Addressing Performance Punishment through Effective Management
“I know you’re swamped, but there’s no one else I can trust to get it done fast and right.”
Does this statement sound familiar to you? Perhaps it’s been said to you, or maybe you’ve said it to someone else? Flattering as it may sound, it’s a common phenomenon where good work is rewarded with more work. This is referred to as performance punishment.
For the recipient, the statement is lovely to hear. Their manager rates their abilities and trusts them to deliver, over their peers. During praise, the brain releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. So, it’s human nature that after receiving a status boost, people keep coming back for more.
While the statement is ego-boosting, it contains a ‘red flag’, hiding in plain sight. The use of the word ‘swamped’ is an acknowledgment that the employee is already struggling to keep up with their current workload. Despite this observation, the expectation is still there for them to take on additional tasks.
Performance Punishment and Its Effects
Over-achievement often results in unequal tasking in the workplace, otherwise known as performance punishment. This is an unfair burden for high-performing employees. The fear of saying ‘no’ and disappointing their manager can cause stress and burnout. This can eventually result in absences and even resignation.
Performance punishment often comes without any official recognition, such as a change of title, or additional compensation for the top performers. Employees are expected to take on more without reaping any of the benefits. This is known as quiet promotion. When there’s no consequence for a poor work ethic, and no reward for a good work ethic, there’s no motivation.
An imbalance in the allocation of tasks often happens when well-meaning managers make decisions based on unconscious biases. These comprise what is known as the SEEDS model.
- Similarity – “I’ll give it to the person who shares my views on the subject.”
- Expedience – “I assume this person has the most capacity for this task.”
- Experience – “I think this person did a task like this before.”
- Distance – “This person is already on the phone with me, I’ll just ask them.”
- Safety – “I don’t feel I can trust anyone else on this task.”
Biases lead to disparity which is unfair to everyone on the team. They negatively impact the under-performers as well as the over-burdened, over-performers. Employees are incapable of growth if they aren’t given the opportunities to promote it. Motivation and morale take a serious hit.
“Good employees quit when management is bad. Bad employees quit when management is good.”
The Burnout Strategy
Over-achievers may try to deal with the issue by reducing their value – either by pushing back on the tasks being given, or through underperforming by reducing their productivity. The former is hard to do in a supportive team, and the latter doesn’t come easily to an over-achiever. Morale takes a dip, especially if they see others have an easy time while they struggle.
“Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one.”
Addressing the Issue
Habits must be encouraged, and systems put in place, to proactively address bias. The following habits should be practiced daily;
- Label – to identify what type of cognitive bias you may be having.
- Mitigate – to apply in-the-moment strategies and preventative measures.
- Engage – to encourage others to help mitigate the influence of bias within teams.
Creating positive anticipation, perhaps with a weekly acknowledgment of the most productive employee on the company website, will be more effective at motivating action than threatening poor performance with a demotion or pay cut.
- Develop Skills Throughout the Year
Touch base regularly with employees, to provide praise or constructive criticism, assign them skills development opportunities, and connect them with resources to learn throughout the year. Lower-level performers will then benefit from additional skills. Meanwhile, the top performers will have the breathing space to pursue new development opportunities, which prevents boredom from setting in.
- Assign Work Fairly
Imbalances in workload can cause resentment among employees. While it’s tempting to assign tasks to top performers not requiring support, managers must consider how to receive first-rate work from those not performing at a consistent level of excellence. Try placing a top performer in the same team as someone who needs to develop relevant skills. Or assign an individual project to two employees at different skill levels. This helps your top performers grow their training skills, while your developing employees can learn from working alongside them. Group collaboration can result in higher quality work being produced.
- Communicate Expectations
Top performers seeking promotion but not receiving the right input may decide to To avoid resignations, managers must prioritise clear communication. Conversations to discover where employees see themselves going in the organisation is a must. Employees should feel safe enough to be candid about their intentions. If someone indicates a wish to move on soon, their manager can offer additional opportunities, advocate for a deserved promotion, or design a path for the employee to reach their desired role.
With ongoing skills development, fair distribution of work, and open and honest communication, managers can lead everyone on their team to growth and success. If you would like to find out more about performance punishment or learn how to stop rewarding good work with more work, then please drop us a message and follow us on LinkedIn for more content.