Employee Engagement – the dark side

Surely having employees highly engaged is a good thing isn’t it?

Recent research suggests that whilst high levels of work engagement ie high levels of energy and involvement in work, are good for the organisation – this might be at the expense of other areas of an employee’s life.

Engaged employees create their own resources, perform better, have a positive impact on colleagues, and have happier clients.

But “over engagement” can have negative consequences creating workaholic behaviour in employees so that they regularly take work home. In a Dutch study work engagement was positively correlated with working overtime. This in turn disrupts work-life balance leading to poor health outcomes.

In some cases the inner drive to work hard, even when the person doesn’t enjoy working overtime, can lead to burnout. People forget to rest or maintain their personal relationships.

So there is definitely a dark side to employee engagement. Research shows that more engaged employees are more likely to experience work-family conflict.

High levels of engagement might also have negative consequences at work over time. Highly engaged employees who are enthusiastic about their jobs may take on additional tasks and it’s well-known that supervisors would rather assign tasks to keen employees.

The end result is that the engaged employee becomes over-loaded and begins to suffer ill-health and job performance declines along with the level of engagement.

Leaders are key influencers in employee engagement and because it is contagious engagement can spread across work teams. So leaders have a responsibility to be considerate and use a more transformational leadership style whilst providing social support and coaching.

Source: European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology V 20 No 1 Feb 2011

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