Are Your Best Employees Pressured to Leave Their Jobs?

I’ve often heard, and experienced, the tale of the strong employee who shocks everyone and leaves his or her job unexpectedly. Everyone wonders why, and then, gradually, the grapevine reveals that the employee’s colleagues and work environment had become unsustainable.

I thought of that common scenario this morning when the news came out that House Speaker John Boehner would be resigning not just from the Speakership, but from Congress altogether. I puzzled over why he would resign altogether from a job he seemed to have a passion for, and had risen far in, and then I remembered my own observations of the work world.

If you’re in the position of carrying a significant balance of the workload, it’s not unusual for there to be others who feel free to critique heavily from the sidelines, while contributing little themselves, or those who take advantage of the high-performing employee’s ability to get work done—and pile even more on.

Once you’re a department’s, or business unit’s, point person for executing assignments, you risk placing yourself in the position of having a thankless job. I’ve never encountered a company before that did a good job of acknowledging the reality that, regardless of promises of collaboration, there is always one person in each work group who carries the heaviest load, and without whom the work simply wouldn’t get done. The delusion of an equal sharing of the workload in each department makes it hard for companies to provide adequate support to those carrying the heaviest loads. Many, if not most, of these individuals do not carry titles commensurate with their contribution, so it’s easy for them to be overlooked, and even beat up on. That, obviously, wasn’t the problem for a person who carries the title of Speaker of the House, but it is a problem for many of your employees carrying the heaviest workloads with ample pressure, and little acknowledgement or support from the company.

How can companies better recognize and support those contributing the most completed and delivered work in each business unit? Since titles are usually not a good indication of workload level, how can trainers and Human Resource professionals go about doing this?

The first step is getting rid of the delusion that work is shared equally in each work group. Most of us have seen for ourselves that this isn’t true. There’s often an informal role division in which one employee becomes the work horse, another the critic and loudest voice, and another (or two or three) the lesser work horses who become resentful when the lighter workload they are carrying—compared to their chief work horse colleague—is pointed out.

A trainer or Human Resource specialist helping to develop a work group has to first recognize, based on performance reviews and meetings with each member of the team, that one person is carrying a much heavier load than the others. It’s usually hard for a work group’s manager to recognize the group’s hardest worker, since they may tend to reflexively favor another employee they simply like better, or who is a friend of theirs. For that reason, it is helpful for an HR representative, or a trainer, to sit in on performance reviews for an objective perspective. It’s also important for performance reviews to emphasize the importance of employees listing in itemized fashion their work routine, and tasks completed, on an average day. This is something I always did on my own because I always suspected that few knew how much I did, but most employees probably don’t realize that a performance review is an opportunity not just to be evaluated and rewarded, but to set the record straight.

Once the record is set straight on who is doing the most work in each work group, rather than who has the highest or fanciest title, the next step is figuring out how to best support them, so they aren’t burnt out, and pressured by colleagues/critics who, in reality, are contributing much less. I would recommend making the manager of each work group aware of the workload dynamic they may be missing, and then suggest the manager have a conversation with the star employee to let her know the boss realizes the heavier workload she has been shouldering, and that if the burden becomes unmanageable or overwhelming, to not hesitate to knock on the boss’ door. The key is letting the star employee know she’s appreciated, and that the boss would prefer finding strategies to offset the pressure placed on her, rather than lose the work group’s most important contributor.

How does your company acknowledge star employees in each work group, and then ensure these star players don’t end up unrecognized, unsupported, and burnt out?

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