Managing employee engagement critical to avoiding negative workplace behaviour

Just ask any seasoned HR pro. Employees who are high on the job engagement scale are devoted, attentive and focused in their work roles, traits that modern organisations crave in their workforce.

However, just-published findings from a prominent Hong Kong business school has revealed that while employee engagement is essential to a company’s staff, it’s no automatic guarantee of success. It must be carefully managed to ensure that good – rather than bad – behaviour prevails in the workplace.

The study conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School has revealed for while employee engagement results in increased job performance, it can also lead to some workers being more territorial in the jobs, with less information sharing occurring in the workplace – and even the possibility of downright unethical behaviour.

Workplace Implications
“(Ultimately), job engagement will always have more advantages for an organisation than disadvantages. It’s when high job engagement is not being managed properly that it could lead to issues,” said Kenneth Law, Professor of Department of Management at CUHK Business School and one of the lead researchers in the study.

The more engaged an employee, the higher their performance. When focused on the job instead of a career, engagement could also lead to lower employee turnover, since an employee is unlikely to find the exact same job they are attached to at another organisation.

The flip side is that this ownership can also translate to resentment when employees feel their job ‘space’ is being infringed, leading to territorial behaviour and knowledge hiding. As an illustration, a sales representative may decide against sharing product and customer information, know-how, and skills to promote sales with colleagues.

Job ownership could also generate actions that benefit the organisation but which falls short of being fair play – such as discrediting others’ performance and purposely excluding others in a work group – a condition known in academic circles as pro-job unethical behaviour.

“Our findings are cautionary reminders that engaged employees may generate negative workplace behaviours,” Law said, adding that managers should be aware of this possibility and actively manage to reduce negative outcomes of employee engagement.

Managers should also be extra mindful of employees with an avoidance mindset, who are more likely to exhibit detrimental workplace behaviours. To counter this, he said managers should consider implementing policies and procedures to discourage the negative outcomes which may result.

The full study, strikingly titled It’s Mine! Psychological Ownership of One’s Job Explains Positive and Negative Workplace Outcomes of Job Engagement is here.