HR Indaba hears about 3 types of employees and how to manage them


Ster Kinekor's Sifikile Zondi explained what you should be doing with your pirates, passengers and paddlers.

Speaking at the HR Indaba on 17 October, Ster-Kinekor head of Learning and Development Sifikile Zondi said there are three types of employees in the workplace, based simply on their levels of engagement. He said that, in South Africa, 45 percent of people are disengaged, 46 percent are not engaged and only 9 percent of people are engaged. Exploding with energy, Sifikile referred to these groups as pirates, passengers and paddlers.

He explained: 

“Pirates are those that openly advertise their disengagement, they are actively damaging your employer brand. Spreading rumours, undermining leadership, stealing wi-fi and laptops, taking extended breaks. They speak negatively about your organisation wherever and whenever they can. Whether you like it or not, these are the people you have to manage out of the company."  

He then talked about the passengers. These are the employees who are present but passive. They arrive on time but they also leave exactly on time. They don't do any more or less than what is required. They do not do any work unless you give them an instruction and when you do give them something to do, the go back to idling as soon as it's done. Sifikile said there were people employers should be driving their engagement efforts towards in order to turn them into paddlers.

The paddlers are the performers. The high-flyers. These are the people that are being spoken about when phrases like ‘war for talent’ are bandied around. They are passionate, feel strongly about the organisation and act as brand ambassadors. They are the ones that carry and drive your business.

Said Sifikile:

“They work hard. They come in before office hours and they leave after office hours. They come in on the weekends. They will do whatever it takes for their organisations to succeed. They are not trying to appear relevant or perceived in a certain way. They are there to execute. If you ask them to deliver an innovation they give you 10 innovations.

“The scary thing about paddlers though is that they know they are paddlers, which means they can paddle out of your business. And you won't even see it coming. A paddler will be professional the day before, deliver a fantastic project and submit their resignation the following day.” 

Employer brand and talent acquisition
Getting the paddlers in is about getting your employer brand and talent acquisition right. For Sifikile, that means more companies had to start treating talent acquisition as an ongoing sales and marketing exercise

“Company culture, career growth and opportunities and perks that you offer are what will portray your employer brand,” he said


It also means embracing technology because social and media recruitment is now non-negotiable, given that 60 percent of all South African job seekers are using mobile devices to look for work and 40 percent are using it to apply for jobs.

“What once took talent acquisition professionals three weeks to do can be done by AI within an hour,” said Sifikile. 

“Picture this scenario. You go through a three-month process to identify, interview and select a candidate for a role, only for them to refuse the offer you eventually make them. Because they are a paddler and they know their worth. Just like that, in one fell swoop, your recruitment efforts come to nought and you have to start the three-month process from scratch. This speaks to having both a flawed recruitment process and employer brand.”

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