How to Engage Disengaged Employees

Are you asking the right questions?


The Ritz-Carlton has an one of the highest rates of employee retention in an industry that’s known for high turnover. The company also is known for its highly-engaged employees. Jeff Hargett, Senior Corporate Director of Cultural Transformation at the Ritz Carlton Leadership Center, shares proven tips and approaches for re-engaging employees, including a series of questions every leader should ask his/her team members. It is the leaders’ responsibility, says Jeff, to set clear expectations; provide guidelines and hold employees accountable for these clearly-defined task. Employee engagement is good for business and good for people; studies show that engaged employees do higher-quality work, are more loyal to your organization, and have a higher level of satisfaction and motivation.

The Ritz-Carlton is known not just for its luxury hotel rooms, but also its incredibly engaged employees. So how did they reach this level of employee engagement?

Jeff Hargett, Senior Corporate Director of Culture Transformation from the Ritz-Carlton hotel explains what to do to get a disengaged employee to become engaged in his or her work.

“If you're trying to get a disengaged employee to become engaged, a few questions need to be asked.”

“First of all, the employee, are they in the right place? Maybe they're not engaged because they are doing the job incorrectly; maybe they're disengaged because they're just not satisfied with where they are. Maybe they're not in the right place. And perhaps, finding the right place for them is the answer to that problem. You help them find a place where they feel passionate about their job. They feel fulfilled in what it is that they're doing. Maybe even if it's outside your company.”

Sometimes the answer to re-engaging an employee with their position is as simple as showing them the proper way to do their job, but other times the issue may be something bigger than that.

“I've had employees in the past where they weren't obviously happy with what they were doing. And we determined that it wasn't them as a person; it's just the fact that this wasn't really where their passion was. So I assisted them in finding where their passion was. We got them into that role in another organization and they blossomed.”

“So, trying to engage a disengaged employee, I think starts with trying to find out what engages them. What's meaningful to them? What's important to them? What is it that brings their passion to their work? Sometimes it means cutting the ties.”

“Oftentimes employees, they're not engaged because they, quite frankly, don't know what they're supposed to be doing. As leaders, we bring employees into an organization, and we think they should know what they should be doing. We find time and time again, that's not always the case. They may have some idea as to what it is they're supposed to be doing. But once again, maybe you do it differently here than the last job that they had. And we've never taken the time to explain that to them.” This is why it’s important to make sure your team knows what they should be doing, and also why they’re doing what they’re doing. A team who knows how to answer these simple questions is a crucial piece to achieving a high level of employee engagement.

“So, clearly defining the expectations is one way that a leader can ensure that, first of all, the employee understands what is expected. In the long run, it also allows that leader to hold that employee accountable. It's difficult for a leader to hold an employee accountable for a vague expectation.”

“If I owned my own store and I told a new employee, ‘You'd better be here at work on time’ and, ‘We open every day at 9 a.m.,’ and that's where I leave it. Then their expectation may be, ‘Oh, I'd better be here on time. We open at nine, I'll be here at 9 o'clock.’ When I really meant that they should be here, at least, by 8:30.”

“But many leaders just assume they ought to know that. Well, that would be a nice assumption to have, but they don't know that. Not everybody knows that. And so, by clearly defining that expectation, we open at nine and I expect you to be here no later than 8:30. In the long run it allows me, the leader, more ground to hold him accountable. Because if they're here at 8:45, I now have a guideline to go by. But a vague expectation; it really makes it difficult for that employee to know what it is they're supposed to be doing.”

Overall an engaged employee is going to not only do better work, but they are also more loyal to your company and have a higher level of employee satisfaction. When you’re thinking about how to motivate employees, keep in mind that employee engagement and employee satisfaction is key for motivation.


Jeff Hargett

As an internationally recognized presenter and advisor, Mr. Jeff Hargett has shared the culture and philosophy of The Ritz-Carlton with over 20,000 professionals. He has almost two decades of service with The Ritz-Carlton and has held...

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