It’s the dream of any leader to build a team of highly motivated, top-performing, super-reliable, team-empowering and highly agile employees. But can your employees be too engaged?

It turns out the answer is yes - and no. It all depends on how these highly engaged, achievement-oriented individuals are led.

Korn Ferry employee engagement data highlights how sensitive these employees can be to any barriers to getting work done, showing that levels of workplace frustration are highest among the most engaged employees. These employees want to achieve and can quickly become disgruntled by any factors that they perceive are holding them back. The impact of this data is seen in the revolving front door, with 10-25% of new hires leaving within the first six months alone, according to our survey of executives.

This is not to say we think organisations should aim for mediocre engagement. But it’s clear that the benefits of high engagement are only truly realised when leaders create the right conditions for engagement to flourish.

Avoiding the top engagement traps

The frustration that hyper-engaged employees experience is often driven by environmental factors. These engagement traps are easy to fall into in the busy-ness of today’s workplace, but avoiding them is essential for retaining your best people

Lack of role clarity is the number one engagement trap: individuals quickly become dissatisfied when the role they thought they were signing up for is different to the role they end up doing. This lack of clarity is one of the top reasons that new hires leave. 

The second trap is a limiting environment. Getting the best out of engaged employees means not only motivating them, but also creating environments that allow employees’ extra efforts to translate into performance and productivity. For instance, giving employees autonomy is great—to a certain point. But the absolute absence of boundaries is not empowering; it’s limiting. Employees who don’t understand how far their authority reaches will be fearful of overstepping it. Clarifying the scope of authority enables talent to make decisions without worrying about going too far. 

Finally, failing to provide adequate context can also become a drain on engagement. Highly motivated employees are known to give every task equal weight, meaning that they evaluate their performance based on whether everything got done. But this fails to take into account the interdependence between individual and team responsibilities (both their own and other teams). Leaders can improve this by helping highly motivated employees prioritise tasks and pull away from nonessential work.

The frustration that hyper-engaged employees experience is often driven by ‘engagement traps’ such as lack of clarity and context and limiting environment. Click To Tweet

Unleashing engagement

Leaders need to step up and help their most motivated employees channel their energy productively. Start activating engagement now in these three ways:

  •     Enable your employees: Discretionary effort will go to waste if engaged employees aren’t working under conditions that support them to perform to their full potential. Enabling employees often means doing the small things to make work easier, it isn’t about big investments and structural changes.
  •     Build connections: Effective teamwork provides employees access to co-workers from whom they can seek help and with whom they can share the workload.
  •     Create clarity: Our research shows that people who are intending to stay with their organisation for more than five years are 42% more likely to have role clarity than those who are planning to leave within one year. An easy starting point to help create this clarity is providing clear and concise job descriptions.
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About the contributor

With 13 years in the Consulting and Talent Management field, I passionately believe that an organisation’s most valuable asset is its people, as they are critical to the success of any strategic, cultural or change initiative to achieve performance. Its highly important for organisations to implement robust talent management processes, so that they can make informed decisions around their workforce, strengthen its pipeline of future leaders and achieve its business results.

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