6 Ways Disengaged Employees Could Hurt Your Company

It was a typical day in the neighborhood at a small community bank.

That is, until a 2016 Jeep Wrangler was dropped off in the bank’s parking lot by a repo company.

The debtor only made three payments in the first seven months of the life of the loan. And, because the debtor repeatedly ignored phone calls and correspondence from the bank requesting a call to make arrangements to bring the loan current, the repo man was sent.

Upon review of the debtor’s file, it was determined the loan never should have been made. Jessica, the underwriter who approved the loan did a gross miscalculation of the debtors debt-to-income ratio. Additionally, she approved the loan with only five percent down instead of the mandatory twenty percent due to the debtor’s low FICO score.

As it was the fourth time in three months that Jessica made a careless, negligent mistake that led to a substantial financial loss for the bank, she was terminated.

When the president of the bank asked Jessica’s boss what went wrong on what seemed to be such a great hire fourteen months prior, he said Jessica was always distracted by her phone and failed to take ownership of her job. Unsatisfied by such a dismissive answer, the president asked a few of Jessica’s coworkers what they thought the problem could have been. One brave soul spoke up and said their boss was overly flirtatious and Jessica was always creeped out by him. Jessica was on her phone all the time because she was looking for a new job and made so many mistakes because she couldn’t think clearly when he was in the office.

As Jessica’s boss and the president of the bank were good friends and close neighbors, nothing happened. Everything returned to business as usual.

Two types of disengagement

Some employees become disengaged for reasons that have nothing to do with their employer or work environment. Illness, injuries or major life events such as losing a loved one, going through a divorce or dealing with any kind of trauma can be distracting enough to prevent anyone from doing their job well. For these employees, empathy, support and time are the three elixirs employers can offer during a troubled employee’s recovery back to peak performance and productivity.

The employees requiring the most attention are those who become disengaged based on internal issues and/or working within an unhealthy culture. These employees are much more dangerous than many give them credit for, as they are not simply low-productivity team members who Facebook more than they should on the company watch. A single disengaged employee is capable of:

  1. Costing their employer infinite amounts of money due to negligent and careless mistakes. When an employee no longer cares, s/he is less likely to pay attention to details, which is where the devil resides. In the mortgage and real estate industries, failure to pay attention to even the smallest of details can have big consequences.
  2. Angering clients into the welcoming arms of a competitor. The last thing you need is to have a disengaged employee interact with a client – especially when an issue needs to be resolved. If clients aren’t feeling the love from that one employee, they may become more agreeable to going on a first date with a competitor, you know, just to keep their “options” open.
  3. Recruiting others to start a movement – an internal resistance to the leadership team. Rarely do disengaged employees keep quiet and operate alone. They confide in others the displeasure, disappointment, or resentment they have toward the company or its leadership team and pollute the minds of others. This is precisely how “Us versus Them” cultures are formed.
  4. Slowing projects down to a crawl. As disengaged employees rarely have any sense of urgency, they cannot be counted on to meet deadlines or work additional hours when you need them to the most. Also, do not expect them to answer their company-provided phone or respond to emails off-hours.
  5. Forcing the burden and responsibilities of work s/he is supposed to do onto others. Peers will grow increasingly frustrated each time they need to pick up the slack from those who do shoddy or incomplete work, leading to…
  6. Dragging down morale. If your better performers are forced to work with someone who isn’t pulling his or her own weight, they will grow impatient quickly and turn to leadership to fix the problem. If the problem isn’t fixed quickly, there will be a flight risk among your best people.

Disengaged employees turn sour for reasons that need to be identified, and fast. If ignored or dismissed for too long, disengagement can escalate to nefariousness where an employee may begin to seek revenge on his or her employer through acts such as stealing, tampering with systems and equipment, disparaging social media posts, and in extreme cases, acts of violence.

It’s the accountant who embezzles tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a few years. It’s the Director of IT who blocks a network for ransom. Or maybe it’s someone who sneaks supplies such as ink cartridges and expensive equipment from the supply room to sell on eBay. We hear and read about such corporate revenge all the time. Your best and only defense is to take action on perceived disengagement sooner than later. Look for the following signals:

  1. Change in normal behavior/demeanor
  2. Indifference, snide remarks or lacking opinions on significant matters
  3. Unwillingness to commit to large-scale projects
  4. Increases in careless errors or mistakes
  5. Taking more personal time off
  6. Consistently coming in a little later and leaving a little earlier than others
  7. Disconnecting from colleagues
  8. Easy loss of temper (a short fuse)
  9. Doesn’t participate or take notes in meetings
  10. No longer participates in small talk with peers (becomes quieter)
  11. Doesn’t ask questions / no longer curious
  12. Avoids management
  13. Opts out from fun, extracurricular, team-building activities
  14. Makes juvenile excuses for non-performance

If anyone comes to mind after reading this list, you’ll know what to do.

If you have reason to believe engagement at your company isn’t as strong as it could be, contact us. We have proven strategies to help.