Inadvertently Punishing Star Employees

Great managers typically make great decisions. They have the ability to see beyond the urgency of the immediate and consistently think big picture. Even for great managers, however, there is one consistent trap that is hard to avoid: inadvertently punishing star employees.

Let’s imagine that there’s a woman named Anna who has worked for her organization for five years. Shortly after her arrival, she gained a reputation for producing excellent work. She always goes above and beyond, often arriving early and staying late. There does not seem to be one project that comes Anna’s way that she cannot handle.

No one makes a big deal of her commitment to hard work — Anna included. Her co-workers enjoy being around her, even commenting on multiple occasions how glad they are to have her on their team. Anna’s manager echoes those comments. What no one is consciously aware of, however, is that Anna is experiencing a growing desire to work somewhere else. What is causing Anna to experience such growing dissatisfaction?

Obviously, there could be many contributing factors, but in this scenario, one major factor is that Anna is being inadvertently punished. Because she is such a great employee, she is often given assignments that her manager knows Anna will do great work on. Other employees come to her for advice and assistance. Comments like, “Let’s get Anna to do it,” or “I know she’s busy, but Anna is always happy to help,” are the rule more than the exception.

No one is being malicious. No one is out to get her. No one is attempting to sabotage Anna, nor are they trying to make her life miserable. In many ways, they are actually complimenting her. However, the reality is not only is Anna being inadvertently punished, but other employees are also inadvertently punished by not being challenged to reach their fullest potential. So, how do we avoid falling into this type of workplace trap?

Here are a few pointers:

  • When thinking about work assignments, think about all employees. Don’t just give a work assignment to someone because you know they will get the job done.
  • Differentiate between managing a project and doing a project. Someone may be too busy to assume a new project, but may be in position to serve in a consulting or oversight role.
  • Pay close attention to what you see and hear. If you consistently note how great one employee is doing and other employee compliments are few and far between, then an unhealthy bias could be developing.
  • Do not enable low performers to remain low performers by taking the easy route of giving work to people you know will get the job done.

Would love to keep the conversation going. How do you avoid inadvertently punishing star employees?

Happy Training!

Greg Anderson
Written by:
Greg Anderson
President of Online Learning, Strategic Government Resources
Follow Greg on Twitter!@SGRGreg

2 responses

  1. Greg, excellent blog. I have long been saying that the reward for work well done should not necessarily be more work – By that I mean, employees who consistently go above & beyond, manage their time wisely, & take initiative, should be recognized in some way. Determining how that recognition is rewarded can vary.

    As a former educator, my philosophy was always rewarding work well done. If a student managed their time, finished their assignment early – I did not give them another project while the rest of the children were still working on the first assignment. Instead, that student was given a choice of several reward options (free reading time, working on a creative project).

    Recognition goes a VERY long way and the employer has a higher likelihood of keeping a happy and satisfied employee. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for your input! You’re right on target. A lot of people start abusing their “star” workers because they are efficient, but it definitely has negative effects.

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