It’s common knowledge that managing work stress is a bear when your job is not fulfilling. But there’s an even darker side to work stress that might not come to mind too often; when we actually like our jobs to the point of overwork and burnout. Greg Marcus PhD has a handle on this and explains in his thought-provoking guest post, here at WorkLifeNation.com.
Conventional wisdom says that having more engaged employees is a good thing for both the employee and the company. Organizations with higher levels of employee engagement have higher productivity, lower absenteeism, and lower turnover.
For employees, an engaging workplace is a positive, in that it suggests higher satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness at the workplace. Engagement at work however, is not the same thing as happiness in life. On both the personal and business level, too much engagement can be a bad thing.
For a time, I was too engaged with my company. I was being paid a lot of money to help revolutionize the world of genetics research. In some ways, that is exactly what the company did. I found the work fulfilling, and when the opportunity came for my product to be used in a large autism genetics study, I did whatever I could to help close the deal. I told the customers about my autistic brother, and said that if we didn’t have the best solution, I would not be telling them to buy it. We were in fact the best, and they paid us a million dollars.
I was thrilled to tell my story at the quarterly company meeting. To this day, my role in landing the autism sale remains a point of pride and personal satisfaction. By all measures, I was an engaged employee. Not because of any engagement program, but because of the intrinsic nature of the situation.
But there was a downside: the autism deal was like adding pure oxygen to a flame. My engagement with the company grew to a raging inferno of blind loyalty. As I wrote in my book Busting Your Corporate Idol,
“Not only did I drink the Kool-Aid, I served it. I bought into the idea that we needed to do what was best for the company, and everything else [in my life] came later. It wasn’t conscious, but on a day-to-day basis, I made choices that increased my work hours at the expense of my home and health.”
My excessive engagement also brought negative consequences to my employer. In Busting, I shared that I led a product development team that made an impossible launch date. Yes, I led dozens of people on the work equivalent of the Bataan Death March, driven by blind obedience and excess zeal. There were no complaints, because we were all engaged, and we were all on a mission. Perhaps I would have been a hero had the product actually performed in customer hands. It didn’t, and it wasn’t pretty.
With a healthy level of engagement, I would not have blindly followed the directive to make the launch date come hell or high water. Instead, I would have led the team to objectively evaluate where we were, and then communicate the need to push back the launch date. Of course if I’d had a healthy level of engagement, I would not have been picked to lead the team. The company culture favored people who would do what it takes to get the job done, especially when it came to launch dates.
Do you want to hire the person who will never say no, and will work all the time?
Do you want to be super engaged at work, at the cost of weaker relationships with the people you care most about?
Think of the most zealous person you know at work. They aren’t exactly easy to work with, are they?
What is the right level of employee engagement? Tell us what you think.
Greg Marcus, Ph.D. is a recovering workaholic who helps the chronically overworked find life balance through his writing, public speaking, and personal coaching. Dr. Greg is the author of Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values & Regain Control Of Your Life, and founder of the Idolbuster Coaching Institute.
For a time Dr. Greg worked 90 hours a week, which impacted his personal health and family relationships. Then, he cut his working hours by a third, and at the same time accelerated his career. The secret? He rejected his corporate idolatry, and started putting people first.