A headline caught my eye this week – Too much engagement can lead to burnout, researchers say. I was intrigued. Employee engagement is nearly always talked about as a very good thing, something that all organizations strive for. When employees are engaged, they’re happy, they’re fulfilled, they’re adding value, and they’re getting results for your team. Hooray for engaged employees!

But wait, what is this new information? Is engagement now a bad thing in the same way that wine and chocolate are promoted as both good and bad for us? It turns out that, like wine and chocolate, too much of a good thing can have negative consequences. The survey cited in the article was conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and found that one out of every five employees are feeling high levels of engagement coupled with high levels of stress. The researchers called this group “engaged-exhausted” – hard-working, highly motivated colleagues who are pushing themselves too far and suffering from stress and burnout.

The researchers offer several recommendations for maintaining and building employee engagement without driving employees toward burnout. They suggest:

  • Providing employees with the resources and support necessary to do their jobs and enjoy their work
  • Monitoring and alleviating unreasonably high work demands
  • Putting less focus on stretch goals
  • Rebalancing workloads as needed
  • Communicating the importance of work-life balance

As a leader, you can often be the source of burnout of highly engaged employees. To ensure that you are not creating a climate for “engaged-exhaustion,” be sure to:

  • Resist overloading your “superstar” employees – it’s easy to become over-reliant on those employees who work hard and are up for any challenge, but the pressures of those demands are not sustainable in the long run.
  • Make it OK to say “No” – many people believe that if the boss asks for something, you have to drop everything, say “Yes”, and get it done right away. You can level-set by setting reasonable deadlines and making it safe to decline a new project or ask for help.
  • Model healthy work habits – if you are an “engaged-exhausted” leader, you are more likely to have “engaged-exhausted” team members. Practice better ways of working by taking breaks during the day, not sending evening, early morning, or weekend email, disconnecting while on vacation, and being fully present when interacting with others.
  • Regularly check in with employees – signs of stress appear differently for different people. Someone may look calm and focused on the outside, but may be falling apart on the inside. Inquiring about your employees’ well-being and watching for any signals or rumblings that burnout is on the rise will help to catch highly engaged employees before they succumb to undue stress.

Your job as a leader is to make sure your employees have the tools and the environment needed to succeed. When you focus on that, employee engagement will increase. Just be sure that you provide the right resources and decrease stressful work demands to avoid burning out the very people you have come to rely on.

How many of your employees are “engaged-exhausted”?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

To learn more about creating positive and productive work environments, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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