Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

How Managers Can Protect Their High Performers

By Jacquelyn Adams

There are two sides to every coin, and last week I wrote about why employees should stick to their job descriptions and expect managers to respect their time. This week, I thought we should take a minute to consider management’s perspective on respecting their employees’ time and energy. It can be easy to assume that maximizing an employee’s investment and placing additional demands on them would fast-track the workflow; however, it can result in some significant road hazards in the long run.

Avoid good employee burnout

Too often, when it comes to good employee burnout, a lack of respect for employees’ time and energy is at the root of it. Frequently, it is the high performers whose job descriptions are expanded. Once they complete their set tasks, additional tasks outside their job description are added. Because they are so knowledgeable and effective, they are then tasked with training others or attending meetings outside their regular working hours. It is expected that they will be team players who will do this additional work for the good of the company. In the end, being a productive worker becomes viewed as a punishment, as tasks increase without a commensurate compensation increase.

This dynamic has resulted in the growing trend of good employee burnout. These employees either stop caring or take their skills and work ethic to an employer who more actively appreciates and validates the employees’ contributions — with compensation matching the work accomplished. So, while it might be a gain in the short term, managers who over-use their high performers will find that it results in a surplus of underperforming employees and a toxic workplace in the long term.

Pursuing a healthy company culture

Toxic workplace, you say? Ahhhhh, yes. That has become a prevalent phrase in the last few years. And one of the quickest ways to scare away talent is to get a reputation as one of those toxic companies that expects employees to give 110%, leaving little to nothing for a balanced life. With employer branding platforms like Glassdoor, your work culture is not a secret. Potential employees will check the employee reviews, so if you want to catch those high performers, you need to create and nurture a respectful, healthy environment.

Have the difficult conversations

Just as employees have to be willing to have difficult conversations to gain respect, managers must also be ready to have difficult conversations to keep their good employees. Of course, these conversations look different from a managerial standpoint than they do for employees. This includes:

  • Requesting assistance – The first step is to realize that if we request additional work time from our employees (outside their job description and/or regular working hours), it is just that: a request. There are times when employees are willing to volunteer a certain amount of their time because they believe in the company or the project. Still, we need to come into every conversation understanding that it is the employee volunteering time/energy and not something that is owed to the company.
  • Setting expectations – when employees do agree to go above and beyond, be sure to set clear expectations. Give an estimate of how many hours it should take and/or a date by which it should be resolved. If it goes beyond the initial agreed-upon investment, schedule a follow-up conversation to reassess their investment and willingness to continue volunteering, or whether there needs to be some additional compensation.
  • Compensating assistance – As I said in the previous article, free pizza does not equal compensation. But if we have a high performer and we want to lean into that, it is worth bringing them in for a conversation about what it would look like to put more on their plate. This could involve a raise, but part of the conversation could also be perks like company merchandise or services, if those would genuinely benefit the employee.
  • Addressing underperformers – Unfortunately, managers cannot solely be an awesome boss that everyone wants, who exclusively offers the carrot. We sometimes have underperformers whose work performance issues must be addressed. If not, resentment will flourish as other team members are compelled to pick up the slack. In these hard conversations, it is our job as managers to determine if the issue is temporary or involves extenuating circumstances. It is our job to handle these situations fairly and with due compassion to maintain a healthy workplace.

In the end, if we want to maintain our good employees and pursue a healthy work culture, then we must respect the investment of all our employees, having those difficult conversations about the good and bad investments. And then follow up on those by having more challenging conversations. Only through ongoing dialogue can we have good relationships, demonstrate respect, and have healthy workplaces with productive employees.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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