Over the past four weeks we’ve discussed the four types of employees that exist in (almost) every organization. Managers who understand the traits of the four types of employees and work to understand their impact on their teams ultimately reduce disengagement and further business goals.

Last week we discussed the Engaged employee, the largest segment of engaged employees in an organization. This week we’re highlighting the smallest segment of engaged employees: The Actively Engaged.

The Actively Engaged

How many Actively Engaged employees do I probably have in my organization?

When we measure employee engagement the data builds a bell curve shape with outliers on either side. The outliers on the right side are the top performers, the category we call the actively engaged. These team members are your above-and-beyond employees who get the work done fast and well. They have established a connection to the company at an emotional level with leaders, co-workers, and with the organization’s mission and vision.

In the first year a firm measures engagement, they represent anywhere from five to 15 percent of employees, but their positive impact carries far more weight than these numbers suggest.

What do Actively Engaged players look like? Who are they on a team?

Some employees in this group are hardwired actively engaged players who demonstrate a high level of energy and accountability in everything they do. We would say they are actively engaged by nature. The hardwired employee is also an actively engaged player at home, and everything else she does. They demonstrate a consistent and predictable high level of performance that leaders, co-workers, and family members can count on. Social neuroscientists refer to these people as “reliable social resources” that signal safety and support to everyone around them that, in turn, encourages higher performance across the team.

There is another group of actively engaged team members who are more likely native engaged team members, but as a result of their positive and compelling work life, they have been nurtured up into a top performer.

Now what’s the big difference? Actively engaged players, by nature, will outperform the norm in almost any environment (assuming they get the social nutriments they need to sustain themselves). In an unhealthy environment, a nurture-based actively engaged employee is more likely to work their way around that poor environment (like trying to shift to work under a different supervisor) or they elect to leave leave altogether – rather than regress to less-engaged behaviors. This group of talented employees wants to work with other actively engaged players, and they will grow tired of working for an organization that doesn’t know them, see them, recognize them, or value them.

Actively engaged players by nurture, on the other hand, are more dependent on their immediate environment. For someone who fits this bill, their typical high-performance will drop dramatically if they are transferred to a less compelling job function or underdeveloped supervisor. Many of them will eventually decide, consciously or subconsciously, to shift down to an engaged or somewhat disengaged level.

Regardless of nature or nurture, your actively engaged employees are a gift to your team and the organization. They must be treated as such.

How do Actively Engaged players impact their team?

Your actively engaged direct reports tend to be more supportive and caring of others on the team. They’re truly team players. They accept and support the narrative of the organization. They the most likely to be consistently positive, supportive, caring of other team members, and consistently do the right thing even when no one is looking. Therefore, they’re more likely to address issues counterproductive to the team. They want people to be held accountable and many times, they’ll do it themselves. They’re very powerful positive influencers of behavior.

Engaged players love actively engaged players because they’re affirmative, models of workplace excellent, and excellent mentors. They have a positive and contagious impact on their teams. Most importantly, they demonstrate what is possible in terms of quality performance.

As a leader, how do you nurture the Actively Engaged players on your team?

When we do workshops with managers, we ask them if they can visualize an actively engaged player in their organization. Almost everybody raises their hand. Then we ask, “Bring that person’s image into your mind’s eye and answer this question: Are they actively engaged because of their salary package?” There’s always a little bit of a pause as people process that question, and then everyone shakes their head no. The point is, actively engaged team members aren’t actively engaged because of they’re salary. We know this viscerally.

Then the question is, if it’s not money that sustains and promotes that exemplary behavior, what is the primary nutriment of actively engaged players? It turns out the primary nourishment for the actively engaged is attention and reliable relationships. Attention, in the form of validation, recognition, and feedback, affirms for the actively engaged that their incredible effort is seen, noticed, and valued. Relationships help create the emotional velcro that binds employees to their workplace. Neuroscience proves that reliable relationships are important because human beings only perform at their best – at their most actively engaged level – with others.

Creating optimal conditions for high performance isn’t a budget issue, it’s a mindset issue — primarily for leaders. Many actively engaged employees are starving for this hardwired need for nourishment – a nourishment, by the way, that doesn’t cost the organization a dime – but can have powerful positive implications on the bottom line.

Attention is a critical part of nurturing them, but what else can you do to KEEP them there?

Some disproportional recognition beyond regular validation and feedback will help retain actively engaged players. When it comes to things like salary and raises, you certainly don’t want to give the actively engaged player the same raise you give to a somewhat disengaged or actively disengaged employees. But you have to let them know their value in other ways beyond salary.

They want to feel like they are moving forward in the organization. Some of our clients are reducing the traditional time intervals between promotions, and coming up with more nuanced title iterations so there are more steps to validate and affirm their growth between major jumps in title and responsibility.

Managers can also give actively engaged workers additional responsibility that offers new challenges and enhances their ability to contribute to the organization or the team. Leaders everywhere should know that actively engaged players will take on these challenges not just because they’re challenge hungry, but because they want to be recognized for going above and beyond their job description. They intrinsically want to be performing above the norm.

This small group of employees makes the biggest positive impact in your organization. Make sure they know that. Make sure they know you see them. Your effort to support and nourish this part of your team will truly make the difference in a good company and a truly outstanding one.

Key Takeaways

  • Actively engaged employees represent the smallest segment of engaged employees, yet they are 3x more productive than actively disengaged employees.
  • Some actively engaged employees are simply hardwired to be high performers. For other actively engaged employees, the environment of support encourages their high performance nature.
  • On work teams, actively engaged employees create a positive and supportive environment and actively confront counterproductive behavior.
  • To retain actively engaged employees, managers must show them they are seen, valued, and heard. Secondarily, their salary and raises should reflect their contributions.
  • Nurture actively engaged team members through creative recognition such as providing new challenges and bestowing title changes commiserate with their efforts.
  • Most importantly for managers, give these actively engaged employees the attention they deserve. It will pay dividends!