“The only reward for doing good work is the addition of more work.”

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Before I get going on this top performer curse idea, let me hit you with a pull quote. It’s from an article called “Help Your Team Achieve Work-Life Balance, Even When You Can’t.” (Noble goal.) Here’s the quote:

Redistribute work more evenly. Research by a team from Duke University, University of Georgia, and University of Colorado in 2015 found that managers underestimate how much time it takes to get something done and assign more work to those who are seen as more competent and responsible. So the only reward for doing good work is the addition of more work. High-performers reported feeling “burdened” and were unhappy about others’ over-reliance on them. Reassigning work to others on the team can help prevent burnout and turnover. It also provides much-needed learning opportunities for others on the team.

Get a nice laugh out of that?

The top performer money quote

Here’s one of the essential problems with work overall

There are other designations you can receive in your office, including “the emotional one” or “the attention to detail one” or “the superstar one.” In reality, most of this is largely bullshit. Human beings are human beings. They respond to the conditions and context around them. It’s that simple. We over-complicate so much of the people side of work and yet, at the same time, manage to completely simplify who Jim is down to “the basket case bad employee.” Really odd to live through for 40+ years in the middle of your life.

OK, so back to the top performer curse

In such an environment, managers only really care about one thing: shit getting done, or more specifically, shit getting off their plate — or, even more specifically, their own boss not shitting on them about some shit on someone’s plate. Bottom line: get stuff done. That’s what matters. Execution. This is why “critical thinking” doesn’t exist in most companies. Who has time to think? Gotta execute.

So if Mr. Ass Clown Andy The Middle Manager sees Terrific Tom hitting KPIs like an Army sniper, Andy’s gonna give Tom more and more work. Tom has a newborn? Who gives a fuck? Andy needs those targets hit, so that Andy’s boss can praise Andy.

That’s the top performer curse, in a nutshell.

Can we solve this?

The real deal is this: on a given team of 10 for any project, probably 2–3 do most of the work, 2–3 do nothing, and the rest update spreadsheets and other middling crap all day. We’ve all been on these teams. A bad manager looks at the 2–3 doing all the heavy lifting and throws more crap at them. A good manager, by contrast, figures out what’s up with the 2–3 doing nothing, tracks the value-add activities of the middling spreadsheet updaters, and finds a way to relieve the 2–3 doing all the work of some burden.

In short: a bad manager reacts to his needs by assigning work to the top performer. A good manager responds to the situation by contextually getting more information about it and making decisions off that.

In that same article I linked above (at the top), HR leaders say that 50% of their turnover year-to-year is associated with burnout. No shit. You don’t think Mr. Top Performer is getting burned out? Of course he is. And when you lose a top performer, that’s a bigger hit than losing Middling Marty over here. So think on this stuff. Think about how you assign work and put people in teams. It does matter.

Anything else you’ve seen on how companies approach the top performer?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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