How to Identify Disengaged Employees—and Increase Productivity | TechWell

How to Identify Disengaged Employees—and Increase Productivity

Finding ways to maximize the productivity of development teams is a constant pursuit of managers. While waterfall-based projects attempt to increase productivity through increased measurement and monitoring, agile-based organizations focus on removing barriers to work and accountability for productivity gains.

One independent developer found a unique way to increase his focus and personal productivity by hiring a person to slap him across the face whenever he lost focus, according to The Next Web. He found that his productivity increased to almost 98 percent.


I doubt this tactic would produce the same gains on your team, but this developer did hit on the main barrier to work getting done—distractions. Regardless of your development methodology, the biggest source of distractions is actively disengaged employees.

According to Gallup,

Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.

What is an “actively disengaged employee?" These are people who dislike their jobs, are disconnected from the rest of the company, and have a bad attitude. There are more of them in your organization than you think. The same Gallup survey found “In average organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is about 2:1.”

So what do these statistics mean to your team’s productivity?

First, adding a new developer will not necessarily increase output, and if you bring in the wrong person, productivity may actually take a hit. There must be enough quality work for everyone on the team. As a knee-jerk reaction to a heavy workload, many organizations hire additional developers. Evaluating and resolving the bottlenecks is a better first step because adding idle employees will just add distractions.

Second, make sure your hiring process is not only rigorous but also focused on finding passionate developers. A passionate developer is highly unlikely to become disengaged—most will leave a company long before that happens. I have found that a hiring process focused on finding the most motivated developers will lead to highly productive and innovative teams.

Finally, challenge the developers you have. A bored developer can become disengaged and distracted. Consider moving some of your best developers off high-profile projects if the work has become mundane. A new challenge keeps a high quality developer in the organization.

The immediate reaction on the old project is a decrease in productivity, but the opening also becomes an opportunity for someone new to shine. And the challenge will refocus the old team—eventually equaling the old productivity levels.

Productivity can be difficult to increase but is usually very easy to decrease. Undermotivated or unhappy developers spread discontent and use idle time to sidetrack their teammates. Identifying disengaged employees and removing them as a distraction will make everyone on the team happier and more productive.

Plus, it is much easier than slapping them across the face every time they need it.

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