Disengaged employees are at the lowest level for both own satisfaction and contribution to the organization’s goal / performance.
How and why employees slipped into this segment is probably a personal story, very different in each case.
But as nobody would hire someone showing warning signs about near future disengagement, disengaged didn’t join with this state of mind. Something must happened after hiring / joining.
Starting with an exception I have witnessed one case of a young lady which was a perfect candidate for hiring while she was a temporary worker: hard working, serious, reliable, and engaged.
As soon as she got her full time contract, she showed her true face: she worked minimum, was more and more allegedly sick, careless in execution.
It was her strategy from the beginning to get a full time contract and behave well long enough to get access to (French) social care. Once this granted she made a living at the expense of the social system.
It was impossible to detect her future disengagement as we hired her, she was a check collector.
Merger and Acquisition
I have seen people “acquired” with their company into a new one and suppose to blend into another company culture. Not having any power to withstand the Merger and Acquisition, these people disconnect from new goals, values and objectives they don’t share. They probably see no satisfaction for themselves in the new entity and are not able, ready or prepared to leave.
Some entire teams may turn disengaged after M&A, keeping their old – now sub – culture alive among themselves.
At best disengaged make minimal contribution and collect their paycheck, they may go for passive-aggressive behavior, or at worst have negative influence on colleagues and teams.
Disengagement follows disappointment
I believe the majority of disengaged employees have experienced some major disappointment and lost trust in the management/organization. Upset and not finding their satisfaction, they slowed down with contribution. The longer they are left without management’s attention or cure to their disappointment, the more they may turn into passive-aggressive, cynics or don’t cares.
Disengaged high potentials will probably leave as soon as they can, seeking to find a good balance elsewhere. The others, having less opportunities to leave may stay as disengaged and collect their paychecks.
Recovering the disengaged
Can disengaged be brought back into the boat? It all depends on the intensity of their disillusion, distrust and disappointment. Treated soon, the negative feelings can be limited. Management should react swiftly to any sign of disengagement, as the cause could simply be a misunderstanding that can turn fair contributors into disengaged. The cure must be stronger as times goes by and the disengaged make their minds about the hopelessness of the situation.
Once breaking point is reached, either the disengaged or management are totally convinced the relationship cannot be restored or are not willing to pay the price of the cure, the best is to settle for exit.