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The Dark Side of High Employee Engagement

Although employee engagement is generally a good thing, high engagement actually does not guarantee high productivity. In fact, high engagement can sometimes transmogrify into a “too much of a good thing” scenario. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic provide four examples of how engagement can go bad:

  • Embracing the status quo
  • Pushing employees into burnout
  • Giving an unfair edge to certain personality types
  • Undermining the benefits of negative thinking

If Only You Knew the Power…

When a workforce is too engaged, they run the risk of becoming complacent (“This has always worked just great for us!”) or arrogant (“We’re awesome so we know this is the best way to do it!”). Both result in accepting the status quo. Workers who are actually a little frustrated are more likely to conceive creative improvements to processes when properly incentivized. The authors point to Nokia and Kodak as good examples of being “deeply proud of what they were doing but not dissatisfied or paranoid enough to stay ahead of the competition.”

A second, more intuitive risk of high employee engagement is that employees who fire on all cylinders all the time will burn out. They are prone to experience damage in their personal relationships and to their overall health. A good company will not want its employees to suffer like that.

In general, people with optimistic personalities are more likely to become engaged at work. Actively hiring only cheery people will likely result in higher percentage engagement overall, but for the wrong reasons. The authors liken it to imagining if Amazon only allowed happy, agreeable customers to review products—it would kind of defeat the purpose. Besides, for jobs where deep thought on innovation and problem-solving are required, engagement levels likely will not even matter that much.

Lastly, although positive mindsets can be imaginative, more “critical” mindsets can also bring needed “focus and attention.” The authors elaborate with this:

Accordingly, research has found that people experiencing negative moods are often more persistent than those who are in more positive mindsets. So while the predominate philosophy in many companies is to focus on the positives to boost engagement and employee morale, we should be careful not to overlook the benefits of negative thinking. For example, defensive pessimists often perform better because they prepare more and try harder; and those who question themselves more often tend be more motivated to achieve their goals.

The prevalent theme is that there must be a little bit of friction in the workplace in order to keep people on their toes. Keep that fire lit. You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2016/08/the-dark-side-of-high-employee-engagement

About John Friscia

John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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