This month we’re discussing the four types of employees that exist in (almost) every organization. Understanding the traits of the four types of employees and working to understand their impact on their teams ultimately reduces disengagement and furthers business goals.

Last week we discussed the Somewhat Disengaged employee, the largest segment of employees in an organization. This week we’re highlighting about a quarter of employees: The Engaged.

The Engaged

Engaged employees are the backbone of every high performance culture for two key reasons. They show up every day with a consistent and respectable level of effort, a generally positive and caring demeanor, and a personal commitment to the company, it’s leaders, and their team.

Engaged team members are essential because they’re the ones that are actually doing a lot of the heavy lifting. There’s this wonderful synergistic relationship between actively engaged and engaged players. Actively engaged players need engaged players to survive and to help distribute the workload at a high level of performance. Workers in the engaged category are reliable. They do their work diligently, and they get it done on time. Engaged and actively engaged employees work really well together because they’re both generally positive sources of recognition and feedback. They’re affirming, supportive and caring, and they’re excellent team members. Engaged workers are more likely to have bought into the organization’s mission and vision. They’re generally more supportive and caring of other members of the team.

This important group of employees comprises the largest cohort of the engaged staff, often outnumbering the actively engaged players by 5 to 1, at least in the initial years of a strategic engagement initiative. They typically represent anywhere from 20 to 35 percent of employees in organizations.

What are the key differences between Actively Engaged and Engaged players?

It’s metabolically challenging to be an actively engaged player. It takes so much focus and energy at a cognitive level, which is in part why actively engaged players are so hard to find. Not many people are capable of consistently maintaining such a high level of performance. Engaged players are more like the positive norm. They’re good, solid employees. That old phrase “a decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay” applies well to them. They will not leave at 5 p.m. if they think staying a little longer gets the job done. They won’t be staying late every day typically, but they will when their leader or team is counting on them.

They’re committed to doing the right thing, and they’ll do the right thing even when no one’s looking. But they may not actively look for additional things to take on of their own initiative. They’re going to do their job as described very well, as opposed to an actively engaged player who will do their job very well, and then look for opportunities to outperform in other ways.

Can you shift Engaged players to Actively Engaged players? If so, how do you shift them?

Some employees perform at a high level because it is in their nature to do so. They don’t have to be told to work hard, they do it of their own accord. Most of us are influenced by our environment, especially the relationships we have at work with colleagues and leaders. Our work environment — the way it makes us feel — has an enormous influence on how we behave. Working for a great leader, with an amazing team, or on behalf of noble outcomes, can and does nurture employees’ performance toward greater levels of engagement. This is another reason why engaged players are so valuable, they are the farm team for actively engaged players. When we look at our year-over-year data for our client companies we can clearly see engaged employees often shift up to the actively engaged category. In just their first year, our average increase in engagement levels across all clients is 30 percent.

When engaged team members are in an environment where managers are consistently creating the conditions where the brain can thrive, the felt experience of being at work improves and consequently, so does performance. Engaged players become actively engaged players because they’re leaning in more in an environment where they are nurtured and supported. Engaged staff become actively engaged staff all the time, proving our science-based approach is working. And by the way, the same process is at work for somewhat disengaged players as they emerge into engaged players. The rising tide lifts all boats, after all.

How do you retain Engaged players?

You retain engaged players in the same way as you retain actively engaged players (which we will get into more next week). Recognize their contributions, let them know how important they are, and don’t give them the same salary increase you give the disengaged and somewhat disengaged players. They want to be validated and recognized in a different way, including when it comes to raises. Frankly, just having an environment that feels safe and validating is a significant draw for them.

There are two things we tell our clients about this group: When employees start in an organization, in their first six months, they’re generally right on that line between an engaged and actively engaged team member. Employees start new jobs in a very aspirational way. At the same time, the ‘default’ position for the brain, we believe, is to be engaged. That is, the brain is hardwired to be with a group in a way that is mutually supportive and where each individual feels valued. It’s your role as leader to keep employees on the right side of the bell curve – on the engaged side – and the more you intentionally foster a healthy workplace culture for each of your team members, the more engaged and actively engaged employees you’ll keep over the long-term. Relational workplace cultures where people feel seen, noticed, and valued is a normal, healthy place for the brain. This is the condition where employees are most likely to thrive, and thus most likely to be deeply engaged.

Key Takeaways

  • The engaged employee base is the backbone of any organization. They show up everyday, ready to perform, and they make up the largest segment of engaged staff.
  • Engaged team members do a lot of the heavy lifting, and they work well with actively engaged team members.
  • An engaged employee is a solid employee a company can rely on – but he or she probably will not go above and beyond the job description.
  • To retain an engaged player, make sure to validate him or her in a differential way; engaged employees need to be seen, heard, and valued.
  • Move engaged employees into the actively engaged category by fostering the conditions that allow the brain to feel safe, valued, and supported every day.