Poor employee engagement is a dangerous hidden expense. You don’t pay an invoice each month that reminds you to do something about it and it doesn’t appear on the annual profit and loss statement. But don’t be fooled, the expense is real.

Disengaged and Actively Disengaged Employees

Disengaged employees are bad enough. They cost an organisation in staff turnover, absenteeism and, depending on the industry, can experience more safety incidents than engaged employees. But actively disengaged employees take toxic to a new level. They go out of their way to spread their unhappiness at work and undermine the productivity of engaged employees. An actively disengaged employee will cost managerial time, steal resources and working hours from their employer and cause problems in the organisation that are difficult to fix.

Just showing up to work isn’t enough but it’s what 52% of US employees do according to Gallup. Another 17% admit to being actively disengaged and 33% are engaged in their jobs. Worryingly for organisations worldwide, these US numbers are the best. In Australia and New Zealand, 71% are not engaged, 15% are actively disengaged and only 14% are engaged. Other countries have far worse numbers though. In South Africa just 9% of employees are engaged and in East Asia only 6% are engaged in their jobs.

According to psychology life coach Kerstin Jatho, employees choose how they approach work. She believes most people only bring their head and hands to their job but to bring your heart means an employee believes in the values and culture of the organisation.

Engaged employees are 18% more productive, can generate 18% higher earnings and are 37% less prone to absenteeism according to the Gallup research.


When you’re unhappy at work, taking a self-prescribed ‘doona day’ seems like a superb idea. But those days spent sleeping and bingeing Netflix are expensive. They aren’t the same as a staff member taking an annual leave day. Holiday leave is planned, it’s unplanned leave that costs an organisation a small fortune. According to a publication by a workforce solution company Circadian unscheduled absenteeism costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 for salaried workers. The costs are incurred by increased workload and poor morale of other staff taking up the slack, poor work quality, reduced productivity and extra management time finding replacement staff. It’s rare for a highly engaged employee to take leave unless it’s planned or they are ill.

Risk and Challenge Adverse

An engaged employee seeks new responsibilities and challenges at work. They want to learn, develop their skills to benefit their career and the organisation at the same time. They will put their hand up to be part of a new project, sit on a committee and fill a role while a colleague is away.

A disengaged employee avoids challenges and opportunities. They never volunteer to take on something new in case it takes extra effort. They know their job duties and won’t extend themselves past those requirements. As if one of these employees is bad enough, their attitude is infectious. Other employees follow their example which can slowly change the culture of the organisation. With more and more employees not willing to take on a challenge, the organisation suffers. Innovation and improvements cease because no one will stick their neck out and take a risk. An underperformer can be difficult to sack so they continue on in their toxic way.

Doing the Bare Minimum

Not only are they not willing to extend themselves to take on a challenge, disengaged employees do just the basics to stay employed. If there is a company event that isn’t compulsory to attend, don’t expect to see them. Some employees attend events out of obligation but if they see the same few never making an effort, they realise it’s fine for them to do the same.

Disengaged employees are also unlikely to socialise with a wide group of colleagues, choosing their own company at lunchtimes or spending it with another disengaged colleague so they can share gripes.

Respect for Management

Disengaged employees are more likely to come into the office late and leave early which colleagues notice. If management doesn’t reprimand them for their behaviour, other employees think management is weak for not taking a stronger stance. But confronting incompetent and stubborn employees is the worst nightmare of many managers. Without the skills or confidence, they let the situation continue, eroding respect for the management team which impacts on the organisation’s culture and productivity.

Customer Service Takes a Dive

If a disengaged or toxic employee is customer facing, think about the impression they make on unsuspecting customers. Instead of providing a positive experience, the encounter leaves the customer with a negative vibe. Multiply that experience by the number of customers they come into contact with on a daily or weekly basis and the damage they can do to a business is significant.

Sometimes the organisation is oblivious to the reason customers don’t return. Unless they are watching or listening in to staff conversations and actions with customers, management may never know just how topic their behaviour is. In today’s economy few organisations can afford to let customers walk out the door. A study by the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology  showed there was a reciprocal link between job attitudes and business performance over a one year period.

Saving on the Costs of Disengaged Employees

It’s difficult turning around an organisation heavily impacted by disengaged employees. If there are several staff whose bad attitudes were left unchecked for months even years it’s a long, slow process. The example they have set has rubbed off on engaged employees and altered the culture. A poor performing employee is often difficult to sack if they do just enough work to stay out of trouble so it leaves you with no other option but to try improving their attitude.

Meet with a disengaged employee so you can spell out your expectations. Some employees may not have realised that they weren’t working towards the same goals as the business. Ask for feedback from the employee to see if they need something. Perhaps a lack of training and confidence has led them to sabotage their performance.

Some disengaged workers feel their employer doesn’t care about them and their career development. Give them the opportunity to nominate changes that could make going to work more pleasant and fulfilling for them. They may want to do extra training or attend a course. If the employer invests in their personal development it can be enough for them to change their attitude towards the organisation.

Related Posts

5 Skills Every HR Manager Should Have

5 Skills Every HR Manager Should Have

5 Skills Every HR Manager Should Have Human resources managers have to deal with a variety of challenges. They may have to solve a conflict between two employees, or ensure that a training program produces the desired outcomes. This can prove to be cognitively and...



Why is it so hard to find the right candidate for the job? Some industries don’t have enough experienced workers to fill available positions but for most, the companies are to blame for their poor recruitment results. Check you aren’t making mistakes in job role...