While I firmly believe in and support the important messages coming out of the Engage for Success movement about the value, benefit and significance of employee engagement, I would like to use this blog to sound a note of caution: ever increasing levels of employee engagement may not be an altogether good thing.
If engagement is the sole focus of an organisation’s activities, without any thought of the potential impact on employee health and wellbeing, there is a risk that employees will ‘over-engage’, work harder and give more to their job than is healthy for them – or in the long run good for their employer. We probably all know of an individual (or several) who are so committed to their role and so keen to do a good job that they work all the hours they have available and more. While this kind of highly engaged behaviour can lead to excellent performance in the short term, over time, if left unchecked, it can lead to exhaustion, loss of perspective and potentially even burnout.
The problem is that our working lives are generally a marathon, not a sprint! If performance is to be sustained over time, it is important that employees are not only engaged, but also supported to look after their health and wellbeing. Employers, and particularly line managers, need to consider not only how they boost employee engagement, but also how they protect and enhance employee health and wellbeing.
Engage for Success recognizes the need for employers to pay attention to wellbeing, and last year established a taskforce subgroup to look at the linkages between employee engagement and wellbeing – and their impact on performance. The need to take action to mitigate against the potential for burnout is one of the messages from the new Engage for Success Wellbeing sub-group report ‘The evidence: Wellbeing and employee engagement’. The report includes a model for sustainable engagement and wellbeing (see page 29) that shows how the combination of engagement and wellbeing can be used to categorise employees into four groups:
- High engagement, low wellbeing – high productivity in the short-term, but at risk of burnout and likely to leave the organisation
- High engagement, high wellbeing – most productive and happy employees, with performance sustained over time
- Low engagement, low wellbeing – least contribution and generally not a good position for either individuals or organisations
- Low engagement, high wellbeing – more likely to stay with the organisation, but low commitment to organisational goals
To address the need for managers to address this issue, my colleagues and my research has looked specifically at what line managers can do to enhance engagement while at the same time protecting wellbeing. From the research findings, we developed a behavioural framework that sets out a series of indicators to help managers identify whether they are showing the appropriate behaviours or not, set out in a guidance document.
So, the message is that is you want so sustain engagement (and performance) over the long-term, employee health and wellbeing needs to be part of the picture.
Please download the full report here.