What Managers Should Do If Team Members Are Too Engaged

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
Image Credit: Justin Hall

One of the primary jobs of a manager is to find a way to use our manager skills to get the members of their team to become engaged with the work that they are doing. If we can accomplish this, then productivity can go up, teamwork will increase, and everyone should be happy. However, as with all such things in life, it turns out that there is a downside to doing this. Team members can become too engaged in what they are working on and this is going to create a different set of problems for a manager.

Is It Possible To Have Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Just about every manager has been pushing the members of their team to increase their work engagement. The reason that we’ve been doing this is because our manager training tells us that we should be looking to get the most from our employees. The thinking is that when employees are engaged at work they tend to stay longer on the job and are more productive, self-motivated and happier coming to the office. Managers believe that engaged employees are also more likely to see their job as a calling and derive deeper meaning from the day-to-day work. This all seems like a good thing; however, you can have too much of a good thing, and job engagement is unfortunately no exception.

So what could possibly be wrong with having members of your team become too engaged? Some research that has been done shows that employees who are too engaged are likely to have difficulties in their personal lives and may take part in actions that end up negatively affecting the company. In addition, such workers can become more difficult to manage over time and end up producing worse results. Deeply engaged employees who become more difficult to manage can be overly demanding of superiors and become suspicious of their manager’s intentions.

So just exactly what does a highly engaged team member look like to their manager? These employees feel a “higher sense of moral duty” and this ends up making it tougher for them to respect deadlines or work in a team. What managers need to realize is that for these team members there’s no such thing as acceptable compromises or good enough when things are being framed in moral terms. An example of an over-engaged employee would be one that sees their calling as helping clients find the best possible solution for their problem. They will become especially frustrated when their manager tells them that they need to push certain solutions or limit the amount of time that they can spend in problem diagnosis.

How To Deal With Over Engagement

Research has found that work engagement has a negative impact on a team member’s personal level. In a study, after a three-month period, workers who said they felt emotional ties to their work reported experiencing more stress in reaction to workplace demands than workers who said they didn’t feel emotional ties to their work. Deeply engaged employees also are more likely to cut corners. Researchers found that workers who were more engaged in their work were more likely to behave unethically on the job. The things that they would do included such things as sabotaging colleagues to take credit for their work, leaving colleagues out of important meetings or not sharing relevant information with others on the team.

So what can managers do to have healthy levels of work engagement, without crossing the line into excessive levels? The key is to ease up. One suggestion is that managers should skip the emphasis on engaging workers through corporate social responsibility, which often takes place outside of an employee’s direct job description. There is evidence that suggests that attempting “corporate social responsibility strategies” such as volunteering is likely to breed employee resentment even as it creates more engagement.

Managers should focus on engaging those who are unengaged rather than attempting to raise overall engagement numbers. Surveys are one ways that seek to measure individual engagement or that compare employees with benchmarks at other companies. Be careful – these can also increase the kind of extreme engagement that is detrimental. The goal is to be engaged, but moderately engaged. Managers need to understand that a certain degree of dissatisfaction among team members is very positive. Even good things can be bad at extreme levels.

What All Of This Means For You

As managers, one of our most important tasks is to find ways to get the most out of the members of our teams. What we want to happen is for each member of our team to become engaged and start to view their job as a key part of who they are. However, it turns out that, like with so many other things in life, there can be a downside to this engagement thing. Managers need to know what to look for.

Managers generally tend to push their team members to become more engaged in their jobs. Our motivation for doing this is because we view motivated team members as being the most productive. The problem with having team members who allow themselves to become too engaged is that it can end up affecting their personal lives. Additionally, these are the workers who can become hard to manage and produce poor results. They start to believe that they have a “higher sense of duty”. Deeply engaged team members tend to cut corners. Managers need to ease up. We need to skip the corporate social responsibility angle. Our focus should be on boosting engagement for team members who are not engaged, not on everyone.

Yes, it is good to have team members who are engaged in their jobs. However, research has shown that engagement can be a slippery slope. If our actions cause our team members to become too engaged, it will turn out badly for both them and us. We need to take action to make sure that the members of our team don’t step over the engagement line and become too engaged.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If a team member does become over engaged, what can a manager do about it?

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