether it’s doing the bare minimum, not interacting with teammates or colleagues, or brushing off learning and development opportunities, these are all signs an engagement problem might be on its way.

We now know what disengagement feels and looks like, but how does it affect overall business outcomes? According to Gallup, low employee engagement leads to:

  • Increased turnover
  • Decreased productivity and profits
  • Increased safety incidents
  • Decreased customer loyalty

On the opposite end of this spectrum are highly engaged employees. These employees feel valued and appreciated for the work they do and connected to both the people around them and the organization’s mission. Telltale signs of an engaged employee include high levels of motivation, the desire to learn and grow, and connections with coworkers.

Companies with actively engaged employees are certainly reaping the benefits. According to Gallup’s extensive employee engagement study, businesses in the top quartile of employee engagement significantly outperform those in the bottom quartile on these business outcomes:

  • 81% lower absenteeism
  • 64% fewer safety incidents
  • 43% less turnover in low-turnover organizations
  • 23% higher profitability

As seen above, increasing employee engagement is one of the keys to maintaining a successful, safe, and resilient organization. But what steps do you need to take to get to that point? Fortunately, there are several ways to actively engage employees to ensure they feel connected, understood, and recognized for the valuable work they do. Let’s go over a few.

Solving the problem

As Dr. Meisha-ann Martin succinctly put it: “How people feel affects what they do.” If an employee feels valued and appreciated by their organization, they are more likely to be engaged. And the data backs this up time and time again.

Workhuman research has found employees who receive frequent recognition and congratulations at work see their performance ratings improve year over year. Even further, employees recognized in the last 30 days are almost 7% more likely to agree that good performance is recognized at their organization and as a result are 3.4% more engaged than those not recognized in the last 30 days.

Something as simple as a “thank you” has the power to lift employee engagement to new heights, yet not enough organizations are using it to their advantage. In fact, a Workhuman survey conducted during the pandemic found that of more than 1,000 responses from U.S. workers, nearly half (48%) had only sometimes, rarely, or never received a “thank you” from their employer and/or colleagues.

Not all hope is lost, however. If you suspect an engagement problem in your organization, now is the time to tap into the power of recognition. Consider implementing a program that allows both managers and colleagues to acknowledge the invaluable work the people around them are doing. This shift to a culture of appreciation will undoubtedly improve engagement as well as connection and productivity.

Along with a culture of gratitude, you can increase employee engagement with yet another simple strategy – active listening.

Listen to what your employees want – and need – from the company to continue doing their best work. The more supported they feel, the better work they will produce. If employees feel comfortable openly discussing problems they are facing or situations they are unfamiliar with, they will be less likely to bottle it up and revert to disengagement.

That is, however, only if their concerns and opinions are listened to by their leaders. Letting employees vent without taking their thoughts into consideration won’t help – in fact it will likely lead to resentment and distrust.

Luckily, there are tools that can assist in gauging the pulse of your employees. Using employee surveys such as Workhuman’s Moodtracker® can help leaders understand what issues are causing employees to feel worried or concerned, and take actionable steps to fix them. If the survey shows one department is more disengaged than the others, take the time to investigate. There might be something – or someone – causing the problem.

If employees feel both appreciated and heard, chances are they will want to be engaged in their work. If they don’t – they will continue clocking in, doing the bare minimum, and clocking out. Or worse, they will start searching for an organization that can keep them engaged. If organizations want to keep their employees, they must give them a reason to stay.


What Employee Engagement Looks Like in 2021 

14 Ways to Celebrate World Gratitude Day and Rejuvenate Employee Engagement

Your Action Plan: 3 Steps for Creating a Culture of Employee Well-Being

About the Author

Sarah Bloznalis

Sarah Bloznalis is a content marketing specialist at Workhuman from Dorchester, Mass. When she’s not writing about the future of work you can find her in the library, at the beach, or exploring the city.

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