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49. The "Too Much of a Good Thing" Effect

For decades we’ve been told that employees want more autonomy and interesting and complex work. In the world of “enhanced work design,” more is better.

It turns out this isn’t always true. Research is consistently illustrating what’s called the “too-much-of-a-good-thing-effect” (yes, this is the name of an actual applied psychology theory).

We all want autonomy, but not everyone needs or wants extreme levels. It’s great to be able to have discretion on decisions and processes. But if there’s extreme autonomy, we’re annoyed because we don’t get any direction or we are stressed out because we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing.

Similarly, we want to be intellectually stimulated. But extreme levels of complex and challenging work lead to burnout. No one wants to feel like they are dealing with the impossible day-in and day-out for long periods of time.

The same trends are surfacing for work characteristics like variety, interdependence, and social support.

Research clearly illustrates that employees want enhanced work designs, but if we take it too far, it makes things worse.


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