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10 Signs You’re Disengaged at Work

Everyone is scrambling to deal with the great disengagement crisis. Employers dream about what they could accomplish if only employees would fully engage. Programs and perks abound. Everyone is writing books about employee engagement, its impact on productivity and how to foster it. And yet, the needle hardly moves.

calendar with hate job written on every day

An engaged employee gives a damn—about the company, about managers and about fellow employees. An engaged employee does good work because contributing to the end goal matters and doing good work matters. An engaged employee is more productive and more satisfied. So why are they so rare?

We usually tackle the issue of disengagement from an employer’s perspective. What can an employer do to increase engagement, identify disengagement and provide an optimal work environment for everyone? Certainly, most of what’s written on the topic suggests that employers bear full responsibility for sustaining employee engagement. But engagement can’t be forced; especially when some of the reasons for disengagement are outside an employer’s control.

Disengagement: An Employee’s Role

There are a number of factors that contribute to disengagement. Some of them are external (e.g. the work, the boss, the pay) and some are internal (e.g. needs, wants, expectations). Some are caused by the nature of work itself and some are a direct result of the nature of a particular manager! Whether or not you are engaged at work will depend on the specific combination of factors at play in your life and workplace.

For example, if you expect nothing more from your job than to do good work, and get paid (on time) for your efforts—as long as those expectations are met, you’ll be onside. If, on top of that, the boss treats you with respect and acknowledges your efforts, you’ll probably deliver your best.

Engagement will be harder to achieve If you expect (in addition to the baseline above) your work to:

  • Provide you with a sense of purpose
  • Allow you to contribute meaningfully to a greater goal
  • Offer opportunities for advancement, creativity and personal development,
  • Be lots of fun, and
  • Supply you with a best friend (possibly even a life-partner!)

The more you expect from a job, the more likely it is to fall short of your expectations, leading to dissatisfaction and eventual disengagement. Right now, employees expect a lot from their work. No wonder Shakespeare wrote:  “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” While it’s great to seek out work that’s both financially rewarding and personally fulfilling, be aware that the quest may increase your potential to disengage if reality misses the mark.

It’s also important to remember that the human brain has a built-in negative bias. Like everyone else, your brain is already wired to dwell on the negative and disregard the positive in any given situation. Every expectation that isn’t met at work is added to your mental “bad job” list until seems you have the worst job in the world. Chances are you don’t.

10 Disengagement Indicators

When you disengage, you’ve essentially decided to quit without leaving. That’s bad for your employer because it affects your performance and everyone around you. More importantly, it’s bad for you, since disengagement typically sets off a downward spiral of discontent, apathy and despair. Here are ten signs to watch for that likely mean you’re becoming disengaged at work.

  1. You’re having trouble getting your work done on time.
  2. You’ve stopped contributing ideas and suggestions for improvement because you can’t seem to think of any, or you think it doesn’t matter anyway.
  3. You start to point at other people’s behavior to explain your results (out loud or in your mind).
  4. Everything seems to have slowed down; even your thought processes seem mired in quicksand.
  5. You live and work for the weekends and hate coming into work on Monday.
  6. When you are at work, you’re already watching the clock by 10:00 am.
  7. You begin to feel disconnected from your team and co-workers.
  8. You find yourself bad-mouthing the company, your boss, and/or co-workers to friends.
  9. Facebook, instagram and your favorite online games seem much more compelling than every project you’re working on
  10. You’re scanning job boards on your break (when you can find the energy to bother).

If you recognize yourself in this list, it’s time to take action before you check out completely. Like most people, you spend a significant share of your life at work. If that time is spent feeling aimless and miserable, something has to change: the work environment, the job, the employer, or you.


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Photo credit: photo by Stuart Miles courtesy of

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