Wearing Too Many Hats Can Wear Down Engagement

December 1, 2014
Employees Wear a Lot of Hats Let’s face it. Most people are significantly busier at the office today than they were 10 years ago. After the recession, hiring has not kept pace with the demand for productivity and many companies are asking their people to do more (and more and more) with less. The consequence? Employees are wearing a lot of hats and that can lead to a loss of focus on what is most important. When we are faced with too many competing priorities, sometimes there is just no good way to successfully accomplish everything. That’s both inefficient for the organization and highly stressful for the individual. Sebastian Junger, in his book The Perfect Storm, gave the ultimate example of the hazard of task saturation. He wrote of a rescue helicopter pilot faced with a terrible storm. The pilot ran down his punch list to save his crew. The only thing he didn’t have time for? Unbuckling his seatbelt before ditching the helicopter. In order to protect the well-being of employees and the quality and productivity of the organization, it is important to help the team to stay focused and to make the right choices. In her working paper, “Engaged in What?,” University of Nebraska professor Theresa Welbourne notes that, “There is a limited amount of energy that people have to use at work.” She suggests that managers should consider the multiple roles employees play, to better understand and help them balance competing priorities. She writes that the five principle roles include:
  • Core functional job holder role (what’s in the job description)
  • Entrepreneurial or innovator role (creativity, ideas, and process improvement)
  • Team member role (working collaboratively)
  • Career role (learning, development)
  • Organizational member role (company citizenship)
Busy employees are juggling all of these elements of their working lives. In fact, Welbourne writes, “The core job alone may be resulting in burnout and exhaustion… If organizations really want citizenship behaviors, innovation and other non-core job role behaviors, then they have to figure out how to support employees engaging in those behaviors. . . What we are calling for is deliberate attention to what employees should be engaged in so that policies, systems, leaders, managers, and reward systems can align the rest of the organization around role-based behaviors.” Without guidance on where to put their work energy, employees will surely feel the pressure on all fronts. This can weaken employee engagement, as teammates know that they are up against a list of goals and expectations so long that it’s impossible to achieve. It’s up to senior leaders and managers to establish employee engagement programs that give weight to all of the roles employees play and help them to prioritize in a way that promotes their well-being and that of the organization. Many non-core roles are defined by actions and decisions best supported by clear company values and an associated recognition program. Training and opportunities for increased responsibility can reinforce the career role. The right mix will be different in every workplace, but it is essential to understand that in a competitive marketplace, it’s often the non-core activities – including must-haves like innovation and brand advocacy – that generate long term organizational success.  

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