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Turning Negative Back to Positive And Re-Engage Team Members

"Excuse me, I'm the new program office leader, and I need to book a hotel for a meeting. Could you help me with that?" you ask another team member.

"Uh, just go on the intranet," replies your colleague, who then turns back to the person sitting next to her and resumes her conversation about her weekend plans.

"Okay..." you might reply uncomfortably, even though you've already spent half an hour trying to find the right web page.

Sound familiar? You've just encountered a "disengaged" employee. If you had a workforce full of disengaged employees, how devastating would that be to your business?

Disengaged people exist in all types of businesses across all industries. You can spot them by their indifferent, blasé attitudes. They don't care about the company, probably don't like their jobs, and send negative signals everywhere they go.

Disengaged people are like poison – they don't perform their jobs well, drive customers away, and negatively influence your other staff. Yet few people start disengaged. It's typically a process that happens over time as employee and employer expectations grow further and further apart.

What Is an Engaged Team Member?

Fortunately, you can re-engage your team members and build back their pride and commitment. But you'll need to make a continuous effort and a substantial investment in positive human capital management techniques.

The first step is understanding what an engaged team member looks like: Engaged people go above and beyond their job descriptions to get things done. They're committed to the organization's success and willing to do what's necessary to reach goals.

It's important to understand that while many "average" employees are not quite fully engaged, that doesn't necessarily mean they're entirely disengaged. However, these average employees need re-engagement as well.

To reach a level of full engagement, you must build a people-focused workplace that recognizes your people genuinely are your most important resource.

Re-engaging People

You must meet people's expectations and provide a great work environment to achieve this. Several essential management practices are fundamental to this process. By giving these workplace conditions and continuously reinforcing their approach throughout the company, you can re-engage people who have fallen out of step with your purpose and vision.

We can divide re-engagement approaches into four areas:

  1. Fact-finding – Activities that help you (a) understand disengagement and your current situation and (b) monitor your situation on an ongoing basis.

  2. Establishing an Environment for Engagement – Activities that help engagement flourish.

  3. Hygiene Factors – Activities that help avoid de-motivation by managing people's stress, putting people in the right jobs, and providing feedback.

  4. Motivators – Practices that help increase motivation and engagement.

Not all ideas will apply to all situations; however, as a whole, these are the conditions and practices that will help you build people's engagement. We'll now look at each of these in detail.

  1. Fact-finding

  • Ask yourself when you ever felt unenthused and unengaged. This is an excellent place to start your re-engagement process. When you understand the sorts of things that caused you to disconnect from your company in the past, you may gain some insight into what members of your team are feeling right now.

  • Talk to your people about their expectations and issues. Having clear expectations is a fundamental factor in re-engaging people. If people feel that they've been mistreated or have not been provided with the employment conditions they expected, you need to know. Once discrepancies are found, work toward a resolution as soon as possible. This lets people know that you care and take their needs seriously. And ask them about the situations and issues that may be upsetting them. Push beyond the immediately obvious issues – the problem may lie with entrenched and systematic issues that the person thinks are just part of the way things are. This step is significant when you become the new manager of a group of disengaged people. Resist the temptation to blame the former manager – instead, focus on moving forward from where you are now based on what you find out from talking to your new people.

  • Schedule regular "one-on-ones" with members of your team. Talk with individual team members about what they believe is expected of them, and then clarify and make modifications as necessary. When you keep communication open, you can often avoid potential conflicts and misunderstandings that can worsen and lead to significant problems.

  • Survey employee engagement regularly. With any change process, it's usually a good idea to periodically ask your people questions about their dedication and commitment to the company. Use the issues you've identified as a starting point, and construct a questionnaire to discover what you're doing well and where there's room for improvement. Use the results to begin a re-engagement plan to help you build a more devoted workforce.

  1. Establishing an Environment for Engagement

  • Be honest and forthright about your role in people's disengagement. A little humility goes a long way toward re-engaging someone. What if your management practices have contradicted any of the above points? What if you've been weaker in your commitment recently, and you've contributed to the current situation? Admit it, apologise for your actions, and construct a solid plan. This is a great way to start rebuilding your team's trust and show how supporting one another can make enormous differences for everyone. They will likely respond with a renewed commitment to you and the business by demonstrating your commitment to your people.

  • Practice participative management. People usually want to participate and be involved. They want and need to feel that they matter and that their contributions are valued. To engage them, provide lots of opportunities for them to be involved with decisions. It's also essential that people feel able to voice their ideas and raise issues – without judgment or fear of punishment. To re-engage people, help them feel confident that you'll welcome their contributions and listen to what they say.

  • Be a model for commitment to the organization. Employees who believe their boss and senior management are committed to the company can prove that the company is worth committing to. If you have doubts or express negativity toward the business, you can't expect team members to be dedicated and engaged. They take their cues from you and react to your opinions and actions.

  1. Hygiene Factors

  • Identify and manage stress and burnout. Overworked employees can have a difficult time engaging. They have too many competing needs, the greatest of which is their survival. If you want engaged people, develop a genuine concern for their health and welfare. Using regular one-on-ones and staying connected to your team members, you should be able to keep on top of their workload and stress factors. Please do what you can to alleviate their stress by using the tools on our Stress Management menu and refer your people for assistance as necessary.

  • Put people in the right jobs. As you get to know your team members through regular contact and feedback, think about ways to capitalize on their unique strengths and talents. Rather than focusing on a specific more minor problem or disciplining someone, look at the bigger picture: Does the person fit the job? You should regroup which tasks go with which jobs or allow people to rotate employment to enrich their learning opportunities. Work with members of your team to meet your company's needs. When people know you're dedicated to their success, they will, in turn, save themselves from your success.

  • Provide honest and regular feedback. Most people respond incredibly well to praise and recognition. Effective employee engagement can be complex if you restrict yourself to a formal program or yearly performance appraisals. Make a conscious effort to observe when people are doing things right, and show them daily that they're appreciated. When you need to provide corrective feedback, ensure it's timely, and centered on a specific task.

  1. Motivators

  • Provide growth opportunities. A significant factor in employee engagement is building long-term commitment. This is important because it retains knowledge within the company and reduces turnover. Provide an incentive for people to stay long-term by discovering their talents and figuring out ways to use them within the organization.

This can be a powerful method of re-engagement. However, avoid trying to re-engage someone by promising too much. Be genuine in your offers – otherwise, you can do much more damage to your reputation and the person's welfare in the long run.

  • Help people understand the big picture. Too often, people need to learn what's happening in the organization outside of the small world around their jobs. When that happens, it's easy for them to become disconnected and disillusioned. Make sure that your team members know the company's vision and strategy. They need to recognize the roles they play in the organization's success. To do this, keep people well informed and stay focused on the big picture.

  • Align personal and organizational goals. Make sure people's dreams are tied to departmental and company goals (related to understanding the big picture). A crucial part of engaging people is ensuring that the company's success matters to them. If you can link personal success and accomplishment to overall company goals, then you provide the basis for an engaged workplace.


If you've done all you can to engage someone, and they are still not engaged, you may need to take disciplinary action, either to emphasize the need for change or to remove someone blocking the team's progress. If you don't, you risk jeopardizing your whole team's progress. This is an option to take seriously, so talk to your HR department as a first step.

CDPS Key Points

Employee engagement is a critical factor in a company's success. People committed to your business will stay with you long-term and work hard to make the organization successful. It's imperative, therefore, that you actively re-engage people who are disconnected from the company and that you work to build and maintain an engaged team. The keys to employee engagement are excellent management practices, including strong teams and a firm sense that what your people do daily matters to their boss and the business.

The bottom line is that people need to feel wanted. Show them how much they're needed and why. Be honest and trustworthy – and acknowledge, with everything you do, that your people are the company's most valuable resource.

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