A recent article in the Harvard Business Review explores whether too much employee engagement could be a bad thing. The benefits of employee engagement are well documented, including being associated with higher employee wellbeing, performance, and retention. Well-engaged business units also outperform less engaged ones in almost every metric, such as revenues, profits, service quality, and customer ratings. Despite all these benefits, high engagement does not always translate into business performance. Below is a quick summary of the pitfalls of high engagement.
- Status Quo – An engaged workforce can begin to love the way things are to the point that they quit becoming self-critical, resulting in complacency and a lack of innovation. “Progress is generally driven by people who reject the status quo and are dissatisfied enough to seek to change it.”
- Employee Burnout – “When encouraged, it’s easy for highly engaged employees to become so involved in their job that they stop being concerned about other important parts of their lives.” Burnout leads to poor job performance and declining health.
- Benefits Certain Personality Types – Engaged employees tend to be more optimistic, emotionally stable, agreeable, and extraverted. These types of individuals thrive in highly engaged workplaces and also tend to hire similar individuals. As a result, highly engaged workplaces can become homogenous, and diverse thinking, especially form individuals who may be less agreeable, promotes innovation.
- Undermines Negative Thinking – Engaged employees tend to think positively, and as a result, mitigate the positive impact that pessimism can have on performance. Critical mindsets bring focus and attention to groups, which are important for target-driven outcomes.
The authors suggest that a more balanced perspective on employee engagement can go a long way. It is also important to think about how employers engage their workforce. Engaging employees in work-life balance programs or other wellness initiatives can help alleviate some of the burdens listed above, such as employee burnout. Also, team-based wellness challenges can disrupt strongly affiliated groups or departments causing “disagreeableness” to increase.