A frustrating work environment trumps engagement every time, especially for the most motivated and committed employees. This is the theme of a webinar (see video) that David Zinger, of the Employee Engagement Network, did with Mark Royal of the Hay Group and co-author of The Enemy of Engagement. Just when we thought engagement was the end-all and be-all of high performance, we hear that engagement without enablement will get us nowhere.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/35723714 w=400&h=238]

Enemy of Engagement from David Zinger on Vimeo.


Of course, it makes perfect sense when you think about it. High performing employees are easy to take for granted. They’re working hard, going the extra mile, and excited about what they do.  Yet, this is the group for which you should be most concerned. According to Hay Group research, 20% of them are feeling a level of frustration that will cause them to either cease being productive or leave the company. In this current environment of economic recovery, the choice of leaving is becoming easier and more attractive. Why would top performers stay and feel frustrated when they have options elsewhere?

Mark Royal describes the problem in this way:

The enemy of engagement in our terms is workplace frustration…we’re not talking about the rumblings and grumblings over tiny annoyances… the most engaged and committed people are the most ripe for feelings of frustration. Dissatisfied, turned off, disaffected, disengaged people can shrug off their inability to get things done…for motivated people who are highly committed to organizational objectives, those kinds of obstacles that they might trip over in the work environment cause a lot of discomfort and anxiety and that feeling of frustration that strikes those motivated and engaged people can really, over time, undermine motivation and commitment levels.

If managers truly want to retain the most engaged and committed employees, they must remove obstacles that cause frustration. These obstacles include:

  • Inadequate training and training that is not aligned with business goals
  • Lack of equipment to do their jobs
  • Lack of a clear understanding of goals and objectives
  • Lack of a shared understanding of priorities
  • Not knowing boundaries of decision-making authority
  • Ineffective work processes
  • Work structures not aligned with business goals

Emphasizing employee engagement without removing these obstacles will only increase frustration and not produce the kind of environment in which the most talented and committed employees thrive. They might love their work and be committed to the mission of the organization, but if they can’t achieve their goals because of factors beyond their control, they will feel enormous frustration and, in an improving economy, look for greener pastures elsewhere.