Canadian Underwriter

Why your most engaged employees may be planning an exit strategy

February 8, 2018   by David Gambrill

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Engaged employees are typically considered a feather in the cap of any insurance organization, but a new study suggests that employers could lose one out of every five of their most motivated employees because of burnout.

“The many positive outcomes of engagement include greater productivity and quality of work, increased safety, and employee retention,” say Emma Seppala and Julia Moeller, the study’s authors, in a blog for the Harvard Business Review. “While engagement certainly has its benefits, most of us will have noticed that, when we are highly engaged in working towards a goal we can also experience something less than positive: high levels of stress.”

Yale University studied the levels of engagement and stress in more than U.S. 1,000 employees. About 18% of the workers studies reported high engagement and high burnout.

“We’ll call this group the engaged-exhausted group,” say Seppala and Moeller. “These engaged-exhausted workers were passionate about their work, but also had intensely mixed feelings about it — reporting high levels of interest, stress, and frustration.”

The study constructed personality types based on whether workers had high or low resources, such as supervisor support, rewards and recognition, and self-efficacy at work. It also assessed whether workers experienced high or low demands on the job. High demands include a high workload, a cumbersome workplace bureaucracy, and high demands made on a person’s concentration and attention.

The majority (64%) of engaged-exhausted employees reported experiencing high demands and high resources. Experiences of high demand and low resources were rare in the engaged-exhausted group, only 4%.

Stretch goals are fine and challenge can be motivating, Seppala and Moeller say. But “we too often forget that high challenges tend to come at high cost, and that challenging achievement situations cause not only anxiety and stress even for the most motivated individuals, but also lead to states of exhaustion.”

And that can lead to your most highly motivated employees walking out the door. “These apparent model employees also reported the highest turnover intentions in our sample — even higher than the unengaged group,” say Seppala and Moeller.

The authors suggest these tips to prevent losing some of your most motivated and hard-working employees:

  • Wellness programs
  • Dialing down the demands placed on employees
  • Setting realistic goals for employees
  • Rebalancing the workloads of employees who, by virtue of being particularly skilled or productive, have been saddled with too much to do
  • Increasing resources available to employees—not just time and money, but intangibles such as empathy and friendship in the workplace
  • letting employees disengage from work when they’re not working. (i.e. avoiding emailing people after hours, work-free evenings and weekends, and encouraging a regular lunch break).

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