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Human factors

The good and bad of employee engagement

I am a believer in the thought that when people feel ownership and are engaged in the task and/or organisation then they will be more committed to carrying out their responsibilities.

Good side of Engagement

When introducing safety measures, process controls or new initiatives, you need engaged people to champion it for you. Otherwise the measure or process will fail to be implemented. Any leadership manual steers you away from the heavy handed “do it because I said and I’m the boss” as you will not get the desired “engagement, ownership and commitment” of your workforce. Engagement is something to strive for and something that can have a positive effect on your organisational culture and safety.

Bad side of over engagement

I recently read an article in the Weekend Australian, “Step Back when too engaged” by Alina Dizik, The Wall Street Journal. It made me consider the down side to high levels of engagement, ownership and commitment. Reflecting on 20+ years in the military, I can relate to times when others and myself have sacrificed all things for the job. A military culture wants you to put the service first above all else. There are good reasons for this, particularly in high risk situations. But when military members are at home on daily duties or for any business, what impact does this intense commitment have on the home life of your employees? Relationship separation, high stress, increase in mental health concerns, lack of engagement, loss of contact with friends and family. Not to mention the pressure on the business and peers to meet the deeply engaged individuals expectations.

The article mentions the tendency for those deeply engaged to move away from their required tasks and focus only on the task they consider best for the project outcome and/or organisation. I have seen how an organisation’s culture can be affected when these employees are congratulated and rewarded. It pushes the rest of the team towards high levels of engagement creating the environment where they lose sight of the measure or processes and potentially cut corners for the “good of the company”. This type of behaviours can lead to a negative organisational culture and burn out among employees.

Best practice is in the Culture

I still believe ownership and engagement in people is required to be successful. However, an organisation must establish a positive culture that rewards commitment but also places high value on those things outside of work, not related to work. Engagement, ownership and commitment, like all things, should be taken “in moderation”.