NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Are workplace managers disengaged? Do bosses just not care?

That's the case according to to a recent Gallup poll: 

  • 51% of managers are not engaged
  • 14% are actively disengaged
  • Only 30% of U.S. workers are engaged
  • Just 35% of managers are engaged

Maybe it is no big surprise that 70% of U.S. workers have checked out on the job, but did you expect that over half of bosses are not engaged in their work? That means one in every two bosses is a Zombie and has quit, just not officially. Maybe you thought your boss was a bit of a slouch, but who anticipated such widespread malingering? 

Gallup, in its reporting on the startling poll results, notes that a sick irony is that in many companies a key job for managers is "employee engagement" -- that is, turning workers on to their jobs. You can guess how successful a checked out boss is in getting workers psyched up about their jobs.

Gallup, for its part, characterizes the state of boss engagement as "alarmingly low."

Questions: is your boss disengaged? How would you know? Is there anything you can do about it?

Know this: the boss who has stopped caring about work is surprisingly easy to identify. Executive coach Kathi Elster of K Squared Enterprises in Manhattan ticked off four key signs:

*They are not around much
*They seem distracted
*Things are falling through the cracks
*When they are at work they nonetheless seem to be putting much of their attention into personal matters.

HR expert Pam Christie offered another three signs that bosses are fading into the woodwork:

* They stop showing they care about employees and the little things like acknowledging birthdays or asking about life outside work.
* They stop reading emails, documents, updates, etc. unless pushed to do so and often have to be reminded a few times to respond.
* They disengage from meetings, phone calls, connections of any type - instead they make themselves scarce. 

How many check marks does a boss need before it's indisputable that he has checked out? Experts are united in insisting it is not that easy to reach a conclusion - but they also say that, often, a boss's direct reports are the first to know that something big is wrong with their manager.

The real problem with a person who no longer cares: this is not a mentor who will develop your career.

Back up a step: why would a boss tune out of the job? Deb LaMere, vice president of employee engagement at Ceridian, a large HR technology company, offered a checklist of causes: "Many factors contribute to feelings of managerial disengagement in the workplace, including...organizational change, demanding workloads, competing priorities, poor communication, and interpersonal conflicts."

Lynda Zugec, managing director at The Workforce Consultants, said that in some cases, bosses turn off work because of personal issues. "Perhaps they are going through something in their personal life such as a divorce, the death of a loved one, or an illness," she said. 

In the midst of an ugly divorce - or while fighting off cancer - work can easily seem a secondary concern.

Another common reason for boss disengagement, said multiple experts, is when the boss's vision for the company no longer syncs with that of the top brass. It just is hard to serve a master one fundamentally disagrees with. Ditto for when top bosses issue blanket demands that may defy reason - cut costs, increase output, increase quality, at the same time.  

Bottomline: there probably are as many causes of disengagement as there are disengaged managers. But that does not make it any easier to work for one.

What should you do if you conclude that your boss fits the diagnosis to a tee? If you believe the causes are personal, you may want to extend a compassionate hand, said Zugec, who added: "They may require your support and understanding, or may even welcome some guidance."

If your boss is bummed out because his child is combatting a potentially fatal disease, show some human decency and extend compassionate support. That may not be enough to reignite the boss's workplace fires, but do your part and feel better for it.

Note, too, per Gallup, "One in two employees have left their job to get away from their manager at some point in their career." Don't be shy. If you want to get ahead, get ready to move on, especially if there is no likelihood your boss will snap out of his funk.

If, however, you are O.K. with being disengaged too - you may be in exactly the right spot. Relax and enjoy the malaise.

-Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.