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The four types of engaged employees

April 10, 2011

According to Truss (expert in employee engagement) and her colleagues (2010) it is paramount to ensure that the 5 key principles of employee engagement are met: first, keeping employees informed; second, listening to them; third, setting clear objectives for them; fourth, ensuring that the person fits the job that they are doing; and fifth, ensuring that the work that is provided is meaningful. However, this list, despite being difficult enough to achieve on its own is not enough. To truly engage a workforce, organisations, in addition to getting the five key principles right, also need to tailor their engagement programs to tap into the different types of workers that Truss and her colleagues have defined from their research.

In total, eight companies took part in the research totalling 180,000 employees. Analysis suggested that there are four key types of employee:

  1. The Grand Prix Driver – these are the ultimate employee. They are likely to be highly engaged, focused and willing to provide discretionary effort all in the name of love for their job. The risk with this group of employees is burnout and so the challenge is for programs to guard against this occurring in those highly engaged individuals.
  2. The Pole Vaulters – these are engaged but less frequently than the Grand Prix Divers as their engagement levels ebb and flow depending on their interests in projects. Encouragement to engage more deeply is something that has been found to be of benefit with targeting employee engagement initiatives at the Pole Vaulters group.
  3. The Long Distance Runners – these are reliable and consistent but less engaged than the Pole Vaulters and the Grand Prix Drivers.  The key with this employee group is to help increase their engagement and enable this to be sustained.
  4. The Flatliners – these employees are the ones that are rarely engaged and may actually be harmful to the organisation due to negativity towards others, the company as a whole or of general initiatives. This type of employee may actively demotivate other employees. Visible recognition systems have been found to help with this group of employees.

On the whole, the good news is that the majority of company employees are engaged in their work, with 43% Grand Prix Drivers, 14% Pole Vaulters, 10% Long Distance Runners. However, this does mean that 33% are Flatliners, and so I suspect this feeds back into the principles first mentioned – focus on those principles, especially on getting the person job fit right and ensuring that work is interesting enough to help guard, to some extent, against those who create a negative core in any organisation...


Truss, K. Soane, E. (2010). Engaging the ‘pole vaulters’ on your staff’. Harvard Business Review, March Edition p.24

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