Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dangerous Engagement

Last week, French Justice Minister, Rachida Dati returned to work 5 days after the birth of her child by caesaerean section. Ouch! Lea Simpson - Feeling the Fear - sent me a note to ask, "is there such a thing as being dangerously engaged in your job?". Good question. I would say the answer was a big fat yes. And further that when an employee becomes over-engaged, obsessed, the benefit to employers drops off.

You'll have heard the expression 'married to the job' and it's never meant as a compliment. Long hours and narrow focus can mean this type of employee knows their job inside out, but they're not getting any fresh cultural input outside of the office. Strategic and creative thinking suffers. As the employee gets more and more frustrated and tired, their productivity and judgement declines and they start to affect the engagement of those around them.

This sort of cycle normally happens to people who are really good at their jobs, and who want to do everything that they do really well. They get caught in the cycle of decreasing effectiveness, and fall into the trap of thinking that putting in more and more hours is the only way to do what they do. I know because I was that person once.

Happily I can report from experience that there is a way back. Obsession with a job tends to come just before a huge engagement crash - at which point you either decide to quit, or you find a way to do the job differently. For me, it was the second option I chose. I went back to doing my job with medium engagement - I still loved my job and my company but decided that I could no longer compromise my quality of life for it. I changed my working hours thinking that my employers would just have to get me more help, but to my surprise they didn't need to. I became more productive, more creative and my new found sense of perspective made me a wiser and better manager. My engagement in the job was balanced, but my value to the company was far higher than when I'd been obsessive about it.

Which brings us back to Rachida Dati. At the risk of judging someone who's circumstances I know nothing about, I'd say that going back to work when you have a 5 day old baby could be described as obsessive - caesarean or no. On the other hand though, everyone is different, and Rachida Dati may well be the world's most fulfilled woman right now. I just hope there aren't any employers out there who will look at her example and decide that this is real commitment. It's not always good for business, to go beyond the call of duty.

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