Is Engagement Ruining Work-Life Balance?

In a recent LinkedIn group discussion, a colleague raised questions about measuring discretionary effort, a generally agreed upon proxy for engagement.  The questions prompted a long, winding, and incredibly positive debate on what connotes discretionary effort and how it can be accurately determined.

Coincidentally, while involved in this three-week exchange of ideas, I can across the thought-provoking results of a 2009 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.  The researcher’s conclusions pointed at a negative correlation between an individual’s perceived level of engagement and their satisfaction with their work-life balance.  It raised an interesting (and seemingly logical) connection.

I’ve spent time working and consulting with several corporations who both prided themselves in their support for work-life balance and were actively pursuing in-depth workforce engagement efforts.  But do these goals & values work in opposition to each other?

It seems to me at the crux of this notion is the definition of engagement.  As mentioned, many of the most popular engagement instruments on the market point to discretionary effort as a key driver of engagement.  And yet, the Gallup Q12, which I would consider among the best of engagement tools, avoids asking questions about effort altogether.  Why is that?

If we view discretionary effort as a key driver, it’s easy to interpret that to mean “if necessary, I will put forth additional time and energy for my employer.”  It’s fairly simple to understand then how that attitude may undermine work-life balance.  Extra time on work activities can quickly eat up time devoted to family, hobbies, and other non-work pursuits.

So, where is the advantage to organizations in trying to drive “discretionary efforts?”  That’s easy…there’s definitely a short-term benefit to figuring out how to get more out of employees without increased compensation!  But focusing on discretionary efforts will not be sustainable.  Evidence clearly demonstrates that when work-life balance is out of whack, employee productivity eventually dips, as well.

Instead of measuring self-reported levels of discretionary efforts, focus your organization’s engagement metrics on…

1)   Innovation – Determine the level of both support for and actual innovative activity by individual and business units

2)   Empowerment – This aspect points directly toward both leader-follower relationship quality and underlying organizational trust levels

3)   PurposeDaniel Pink argues (logically and articulately) that long-term motivations are driven by giving employees a relatable and compelling reason for their work

4)   Teamwork  – Gallup hit the nail on the head when it included within its Q12 questions about the social aspect of one’s work.  It’s key for driving camaraderie, collaboration, and ultimate passion in the workplace.

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