Q&A with Robert Hogan: Engagement and Workaholics

QA quick search for the word engagement yields more than 6 million websites, thousands of books, and myriad articles. Yet, a Gallup poll showed that more than 71% of American employees are disengaged at their jobs, indicating that although most companies recognize employee engagement as important, many still struggle to understand it. Dr. Robert Hogan discusses the concept of engagement, work-life balance, and workaholics in this Q&A.

Q: What is engagement?
A: Engagement refers to how employees perceive their jobs and employers. It is an ideal state rarely fully achieved. It is the opposite of alienation. When employees are engaged, they like their jobs, they work hard at their jobs, they take initiative, and they show loyalty. When employees are alienated, they hate their jobs, they don’t work very hard, they never take initiative or show loyalty. The data are perfectly clear, when employees are engaged, their employers make more money. And engagement is easy to measure.

Q: What are some of the hallmarks of an engaged employee?
A: Positive attitudes, hard work, loyalty, low absenteeism, low turnover, high productivity, and high customer service ratings.

Q: Most people have 24/7 access to their phones and email accounts. Although that gives most people added freedom, it also comes with the expectation of constant availability. Do you think this blurring of the line between work life and family/home life makes people more engaged or less engaged at their job?
A: You have the question backwards. How people react to constant availability depends on how engaged they are. The more engaged an employee, the more he or she will be willing to bring work into their family/home life.

Q: How would you define a workaholic in the typical negative context? Are there certain characteristics or derailers that you would see in a typical workaholic?
A: A workaholic is someone who works constantly to defend him or herself against anxiety and the threat of being criticized or rejected. There is neurotic propulsion to their work efforts – they are driven, rigid, inflexible, and afraid of innovation or change.

Q: What is the difference between a workaholic and an engaged workaholic? What kind of characteristics are you likely to see in an engaged workaholic?
A: For a workaholic, engagement would be therapeutic. Engaged people find their work meaningful. A big problem for workaholics is that they are seeking meaning and purpose and can’t find it. An engaged workaholic would be a terrific employee.

Q: What are the different reasons these two types of people are likely to burn out?
A: A disengaged workaholic is already burnt out. They live in a state of psychological burn out. Workaholics are fragile by definition. An engaged workaholic will burn out by taking on too much work.

Q: How can companies build engagement in their workforce and prevent burnout?
A: First, assess the current level of engagement to identify pockets of alienation. Second, fire the managers who run the operations that are alienated. Third, train the remaining managers on how to be good managers. Fourth, follow up with successive assessments of employee engagement. Fifth, some employees are impossible to engage, so don’t hire any more of them.