7 Warning Signs You’re Checked Out

Have you ever hit the road for a leisurely drive or stressful commute, only to be spooked by a flashing warning sign on your dashboard? It happened to me just the other day and I admit that it unnerved me. I got to a safe area and pulled over to try and figure out what the picture represented. When I couldn’t guess right away, I went the old fashioned route, pulling out the owner’s manual and flicking through it to match my picture to the problem. Most times you can avert trouble before it starts just by being aware of the warning signs.

As an advocate for curing the global workforce of the epidemic of disengagement, I am always linking things I see and hear back to this subject—my recent car problem is no exception. It made me think about the concept of warning signs and how it relates to the critical business imperative of engagement. Although the signs of disengagement might not be constantly flashing as bright as a neon bar sign, they are there for the naked eye to see if you know what to look for.

Related: What to Do If You’re Unhappy at Work

No matter what might have caused your disengagement, be it the job not being what was promised, you are feeling stuck in place, lack of appreciation and recognition, an ineffective boss, or a toxic workplace, the following warning signs are universal.

1. I Don’t Care Attitude

This person has given up on even making a pretense of caring about work. They show up and do what is expected but don’t expend energy or the extra effort to make sure the work is high quality. It’s all about just getting it done, not about getting it done right.

2. Increased Absences or Tardiness

The disengaged have trouble getting up in the morning and arriving to work on time. They show up when they want, not when they are scheduled to be there. They tend to suffer more than their engaged colleagues with stress-related illnesses. These symptoms could be as small as a headache or cold, but as large as depression, anxiety or deep sadness.

3. Declining Quality of Work

People who used to care about the quality of their work and paid attention to small details no longer have the energy or desire to do so. They simply don’t care if the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. It’s more about checking off the box and moving on to the next task. Error rates increase when employees are not engaged in the job at hand, and work is done at a slower pace.

4. Mood Swings

Is today a good day or a bad one? People who are disengaged tend to have more mood swings than others. Usually they wear their emotions on their faces. It gets harder for them to hide their moods, as they prefer to just go with how they are feeling in the moment. They don’t care if others notice because how they feel is how they show up.

5. Isolation

Isolation can take two forms. One can be intentional, where the disengaged employee chooses to opt out. This happens a lot in group settings when someone sits back with arms folded and doesn’t participate in the conversation. They don’t join in hallway conversations or at the local lunch joint with colleagues. The second way is in their own head, because many disengaged employees feel like they are invisible, even in a very visible role. They believe others are ignoring them in the group, even if there is no validity to this feeling.

6. No Creativity, Innovation or Input

Something happens when a person falls into disengagement. They suddenly appear to become mute. A once defining voice is seemingly nonexistent. They make the choice to stay silent and don’t offer input or advice, even when asked. They stop being creative and trying new things. They retreat to the familiar and routine and do everything they can to stay under the radar.

7. Lethargic

You can usually tell when someone crosses over from engagement to disengagement by focusing on their energy level. When it comes to how people show up on a daily basis, there is a marked change in behavior. All of their movements slow down and things seem to move at a snail’s pace. Even Type A personalities are not immune from this telltale behavior and, in fact, it can be more noticeable.

Were you surprised by the results, either good or bad, of your self-assessment? It’s always a good thing to pause to reflect on where you are and then to recalculate where you need to go next. A mirror is the most important tool one can use on their life and career journey. Don’t be afraid to take a long look!

Related: 10 Pieces of Career Advice for My 21-Year-Old Self


Ruth K. Ross is a speaker, author and engagement evangelist. After a successful 30-year career as a strategic human resources executive with top Fortune 100 companies, Ruth Ross started her own company in San Francisco to focus on the critical intersection where people and process fuse together in organizations. The outpouring of requests from C-suite executives, middle management and service professionals for her thought leadership on engagement validated her belief that disengagement is robbing people of their passions and cutting deeply into corporate profitability. Her recent book, Coming Alive: The Journey to Reengage Your Life and Career, is based on Ross’s own experiences and research, exploring the epidemic of employee disengagement in Corporate America. She also is frequently invited to speak at industry conferences and organizations on this topic. Learn more about her book, speaking topics, consulting services, upcoming events and blog at ruthkross.com. Follow her on Twitter, @ruthkross.

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