Keep a caring eye on your most engaged staff
Leaders must make a strong case for the benefits of self-care, and to do so by providing a highly visible example – the sort that’s hard to miss.
One of the reasons it must be so noticeable is because the individuals who are most likely to overlook sage and friendly advice are your most engaged members of staff.
With the deep focus and concentration they apply to their roles and responsibilities, engaged workers may often not notice that they are putting themselves in harm’s way.
Burnout is often considered to go hand in hand with disengagement – indeed, many perceive it to be a symptom of the disengaged mindset. For example, this US resilience coach states on her website that two, key features of burnout are cynicism and withdrawal.
Meanwhile, this research from the Harvard Business Review twins burnout with workplace-based loneliness, because the more exhausted you are, the harder it is to access the social reflexes required to engage and the less likely you are to appreciate the importance of maintaining those social relationships.
But it doesn’t really explain what brought on the exhaustion in the first place.
Helpfully, recent research from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence – in partnership with other academic bodies – cites high engagement as the root of burnout.
Co-authored by Dr Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School, the study set out to determine the extent to which engagement and exhaustion coexist within the same people.
So Menges and his colleagues analysed the workplace experiences of 1,085 US employees. Their findings? While two in every five subjects emerged as having mild burnout coupled with healthy engagement, one in five was in a condition that blended high burnout with high engagement.
And the strongest turnover intentions were expressed by that highly engaged – yet highly burnt out – slice of the study sample.
Menges notes in the study: “High engagement levels in the workplace can be a double-edged sword for some employees.
“Engagement is very beneficial to workers and organisations when burnout symptoms are low – but engagement coupled with high burnout symptoms can lead to undesired outcomes, including increased intentions to leave an organisation.”
As such, he adds: “managers need to look carefully at high levels of engagement, and help those employees who may be headed for burnout, or they risk higher turnover levels and other undesirable outcomes.”
It makes sense to me that there’s a correlation between engagement and a propensity for burnout: quite simply, people in that subset care. They’re going the extra mile – but that outward focus on their objectives may lead them towards self-neglect.
The risk is that you could work so hard, and for such long hours, in the process of expressing your high engagement that you end up draining your energy reserves. That could force you to make poor calls on important decisions, plus dwell on – and magnify – small, almost insignificant, details.
Energy is not finite – we can create more. By maintaining your health and having social relationships outside work, you are re-energising yourself. In doing so, you are deepening the resources that you must have in order to maintain your professional effectiveness.
If someone is too busy to see their family, or their friends, or to look after themselves, then in the final analysis, that is not the badge of an engaged worker – but of an individual who has got things badly out of proportion and often working from a state of depletion.
If you are not looking after yourself in a broader sense, then what impact is that having on your performance and decision making – and indeed, your ability to maintain relationships with the people around you?
So leaders: care about your most-engaged staff as much as they care about their jobs.
Prior to joining The Institute of Leadership & Management Kate Cooper worked in the university sector. She has appeared on, amongst others, BBC Television, BBC Radio 4 and has a regular column in Dialogue magazine. She is a key note speaker at conferences and provides expert commentary on a range of topics arising from her own research and...