Common Causes of Employee Disengagement in the Workplace

By Maria Forbes
July 3, 2020

Employee disengagement is a common problem in the modern workplace. According to a Gallup survey, only about one in three U.S. employees are actively engaged. Unfortunately, this means up to two-thirds of all employees are disengaged.
Disengagement is characterized by a negative mindset in which an employee is no longer motivated to work at his or her fullest potential. While disengagement levels can vary, disengaged employees typically don’t care about their company’s success. Some of them, in fact, may go out of their way to cause hardship for their company. By digging into the causes of employee disengagement, you can take precautions to prevent it from harming your company’s success.

Lack of Onboarding

Failure to onboard new employees can lead to higher rates of disengagement. You must acclimate new employees to your company’s culture and its team. Otherwise, they may not develop a connection to your company. And without this connection, new employees may gradually become disengaged.
Onboarding can protect against disengagement by educating new employees about your company’s culture while also making them feel like they are part of the team. Onboarding isn’t the same as training. Rather, onboarding revolves around introducing and orienting new employees to your company’s culture. By improving your company’s onboarding practices, you’ll promote higher rates of engagement.


Employees who are overworked are more likely to become disengaged than their counterparts. Research shows that four in five employees feel like they are overworked. Overworked employees, not surprisingly, are oftentimes disengaged because they have low morale.
If you’ve ever had to work overtime to complete a project or task on time, you’re probably well aware of the negative impact it has on your morale. In addition to causing physical fatigue, it saps your motivation and determination to succeed. Overworked employees experience these same effects, which causes them to become disengaged.

No Goals

Your company’s employees may become disengaged if they don’t have clear goals. Goals provide employees with an objective that they can work to achieve. By referencing a goal, an employee will know what he or she needs to accomplish while working. Therefore, the employee will be more likely to stay actively engaged.
Some employees may create their own professional goals, but you can create goals for them as well. Creating both short- and long-term goals will provide your company’s employees with a roadmap to success. At the same time, it will encourage them to stay actively engaged while they work towards achieving those goals.

Poor Leadership

Another common cause of employee disengagement in the workplace is poor leadership. Poor leadership, in fact, often ranks as the single most common cause of employee disengagement. Employees take their guidance from an employer or manager. If the employer or manager doesn’t provide strong leadership, employees will feel lost and, therefore, disengaged.
To protect against high rates of employee disengagement, you must exhibit strong leadership skills when managing your company’s employees. Being a strong leader doesn’t mean that you should reprimand employees for failing to achieve goals or complete tasks as instructed. Rather, it means you should help your employees succeed by showing them the way and addressing their concerns. With strong leadership skills, employees will stay actively engaged.

Lack of Recognition

While poor leadership is typically the most common cause of employee disengagement in the workplace, lack of recognition is a close second. What is lack of recognition exactly? As the name suggests, it means an employee doesn’t feel recognized for his or her work.
Paying your company’s employees wages or salaries isn’t always enough to keep them actively engaged. Employees want to be noticed, as well as appreciated, for all the time and hard work they’ve invested into their jobs. If they neglect to receive this recognition, they may become disengaged.
You can prevent your company’s employees from becoming disengaged by recognizing them. Employee recognition is essential to keeping disengagement rates in check. You don’t have to go out of your way to recognize an employee. On the contrary, verbal recognition such as “Great work on the last project” is often all it takes to make an employee feel recognized.

Unequal Treatment

Finally, unequal treatment can cause employees to feel disengaged in the workplace. Employees want to be treated fairly and equally by their professional peers. If an employee receives special treatment, his or her colleagues will take notice. The employee’s colleagues may then develop a negative attitude that manifests in the form of disengagement. As they notice the unusual way in which they are treated, they’ll feel less motivated when working.
Maybe an employee is given greater flexibility with scheduling, or perhaps an employee is given preference when choosing team members for an upcoming project. Regardless, when an employee receives special treatment, it may cause other employees to become disengaged. Be sure to treat your company’s employees equally and fairly to keep them engaged.

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