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25% of highly engaged employees are running the risk of burnout

High engagement levels have long been the holy grail of talent management and considered a key catalyst for wellbeing in the workplace. Many HR leaders are familiar with the Gallup statistic that seven in ten US employees feel unengaged, but does solving the engagement issue really lead to a happier and more motivated workforce? Researchers at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence argue it isn't enough on its own – here's why.

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The downside of high engagement

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI), working with the Faas Foundation, found in its survey of 1000 employees that two fifths of respondents reported high levels of engagement and a low burnout rate. A thought-provoking one fifth of employees with high levels of engagement, however, also stated that they had experienced periods of burnout. In other words, engagement had not made them happy – in fact, this group had a higher turnover rate than unengaged employees.

The conclusion we can draw is that, in some cases, employee engagement initiatives not only have a negative impact on wellbeing – they can also lead to an increasing number of employees seeking employment elsewhere.


Understanding the root causes

The message is clear - organizations need to have a greater understanding of the root causes of such surprising outcomes. According to YCEI's research, there are significant differences between employees who are happy in the workplace and those who are not - and they all revolve around being able to achieve a real work-life balance.

Employees with few burnout symptoms said they had wide access to resources, such as managerial support, and received both recognition and rewards. They also had fewer demands on their time - enabling them to concentrate on their own tasks. Generally speaking, they encountered little red tape or bureaucracy in their work.

For employees with high burnout-rates, however, the picture is different. Although 64% had access to a variety of useful resources, they also faced much higher demands on their time, making it very difficult to manage and complete their workloads during office hours.


Maintaining engagement without provoking burnout

HR departments need to focus not just on engagement, but also on providing effective resources and on lessening some of the demands placed on employees. These kind of initiatives can be data-led, such as realistically scoping work capacity, or policy-led, such as encouraging proper lunch breaks and discouraging sending and replying to emails outside of working hours.

In other words, it is imperative to understand that HR policies cannot operate effectively in a vacuum. Engagement does not automatically equate to happiness in the workplace. If you can focus your initiatives on the wider context of employee wellbeing - taking into consideration factors such

as adequate access to the right resources and placing realistic demands on their time - you’ll see happier and more engaged colleagues. This will ultimately lead to higher levels of productivity and greater retention rates – a win-win situation for both the employees and the company.