Collaboration can be the reason for dwindling employee engagement

As a company, we operate from a collaborative business model. We engage with business partners to roll out our gamification designs. This by virtue implies that you build trust in one another. Trust is typically an accumulation of a lot of small actions done right and incrementally both parties gain trust in one another. It also implies respect for each other’s limitations and requests.

Collaboration is not easy to achieve. Both parties will have expectations and these may vary depending on their views and opinions, so subjectivity is already in the mix. Expressing these expectations is an ongoing process, with the potential for misunderstanding and interpretation as in all other areas of communication. Documenting is a good way of doing it, but then that relies on all parties following a similar protocol. I have to admit, with some people, it works flawlessly from the first time onwards and with others, it will take a few turns or ongoing reiterations of the same message before they get it. On the very rare occasion, it is an ever moving goalpost.

When it comes to collaboration especially internally in a large project or organisation, what can happen is that the most collaboration minded people, those generous with information, time and effort will often be in high demand and can get overloaded. Research in over 300 companies, published in Harvard Business Review, found that 20 to 35% of all value-adding collaboration is carried out by about 3-5% of employees. It should then also not come as a surprise that these highly collaborative employees score lowest on employee engagement and career satisfaction in the organisation, because of sheer demand overload.

Here is an interesting point around gender differences. A male collaborator is 36% more likely to respond with informational resources, a female is 66% more likely to not only share information but actual personal time and effort too. In an experiment led by the NYU psychologist Madeline Heilman, a man who stayed late to help colleagues earned 14% higher ratings than a woman who did the same. When neither helped, the woman was rated 12% lower than the man.

Social expectations are the lead reason for the behaviour difference. As a manager, it is key to establish who is contributing and what the workload is of the people in your team. As a woman, it is important to note that information and knowledge sharing may often be enough without time and effort being brought into the equation. If you have a high turnover of female staff due to burnout, you may want to explore these subtle pointers to work out what is behind it.

Either way, I wouldn’t do turn my back on collaboration, but I would suggest careful monitoring of everyone’s workload from the assisted to the assistors. Whilst the assisted may receive the praise and recognition of the end result, their performance is often not possible without the assistors effort. When we do gamification design for collaboration, we want to encourage assisting and reward it strongly to kickstart the process. Having team goals helps in this regard, but the number of assists must also count for something. If a team always performs well because of 1 or 2 individuals within, then watch their workload and their engagement levels and look at sharing the burden.


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