The 4 Types of Employees (and How to Motivate Them)

Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? What about your employees? The answer could change the way you get things done. In her new book Better Than Before, happiness expert Gretchen Rubin lays out her framework of the Four Tendencies: four different ways of responding to expectations. People in each category react differently to inner expectations – personal goals, New Year’s resolutions – and outer expectations – deadlines, appointments, requests.

Before you read on, think about taking the quiz here.


Upholders meet inner and outer expectations readily – they can work alone and won’t miss a deadline. They are motivated by schedules and to-do lists: they want to get things done, avoid mistakes, and be reliable.

Upholders don’t need much support or supervision from their managers – they’ll do what they’re supposed to do whether you’re watching or not. What they do need are clear expectations. Without a sense of what’s expected of them and what the goals are, they’re not sure how to act.


Questioners question all expectations, inner and outer. If they decide something makes sense, they’ll do it; if not, they won’t. They have an aversion to the arbitrary, and they need to know the justification for why we’re doing what we’re doing when we’re doing it. In a way, Questioners turn all expectations into inner expectations.

Instead of churning through to-do lists like Upholders, Questioners focus on what really needs to get done today – what’s most important. Their challenge is to not get bogged down in research and questioning, or “analysis paralysis.”


Obligers are the people-pleasers of the world: they can easily meet outer expectations but have trouble with expectations they set for themselves. They focus on the to-do list items that involve other people – they don’t want to let them down or be criticized. For example, they could easily meet a friend for coffee but not meditate alone, even if it’s on the calendar. The best way to motivate Obligers is to give them some form of external accountability.


Rebels, as their name suggests, resist all type of expectations. They don’t want to be controlled; they want to choose and be free. So they focus on what they want to do, not what they have to do. Leading a rebel is tricky business, because telling them to do something a certain way could make them do the opposite. But if you find rebels who support your cause, you can give them autonomy and watch them get things done.

Rebels are the smallest category, Rubin says, along with Upholders. The majority of people – and employees – are Questioners or Obligers. But I suspect that Rebels might be drawn to startups, so it’s important to observe your team members wisely – and motivate them accordingly.

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Written by:
Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact
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