top of page

Making Players

Re-engaging your team after furlough.

Week commencing Feb 15th 2021.

At last lockdown easing is on the agenda. At last we see light at the end of this incredibly long tunnel for our industry. Its not before time, and the PM is absolutely right that once we take the step to release ourselves, we must not go backwards. It is entirely in our gift to make the right choices.

As we talk with excitement about the reopening of hospitality, we need to take stock of our situation. Our state is precarious, because there is absolutely no way this is a flick switch or turn key situation. The reality is, that our teams of people have spent a whole year disengaged; looking for alternative employers and grieving for the sudden perceived loss of their careers, believing it only a matter of time before their jobs are down the shit pipe.

Employee engagement is therefore a hot topic and for very good reason. The rewards and benefits are significant. Work gets done through people - and highly engaged employees result in lower turnover, higher morale, increased productivity and enhanced business results. Every leader should treat their employees with respect, and everybody should feel safe. Those things are a given. Yet post COVID-19, and against the backdrop of redundancy and uncertainty described, they aren't enough. Employees are feeling anything but respected or safe, and in hospitality businesses across the globe that is likely to be the case a long time yet.

So how do we square that circle and give employee engagement its deserved attention, with measurable, tangible input, that we know will deliver an output beyond expectations?

Harsh but True

Well, I tend to think there’s an important aspect of the employee engagement scene, that has not received the attention it needs; namely, that in terms of engagement, and by plotting attitude vs energy, our employees could be represented by four simple behavioural communities: Players, Spectators, Cynics and the Walking Dead. This behaviour piece, is what will drive team engagement, and crucially deliver your re-engaged team. I know, it's harsh but true.

we have been there done that and flogged that dead horse a plenty.

The task of re-engagement post furlough, belies the traditional embarking on a vanilla 'program' to move people further along a continuum of engagement; Neither is it a training course that can get 'delivered' to business leaders, in a vain hope they will act differently - in all honesty, we have been there done that and flogged that dead horse a plenty. No, it is instead a matter of shifting focus, targeting each individual with a personalised plan, and moving them from the community where they currently spend most of their time, to the community of Players. That move requires addressing the issues that put them outside that circle in the first place of course. Because this is about human interaction, and human leadership, that will enact a change of energy level, behaviour and attitude, from within.

Disengaged employees turn up for the wages because they need to, engaged employees turn up because of responsibility and because they enjoy it

Why would we do this ? Well, there is ample evidence suggesting that engaged employees expend a much higher percentage of discretionary energy. Disengaged employees turn up for the wages because they need to, engaged employees turn up because of responsibility and because the enjoy it. Moreover, they do so in ways that yield greater benefits to their business. Hospitality businesses with a high ratio of actively engaged employees vs. those not engaged or actively disengaged employees, far outperform businesses where the ratio is lower.

The task in hand, then, is not a matter of moving employees along an engagement line, as we have always done - it is an entirely more complicated matter of getting them to change attitude and behaviour.

4 Engagement Communities

1. Players. These are the people you want. They couple a positive attitude with high levels of effort. They are the ones who make things happen, who take the initiative and who see things through to the finish. They are both competent and caring about their work, their company and their co-workers. The primary task in relation to this community is retaining them as players.

2. Spectators. These are good souls; their heart is in the right place and so is their attitude. They, too, are competent and caring but they rarely take the initiative, choosing instead to expend minimal amounts of energy. The turnaround task here is getting them to release what are essentially large amounts of energy reserves.

3. Cynics. These are the folks who, except for their attitude, would be players. They have high energy levels and are usually competent but, for various reasons, have become disillusioned and cynical about the workplace in which they find themselves. Owing to their competence and high energy levels, they can be especially troublesome and problematic. Yet, if their attitude could be turned around, they could make significant contributions to your business.

4. Walking Dead. These people have a combination of a bad attitude and low energy expenditures. They often do little more than take up space and occupy slots on the rota. Turning them around is the most difficult turnaround task of all because both attitude and energy expenditures must be raised. To be frank, if you have been through a fair and reasonable right sizing project... you may have already rid your team of the ones not willing to help save themselves.

It's about Leadership and Management

The critical thing to know is that no one sets out to be a Cynic, a Spectator or Walking Dead. People wind up spending most of their time in one or another of these communities based on their experiences in the workplace. In other words, leadership puts people into these communities.

Our team members are just a car crash interview, a badly timed bollocking, an unexpected promotion, a small recognition or a pat on the back away from their behaviours changing them into a completely different employee... positive or negative.

This is what makes leadership so crucial at times of turbulence. How wonderfully fragile we all are, that such fine margins can make the difference to how we act, and who we become.


Negative, Unvoiced Message - Positive and Negative Signals

Pre COVID versus Post COVID: search your soul, and honestly assess what was it in the first place, that drove your team into the community they now reside, pre March 2020, when you were in control of their destiny ?

Whatever the negative vibe was pre-COVID, this has now been amplified by the overwhelming noise of fear surrounding each and every job, as we attempt to light a fire back under the industry we all love.

- the fear of change

- the fear of failure

- the fear of disease

- the fear of redundancy

- the fear that what they have seen happen to their colleagues around the World, will almost inevitably happen to them at some point

The simple truth is Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores, and engagement is strongly linked to productivity. We must double our efforts, as leaders and managers of hospitality businesses, to ensure that we recognise the fear surrounding coming back to work post COVID, and address those issues head on.

Did you know that; Employees whose managers consistently acknowledge them for good work are 5 times more likely to stay at the company. Those whose managers consistently help them manage their workload are 8 times more likely to stay. Although it is rather damning that only approximately half of managers effectively accomplish either.

How wonderfully fragile we all are, that such fine margins can make the difference to how we act, and who we become.

The Rewards

A reasonable person might be asking at this point, "What exactly are the rewards?” of looking at this. Well let me share this with you. Over a period of several years of dealing with all kinds of leaders, managers, great employees, poor employees and business of all shapes and sizes, I have accumulated data from more than 200 managers in which they were asked to assess their team according to the matrix... then place the numbers and percentages of their people into the category they believe.

Fortunately, the Walking Dead category is in a marked minority but when 75% of hospitality employees fall within the framework of Spectators or Cynics... Well, clearly, there is a tremendous benefit to be realised from moving as many of those people as you can into the 'Player' mindset.

Practical checklist for Re-Engaging your team

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been a lifeline for thousands of businesses and individuals, allowing employees to get 80% of the salary paid by the government during these extraordinary times. Bringing furloughed staff back on board at your business will present its own unique challenges; from motivating your people back into the workplace through to helping them adapt to a new way of working. They may be returning to a business that has changed operationally; the team may be smaller; the work different to what was left.


Managing Attitude

A team of players is created, not born. A team of players is coached to perform the right way. A team of players is respected. This team absolutely needs grounding quickly upon returning to action. What experience tells us is that human performance is rarely down to innate qualities or characteristics of the individual. Instead, more times than not, performance is a direct consequence of management practices, especially to the way people are treated. People don’t put themselves into those engagement communities; management does and it falls to management to improve the situation. The employee engagement monkey is firmly on management’s back.

Reinforce values and objectives

Furloughed employees may have suffered an understandable loss of drive and vision whilst unable to work. It’s vital therefore to instil a sense of purpose early on when re-boarding your team. Businesses thrive when their people have a clear vision of where its going and their part in that journey. Reinforce the values of your organisation in whatever ways you can and remind employees of the purpose and value of the objectives they’re working towards.

Maintain motivation with clear KPIs

Tackle demotivation with clear targets, projects and challenges. Communicate clearly with returning employees and set meaningful KPIs, which will foster a sense of accomplishment.

When communicating KPIs remember to focus on the why as well as the what; how are these projects and tasks contributing to the overall goals and objectives of the business?

Schedule a return-to-work catch up

A lot has happened in the last several weeks. Arrange a return-to-work catch up as a priority. It’s important for you as an employer or manager to understand the nature of your employees’ current situation and what you can do to help them thrive. It’s also important that your people know that they are heard, valued and understood to avoid demotivation and disillusionment.

Equip staff for their own particular situation

It’s possible that staff are returning to a very different work environment, whether working from home or in a socially distanced workspace. So make sure that they are fully equipped with the knowledge, software and equipment they’ll need to do their job well and remain productive.

Identify potential areas for skills growth

A commitment to ongoing development is one of the key markers for employee motivation. As well as filling crucial skills gaps within your workforce, think about how upskilling your people is going to contribute to their motivation levels, and the ongoing health of your business.


Managing Energy Level

All expenditures of employee energy that exceed management’s minimum acceptable level, is at the discretion of the employee

We also know that all employee effort is discretionary. Much is made about getting employees to expend more of their so-called “discretionary effort.” But, as we have known for a long time now, all employee effort is discretionary. To be sure of this, management controls the minimum acceptable level of effort – via performance matrix that measure the input as the valuable commodity. Fail to meet that over an extended period of time and an employee will soon be gone. This is assuming that measuring input is seen as worthwhile. Personally, I cannot see one sensible reason within the Hospitality sector to measure input in isolation. It's like saying 'As long as you turn up, thats what is important'.

The maximum level of effort on the flip side, is always controlled by the employee. They can’t be worked any harder than they’re willing to work. What few leaders or managers realise is that all expenditures of employee energy that exceed management’s minimum acceptable level is at the discretion of the employee. All you can ever get from employees is what they will give you. And that includes whether or not they choose to meet management’s minimum expectation. If they don’t, they won’t wait around to be fired; they’ll leave of their own accord and go somewhere where they can be the Players they have always wanted to be.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page