How To Engage The 4 Kinds Of Employees In Your Organization

Knowing the stats on disengaged employees in your company is one thing, but what does that actually look like, and what can you do about it?

How To Engage The 4 Kinds Of Employees In Your Organization
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Employee engagement is a hot topic in many organizations. And understandably so: Gallup estimates employee disengagement costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion annually.


It’s a fairly basic concept, and we all get it: Engaged employees are good for business.

But in spite of all the care, attention, and resources lavished on employee engagement programs, it would appear that the needle has barely moved. Gallup continues to report that of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 30 million, or 30%, are engaged and inspired at work. At the other end of the spectrum are roughly 20 million employees, or 20%, who are actively disengaged. The other 50 million, that’s half of full-time workers in the U.S., are somewhere in the twilight zone of engagement: not fully engaged and involved at work, and yet not totally switched off. They’re just kind of . . . there.

Statistics are useful diagnostic tools, but what do they tell us about what engagement and disengagement actually look like in a real workplace? I like to keep things simple, and have condensed the workplace into four employee styles:


1. Rock Stars Have Lots Of Energy And Enthusiasm

They are the first to volunteer, will proactively go above and beyond, anticipate needs or provide warnings of impending disaster. They demonstrate the right attitude and consistently deliver the results that matter. They meet and exceed expectations. They are your go-to people, and your most engaged team members.

2. Spectators Are Nice To Work With

They don’t rock the boat, tend to be reactive vs. proactive, will see impending disasters but mention them “sotto voce” and think to themselves “I [could have] told you so.” They will wait until you ask them for feedback, and will tell you what you want to hear–not necessarily what you need to hear. They have a great attitude and meet most of their goals. They’re not engaged, not disengaged.

3. Tanks Cause Continual Tension

They may deliver results, but usually at some cost, namely damaged relationships with other teams. Others will try to work around or avoid these people. They can be a little cynical and may be the first to take new hires aside and let them know how business really gets done around here. It’s hard to tell if they are engaged or disengaged, since they deliver results but not necessarily in a positive way.


4. Zombies Do Just Enough (And Sometimes Not Enough) To Get By

Zombies prefer to fly under the radar, and when they do speak up, their colleagues may continue to talk and not listen–the zombies are seen but not always heard. It’s an unhealthy relationship. They require hands-on management and near-constant supervision to ensure that they remain focused and moving in the right direction. These are your disengaged employees.

We all have off days when we demonstrate characteristics of one or more of these styles. I know I am zombie-like when I have a meeting very early in the morning (I’m a night owl; I don’t do mornings, and it takes several cups of tea to be chirpy). The problem is not that we all move between these four styles–it’s that our employees get stuck in boxes other than Rock Star.

Take a moment to think about your team and your peers. Which of these four boxes do they fit into? Where would you (honestly) put yourself?


Invariably, the leaders I work with will admit to having all four styles represented in their organization or on their team. Which is interesting as my guess is that, when they were recruiting, it’s unlikely that they said, “To build my high-performing team I’ll need 2 Tanks, 1 Spectator, and a Zombie, please!” More likely is that they looked for and recruited Rock Stars.

So, if you recruited Rock Stars across the board, where did the other three employee styles come from? There are myriad reasons why someone might move away from a Rock Star position, including:

  • Not feeling valued for the work that they do
  • Not receiving thanks or recognition
  • Not feeling like anyone cares about them beyond being a pair of hands to do a task
  • Not seeing opportunities for future learning and career growth
  • Not feeling like their job contributes to a bigger purpose

It’s up to team and organization leaders to create an environment where engagement can thrive. Here are five steps to help move others–and perhaps even yourself–from Zombie back to Rock Star status:


1. Share Your Vision

Having a personal definition and vision for what engagement looks like is an absolute must. And you need to be able to share it with others. “I want an engaged team” is too vague. Be specific in the attitude, the behaviors, and results that demonstrate engagement.

2. Connect “The Who” And “The What”

Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, said, “All of us want our work to mean something. Work, for most people, is a pretty mediocre experience, and it doesn’t have to be.”

It’s up to you to help your team connect their day-to-day tasks and to-do lists with the overarching goals and vision of your organization. It’s about connecting hearts and minds, not just the logic that builds engagement.


3. Ask What Engagement Means To Them

The good news is that engagement starts with you and ends with your employee. Engagement is a choice–not something you tell others to be. Involve your team members, ask them how they define engagement, and listen to what they have to say when they tell you what would need to happen to raise engagement levels on the team. Create effective relationships and connect with your team members regularly so they can help create an engaged culture.

4. Be A Role Model

The magic ingredient, vital within the best employee engagement program, is the day-to-day role modeling of teamwork and personal growth by you.

5. Reward Engagement

Celebrate the wins and reward engaged behavior so that others understand, in a practical and meaningful way, what engagement looks like and what you are striving for. Provide feedback and coaching where engagement may be lacking.


The secret to employee engagement is really just common sense. People are engaged by people. It’s the quality of the relationships we build with our boss, our teams, and our colleagues that make the difference and drive engagement.

It does, however, take discipline to cultivate winning relationships. We misperceive investing in relationships at work as soft and fluffy–or, worse yet, as solely the responsibility of HR. Employee engagement and cultivating winning relationships is not an HR initiative. It belongs to each of us, not just managers and the C-suite.

Morag Barrett, MA HRM, Chartered FCIPD, is a sought-after speaker, trainer, and founder, and CEO of leading international HR consultancy SkyeTeam. She is the author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships [Franklin Green Publishing], which is currently available as a hardcover via Amazon, and in brick-and-mortar retailers throughout North America. Find Morag on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads and on her website.