Note: I originally posted this piece at LinkedIn.
I’ve observed high performers drowning within their own work environments.
Their days are consumed with tasks that drag them far from where they would bring the most value. They are overworked — but vastly underutilized. They can feel stuck and frustrated. They often spend their days putting out their colleagues’ “fires” and must literally hide to secure uninterrupted periods of focused work.
In some ways, they are punished for being well-versed in “how things get done”.
This is wrong on so many levels.
If these practices are commonly occurring within your organization, you should proceed with caution. At the very least, you are tempting the “workplace fates” — and the fates may not be kind.
Research has indicated that your least engaged employees, may actually be your high performers. This flies in the face of conventional lore and contiguously sets up a dangerous, high risk scenario. The practice of your high performers picking up the slack for under-performers for example, can drone on for a time. However, this will likely create a whole new set of problems. At some point, the “gig” is up. You’ll look up one morning to find your high performer, standing in front of your desk, giving notice.
“Why”, you ask in complete and utter shock.
The most frustrating element in this dynamic? We can do something to prevent their exit. You’ll be left at a loss — but they may feel as if they have narrowly escaped a hostile environment.
Here are a few things to avoid where your top performers are concerned:
- Punish them for competence. If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it one thousand times. Often competent, established employees become responsible for each and every problem employee or departmental snafu. In essence, they have two sets of challenges — those of the entire group — and their own.
- Fail to challenge them. When things are the busiest and work simply needs to get out the door, you rely on your top performers to keep things flowing. However, this doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like the opportunity to tackle a “stretch assignment” that utilizes their skills and strengths, when things calm down.
- Fail to consult them when key changes are considered. We don’t always need a hired consultant to guide decisions affecting the business. Consult your established staff. Tapping their knowledge base helps us see the bigger picture for what it really is.
- Fail to share what they know. It is critical to share their depth of experience with others (not just those in trouble). Set up a master series — and let your high performers lead the way for your less established employees.
Have you had this experience?
How do you recognize your committed, high performers? Share your strategies.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.