“Do you ever feel already buried deep
Six feet under, scream
But no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there’s still a chance for you
‘Cause there’s a spark in you
You just gotta ignite the light
And let it shine” – Firework, Katy Perry


In the previous post (Identifying Engaged Employees) we had taken a peek at the psychic and behavioral traits of an engaged employee. Now we go a step further and try to extend the same mapping logic to everyone and see what can we use to identify the degree of engagement across the workforce. This is obviously imperfect, after all engagement is a complex fluid phenomenon and can’t be boiled down to single digit values without being partially (or at times, completely) wrong. (After all employees aren’t products on an ecommerce website to be given star ratings on a scale of 1-5. You see how neatly I sneaked in an anti-bell curve appraisal comment there. More here)

At the same time, imperfect as it may be, it does give leaders some sense of what might be going on with their team members and helps them take action to intervene and fix the problem – useful when done in (near) real-time, and utterly useless when done as an annual exercise.

There are several ways of doing this. The Global workforce study classifies employees on a continuum ranging from Actively Disengaged to the Actively Engaged. One of my personal favourite representations though is the one that Sarah Cook uses. A 2×2 grid (yes! One of those, but this one is really good) that classifies employees as Stars, Yes Men, Victims and Cynics. These more ‘human’ sounding traits are easier to relate to as well.



These are the ones you want on your team. To quote a cricketing term – they play on the front-foot for the organization.  They are defined by high energy levels, optimism and demonstrate it through their discretionary effort. Customers rave about them, colleagues want to work with them, leaders want more people like them on the team!


Yes Men:


These are the floaters. They aren’t negative about what is happening in the organization. In fact, they might be borderline positive as well – but they aren’t one to take initiatives or make a change. A bit like the mythological character Trishanku – who is suspended in his own heaven as a compromise between earth that he belonged to and the heaven that he sought.

If someone else wants to start a new project or do something they are more than happy to use their intelligence to help, but don’t look for a spark to make a change.




These are the inert ones. They are disengaged from the organization but are not actively so. They don’t take active part in the organization and they feel that everything ‘negative’ is done to them by ‘others’. They eventually tend to be overwhelmed or depressed at work and try to play safe to avoid mistakes. Their inertia prevents them from moving out so they just stagnate where they are till yet again ‘others’ do something to them – like ask them to leave.




These are the negative (and vocal) ones. They focus on all the negatives and are frustrated when dealing with confusion and fluid situations. While they tend to be unhappy with where they are at present they are also almost always blocking change which leads into a perpetually negative feedback loop – sapping their own personal psychic energy and that of those around them.

These are the neat quadrants that people largely (supposed to) fit into. But people being well…people are more complex. As I noted at the beginning of this post, things aren’t clearly demarcated as frameworks would suggest they are.

Stars can have elements (some behaviours) of cynics as well – when say they become self-centered and block anything they aren’t personally interested in. Victims might swing between being cynics and yes-men. Overcoming the energy barrier to become stars is a little more difficult.

So while these descriptions and behavioural traits classifications are helpful in preparing broad classifications of a employee on the engagement grid, the degree of engagement is a function of several variables ranging from personal motivations to organizational culture. Ideally you would want everyone to move to the ‘Stars’ quadrant or as close to it as possible but organizations don’t put in focused effort to do so.

Most leaders intuitively align to the fact that engaged employees are better than disengaged ones, there are substantial arguments on the real benefits of investing in employee engagement. That is a topic for a another post though.

PS: Feel free to download the images used in this post to use in your own blogs/presentations/social media posts etc. Attribution would be nice but not mandatory. Spread the knowledge.

References and Acknowledgements: 

The 2×2 grid and corresponding descriptions are based on the wonderful book: The essential guide to employee engagement, by Sarah Cook.



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