Is Employee Engagement Really a Good Thing?

Is Employee Engagement Really a Good Thing?

Pick up a business magazine, open the internet or attend a conference and the hot topic is employee engagement.  HR departments are tasks with improving employee engagement. Executives huddle in conference rooms attempting to discover the secret to employee engagement.  And employee engagement surveys are passed around like candy. Clearly, employee engagement is what everyone wants, but is it really something you want to wish for?

That depends on whether your employees are engaged, working hard and practising self-care or your engaged overachievers are on the verge of burnout.  

Burnout is not just an urban legend that happens to just a few, or only those who have no family or life outside of work. It’s very real, and the impact on you and your company can be huge.  Even your highly engaged employees can and will often suffer from burnout and it’s important to watch for the signs, and to help those susceptible to learn to dial it back without feeling like they are not engaged or valued.

Overachievers view themselves as highly engaged, and they are.  

What you want though is the right kind of engagement – the kind that leads to excitement, motivation, creativity, productivity and enthusiasm without the burnout.  Overachievers by nature are doers who function at a very high level and move at lightning speed. With the increased demands on employees in today’s business environment, these overachievers are even more likely to take on more and more, and not even realize they are reaching their limit, and in some cases have already passed that limit.

These highly engaged overachievers suffer from the following mistakes.

  1. Believing that working around the clock increases productivity.  This is just not so and in fact, the lack of downtime decreases your brain’s ability to process information, and as you work more your productivity decreases, as does the quality of the work as your fatigue increases.
  2. Believing themselves incapable of errors when fatigued.  Overachievers by nature are confident and capable and see themselves to be immune from making mistakes.  And under normal conditions, their desire to be the best may minimize the potential for mistakes. Fatigue, however, interferes with normal brain function as it has to work harder to combat the effects of exhaustion.  In this situation, the brain has less reserve to focus on the tasks at hand and mistakes will happen, even to the overachiever.
  3. Failing to take time for activities outside of work.  When all you know and maybe even value (at least as demonstrated by your actions) is work it is difficult to stay grounded and stress will creep in.  Time away from work gives your brain a reprieve from information overload and your body time to shake away work-related tension.
  4. Failing to eat, sleep and rest appropriately.  Food, rest and sleep are key to being productive and creative at work.  Your body and your brain need nourishment and the right kind of nourishment to be at it’s best.  Study after study suggests that lack of sleep and rest has a negative impact on your body’s immune system, your ability to manage your emotions and challenges effectively and your stamina.  
  5. Working while on vacation.  The word vacation has the word vacate in it, which means to leave.  Taking time off yet dragging your laptop, iPad and phone so you can ‘be available’ and respond to messages doesn’t give your brain or body the rest it needs.  
  6. Availability to others whenever and wherever.  Do you respond to text messages and emails during dinner, while exercising, at 10 PM at night?  Do you allow others to interrupt you regardless of your own deadlines or needs? Are you still taking calls from work on your drive home after putting in a 10 or 12 hour day?  When you make yourself available to whoever, whenever you are telling others that they are more important than you, and you’re telling yourself how valuable you are. You are valuable and important and you can’t be on call 24/7.  Your mind and body need a break.

It’s clear that employee engagement is key to a company’s success and it’s what companies and leaders strive to achieve.  BUT you still want the right kind of engagement that doesn’t lead to burnout. When demands are high at the company due to important deadlines, changes in the organization in leadership or structure or anything else that will become a time resource hog it’s important for leaders to recognize and balance these demands with increased resources when possible or minimally dialling back when the crunch time is past.  Be sensitive to how much demand you are placing on employees and ensure that yours and their goals are realistic. Pay attention to adding to the workload of those overachievers who will willingly take on too much.

As leaders, you set the tone.  

Avoid texting and emailing after hours and weekends setting the standard that these times are work free.  Encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day, to be involved with activities outside of work and consistently deliver the message through your words and actions that balance not only matters, it is valued by the company.  

Don’t substitute in your mind that overachievers are engaged and thus all is good. They can easily suffer from burnout which doesn’t help your company, and certainly doesn’t help them.


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