“When Employees Are Tuning Out: Do You Know the Signs That Your Staff is Disengaged at Work?” Robert Half Management Resources

Sep 29, 2011 | Corporate Member News

You’re committed to excellence in doing your job, so surely your employees approach theirs the same way, right? Unfortunately, not always. And it can be tough to recognize and accept that your team is struggling with motivation. 

Sometimes the indicators that employees have a morale problem are obvious. For instance, certain people may become more vocal with their complaints — enough that you take notice. More often, though, signs that employees are becoming disengaged with their work are more subtle. 

As a manager, you need to pay attention to smaller behaviours at the office that may signal a problem. This is particularly critical today, when staff members who’ve already given their all for long stretches may feel particularly underappreciated and burned out. 

Here are some signs there may be an employee engagement gap on your team along with ways to counter these challenges: 

Silence during meetings

Even if you’re the best manager at your company and always have terrific ideas, others should also be offering their own suggestions. If you hold staff meetings and few people speak up during discussions or brainstorming, it may be due to apathy – your staff may no longer care about the firm’s future.

Missed deadlines and delayed projects

Take note if your top performers start to have problems staying on track with their assignments. It could be a sign that they’re overwhelmed and you need to readjust workloads. However, it could also indicate that employees don’t feel any incentive to meet deadlines or keep projects on schedule.


It’s 10 minutes after five o’clock when you glance out your office door to discover most, if not all, of your team has left for the evening. While you’d like to believe everyone worked so efficiently that work was done right on time, chances are employees were watching the clock, counting down until they could leave.

Increased absences

Suddenly everyone in your group is getting sick — and all with different excuses. You may also notice a rise in the use of vacation time. If it seems you are never fully staffed, it may be that your employees are disengaging and using the time for job-hunting. 

Now, What to Do?

If it’s apparent there’s an employee engagement gap on your team, there are ways you can help correct the situation: 

Talk to your employees

If you notice certain team members seem disconnected, meet with them individually. Discuss what you’ve observed and ask what you can do to make their jobs more rewarding.

Remember, too, to be sincere in your interest. If you have no intention of implementing changes, you’ll just deplete morale further by failing to take action on reasonable feedback from staff.

Look in the mirror

No one likes to think they’re contributing to an employee engagement gap, but consider your own words and behaviour. Do you complain openly about company policies or developments? Is it difficult for staff to contact you with questions and concerns? How do you react when employee ideas fail?

The way you interact with your staff can greatly affect the mood of the entire team. When you meet with employees about their disconnect from work, find out how you can improve as a manager. Also solicit candid input from other supervisors and mentors in your organisation.


Think of ways for employees to come together and rebuild enthusiasm. For instance, you might organize an afternoon for your team to help a local charity with a project related to their field of expertise. Applying their skills in new and rewarding ways can help them return to work fresh and energized. Just be sure that you explain the purpose of the activity beforehand, so people understand the relevance.

Connect the dots

Remind staff members about the value of their work. Talk about broader company goals and how each individual effort contributes to the firm’s overall success and reputation. If people feel a personal connection to the firm’s objectives, they’re more likely to have a higher sense of motivation.

Look at the bottom line

Salary and benefits aren’t the only reason people feel excited about coming to work or staying with an employer, but they are a key factor. Research for our 2011 Salary Guides shows that starting compensation has increased only modestly for most roles but top performers often see larger raises or bonuses. If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your compensation plan, it could be time for an update.

Start by considering current pay levels. Are you at least on par with your competitors? Take a look at salary guides, and government and association reports to make sure you’re on target. If you’re below average, you may inadvertently be sending the message to employees that you don’t really value their work. If you can’t bump up salaries, consider special bonuses as a way to show appreciation.

Also review benefits. In addition to standards such as healthcare insurance and vacation time, look at your efforts to support work-life balance. Many workers are trying to juggle family and work demands, and would welcome flexible scheduling options, including the possibility of working from home periodically or working different hours.

The employee engagement gap is not just an HR buzz phrase. Correcting it is critical. If you don’t notice signs of trouble and make changes in time, you’ll certainly take note when employees start quitting. Many professions are growing right now, including information technology, accounting and healthcare, so retention should be on your priority list. By taking the right steps, you can make it more likely that your team is fully committed to company goals and willing to give their all to drive success. 

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half Management Resources, North America’s largest consulting services firm providing senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project basis. For further information, visit http://www.roberthalfmr.com/ or follow Robert Half Management Resources on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalfmr

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