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Trevor E.S. Smith | How S-style mindset stifles employee engagement

Published:Sunday | May 19, 2019 | 12:07 AMTrevor E.S. Smith - Contributor

One block of employees bring a clearly definable mindset that could frustrate employee engagement. Understanding this phenomenon can make a huge difference to productivity, performance and the workplace experience.

Recall that S-style behavioural descriptors include being reserved, people-oriented, loyal and sensitive. There is a tendency to internalise things. Events are taken more seriously and given greater significance. Being attached (belonging) is important.


There was a time when employment with an organisation was a long-term relationship. Now, the expectation is that individuals will change not just jobs, but make multiple career changes. This is uncomfortable for individuals with a preference for S-style behaviour.

Their in-built desire for stability is uneasy with the idea of having to develop multiple sets of relationships and to undergo repeated development of new skills.

Be aware, S-style users can get heavily attached emotionally. They get heavily invested in relationships. Consequently, broken bonds are heart-felt.

That then gets to the underbelly of why this important segment of the workforce might not be fully be terminated through no fault or failings on their part. That would prompt the kind of emotional unease that is best avoided.

Make no mistake, malingering and being disruptive is NOT a feature of genuine S-style behaviour. They will dutifully perform their tasks. The difference is that they might withhold that bond with the organisation that would prompt them to go beyond the call of duty.

Interestingly, by being reasonably cooperative and compliant, low employee engagement among individuals with S-style preferences is not usually identified or highlighted. These are not individuals that will show up on HR dashboards.

Critically, employee engagement interventions are not usually designed to address this issue. This is a deeper challenge that will be resistant to simple seminar-room training.

This issue requires informed, patient, caring, one-on-one engagement. Organisations that get this done will reap the benefits of an increasingly engaged, high-performing staff.


The issue of communication and the need for information is another factor inducing low levels of engagement among individuals with a preference for S-style behaviour.

S-style users prefer to have clarity as to the journey ahead and the thoughts that went into designing the path.

This places a huge responsibility on leadership to tell the story and share the message consistently and repeatedly.

This group does not want to be led blindly. They also do not want to be left in the middle of the jungle and asked to find their way.

In a busy, competitive environment, this continuous need for information is viewed by some leaders as spoon-feeding. For them, the only workable solution is for the team to trust the leadership and to move purposefully along the path that has been designed.

This sounds additional alarm bells among S-style colleagues. They get very nervous around leaders with a do-as-I-say mentality.


There is no quick, routine answer to low S-style engagement.

Individuals with a deep understanding of behavioural preferences need to undertake the patient, tedious job of getting to better appreciate their team members. They need to work to align team member concerns and needs with organisational realities.

There is no shortcut.

New skills need to be developed in the area of behavioural preferences. Similarly, relevant coaching skills need to be transferred to leadership, middle management and supervisory personnel across the organisation.

Leaders have to understand that a different kind of conversation is now required in the workplace. New times, new approaches, new skills.


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PS: Remember, I will be hosting a conflict management workshop with counselling psychologist André Allen-Casey at the St Andrew Church of Christ, 77 Red Hills Road, at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 26. FREE.

- Trevor E.S. Smith, Success with People Academy Interpersonal relations and performance enhancement specialists. Providing human capacity development proprietary solutions. Email: