In today’s performance-oriented world, high performing employees are valued by organizational leaders. But are they valued as much by their colleagues?
Invariably, average performers will at some point compare themselves with the high performers in the workplace. This can be great when high performers are good role-models and motivate their colleagues to increase their own productivity. For many, being associated with a high performer can feel good and can lead to an increase in self-esteem.
But what happens when employees feel that their own performance looks poor in comparison to the performance of high performers? Or what happens if employees believe that high performers reduce opportunities and organizational resources that could instead enhance the performance of their peers?
TO SUPPORT OR UNDERMINE HIGH PERFORMERS?
Researchers (Campbell, Liao, Chuang, Zhou, & Dong, 2017) found that when high performers are perceived to enhance the performance of other employees, they receive social support from their peers. If however they are perceived as a threat to the success or performance of other employees, their peers will seek to actively undermine these high performing colleagues. Such antisocial behavior often consists of aggression, exclusion, and ridicule, calculated to discreetly influence colleagues by eroding their positive perceptions of high performers within the organization.
Interestingly, the researchers also explored the level of cooperation present in the team climate and whether or not this had an effect. They anticipated that in more cooperative climates, outstanding individual performance would be perceived to consume valuable group resources (both social and physical) and thereby jeopardize the performance of the group as a whole. They found that the more cooperative the climate, the less likely high performers are to receive support by their peers and more likely to be undermined.
ORGANIZATIONAL IMPLICATIONS FOR HIGH PERFORMERS
The authors discuss several different implications of this research. First, despite organizations investing large amounts of time and money into talent acquisition and management programs to attract and retain high performers, these high performers often remain difficult to retain. This study offers one possible situation where victimization can become a substantial contributing factor in failure to retain high performers.
Another implication is that workplace leaders and managers who regularly promote the values of cooperation and collaboration within their teams may need to remain mindful of the social consequences this may cause for high performers. The researchers recommend that managers consider how they can promote acceptance of individual performance within the group and be intentional about providing all members with the opportunity to perform at higher levels.
Additionally, high performers should be encouraged to focus on developing strong relationships with their colleagues in order to maintain trust and mitigate any threat their success may create for their peers.
Campbell, E., Chuang, A., Liao, H., Zhou, J., & Dong, Y. (2017) Hot Shots and Cool Reception? An Expanded View of Social Consequences for High Performers, Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(5), 845–866.