5 ways employee disengagement affects business performance

Having a highly engaged workforce is something that people leaders aspire to create, but it’s a lot harder and far more complicated to achieve.

By: Sinead Healy on

Studies by Gallup have found that only 15% of workers worldwide are actively engaged in their jobs, with Aon suggesting in another study that 35% are actively disengaged.

That’s a huge number of workers who are not engaging with their tasks, their work and their company on a day to day basis and who are, in fact, more likely to be doing harm than any good to the business.

But what does employee disengagement really look like and what are its consequences? Beyond simply getting a bad vibe in the office or manufacturing floor, disengagement impacts critical success factors ranging from the drive to complete tasks to the quality of the work completed.

Here are five ways in which disengagement can affect a business.

High voluntary turnover

One of the most widely accepted disengagement outcomes is that voluntary turnover increases. For most businesses, having a certain level of employee churn can prove healthy. But disengagement creeping in and effecting the length of service offered by your top performers and best workers can have seriously negative impacts in the long-term.

Read more: A lack of appreciation is the reason two in three employees are considering quitting their jobs

Employee recognition as a means to drive higher engagement has been shown to be a key factor in helping to negate increasing turnover rates, whereby feeling appreciated for daily efforts and results can drive both longer-term commitment and boost engagement levels too.

Reduced productivity

Disengaged employees are far less productive than engaged ones. In fact, a study by the Hay Group uncovered that disengaged workers produce 45% less work than those who are engaged.

And these findings shouldn’t come as a surprise to any people leader. Workers who are engaged are driven, motivated and power through any obstacles that get in the way of completing a task or project. Disengaged workers, conversely, are far more likely to do the minimum required to essentially avoid being called out for not doing enough. They are, essentially, turning up to pick-up their paycheque.


There has been an interesting trend towards presenteeism in the workforce over the last decade and is still a growing concern to this day whereby employees are working longer hours, through lunch breaks and skipping holiday and sick days to complete tasks.

And whilst long-term presenteeism can have negative outcomes including burnout and stress, disengagement causes the opposite problem - absenteeism - whereby workers simply don’t come to work.

Disengaged workers are far more likely to be taking all of their sick days and even up to twice as many non-allotted sick days too compared to engaged workers.

Decrease in quality

Engaged workers are focused, motivated and want to achieve the best possible outcome. For disengaged workers, however, an attitude of ‘that will do’ can creep in. This way of thinking impacts a number of factors, but one key area is in quality control and avoiding errors.

The lack of care that comes from disengagement results in 100 times more errors being made than colleagues who are engaged in their work. In areas such as manufacturing or healthcare, or indeed construction, this drop in quality and increase in errors can be a critical issue. And for any business, having to re-do work or fix mistakes is both time-consuming and potentially costly, too.

What can businesses do to allay disengagement?

As noted above, driving engagement is complex, takes time and often requires a complete rethink on how the culture of a business works.

But research has shown that increasing gratitude and recognition in the workforce, in particular, making that recognition timely, regular and personal, can be the biggest driver of long-term engagement.

Read more: The power of employee recognition in 5 stats

Creating a culture of appreciation is particularly important for workforces reliant on millennial and Gen Z workers who expect more positive reinforcement and feedback on a daily basis.

If your organisation is looking to boost recognition-giving this year, learn more about our solutions here.