The Actively Disengaged Employee

Employee engagement can be described in a few words -- emotional investment in the business. These are employees who are enthusiastic about their work and understand the relationship of their effort and your business success. Ironically, your actively disengaged employees also understand the role of emotions in the workplace. Their lack of enthusiasm is used to leverage dissatisfaction in the workforce.

Recognize the Whisperers

Actively disengaged employees work hard at undermining the business by getting others to share in their discontent. These are your employees who whisper in co-worker ears, "This is a lousy place to work. Let's talk to the union rep." The question is: Do your managers recognize the actively disengaged versus the not engaged employee? The not engaged employee may:

  • Frequently complain because the person still wants to do things right while working and is frustrated at department management or believes co-workers are causing unnecessary issues
  • May frequently fail to show up for company events but only out of disinterest and not animosity toward the employer
  • Claim burnout and lack inspiration
  • Become a classic case of presenteeism

The difference between the not engaged versus the actively disengaged employee is that the latter intentionally works to spread dissatisfaction among other employees. The not engaged is just disinterested in the job for some reason.

The 2014 Gallup annual survey of U.S. workers found that 51 percent were not engaged, while 17.5 percent of employees were actively disengaged. Out of every 100 people, there are over half giving minimal effort and 18 actively trying to disrupt operations. The 18 employees are the ones most likely telling others that they need a union. They make union avoidance more difficult because they are surreptitious.

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Staying Away from the Dark Side

It is tempting to concentrate employee communications on the trouble-makers rather than the 31 percent who support the business. Yet the engaged employees are the front line defense against unionization because they see value in their work and appreciate their employer. They have the most influence on co-workers when it comes to stopping the not engaged from going to the dark side of active disengagement.

When an actively disengaged employee suggests unionizing to an engaged employee, the response is likely to be "We don't need a union because the company treats us fairly." Positive employee relations trump the actively disengaged and can bring the not engaged back into the fold. That is why Union Proof, Projections, Inc. and A Better Leader work together. The first focuses on deflecting unions through information; the second concentrates on developing connections between employers and employees; and the third offers manager training.

Bottom line: actively disengaged employees can put a large damper on your business. Giving them less of a voice will help your organization stay union-free and flourish. 

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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