The best organizations are successful because of high-performing employees. As a result, the most successful leaders have a keen understanding of how to attract and retain high-performing employees.
This first edition addresses a common management style that is sabotaging morale and jeopardizing the ability to retain top talent.
From securing better salaries to aligning with the organization’s overall strategy, one of the main reasons top performers leave for other opportunities has to do with over-reliance on employees with the best performance track record.
Historically, professionalism came along with the expectation that you worked through relentless competition at the start of your career and a series of promotions to senior-level roles would lead to the possibility of a partnership.
Retention of high performers occurs in both the public and private sectors. In the private sector, long hours are not uncommon in managerial and professional organizations such as law firms, CPA firms, management consultancies and investment banks. Historically, professionalism came along with the expectation that you worked through relentless competition at the start of your career and a series of promotions to senior-level roles would lead to the possibility of a partnership.
Senior-level positions afforded a certain amount of autonomy and time for “business development” or the country club. But things have changed considerably. Employees are no longer tied to one company. High-performing employees are in high demand (pun intended), and they move on – not just to the highest bidder but to the company willing to meet their needs.
The public sector offers formal and informal tenure. Long-term public sector employees are rarely terminated for performance. We see this long runway in education where teachers and professors are tenured or in government sector jobs. There are significant drawbacks as tenure routinely leads to complacency when employees are virtually guaranteed lifetime employment. While some people maintain a reasonable level of professionalism, many tenured employees continue to collect paychecks and even get promoted when the overall quality of work deteriorates. Allowing employees to effectively “retire on the job” creates an environment where the organization relies heavily on high-performers.
Public sector employees have long been thought of as lifetime employees, primarily because of defined benefit packages, including medical benefits and pensions. In an ongoing effort to reduce costs, employee benefit packages are much less generous. Public Agencies require employees to assume a larger share of medical expenses, and vesting in the retirement programs takes longer than in the past. Employees have much less incentive to stick around, and like their private-sector contemporaries, they are moving on.
I have heard many versions of these stories from consultants, attorneys, operations managers, other professionals, and leaders through my work. Although we know that chronic overwork ruins relationships, physical and mental health, we continue to work longer and longer hours and request longer hours from our staff.
Because a professional’s initial participation in the organization is often rooted in their desire to be the top performer or constantly trying to prove themselves worthy of the high salary or fees.
Intensifying this problem, organizations deliberately set out to identify and recruit “overachievers” because they are exceptionally competitive, capable and self-driven. This tactic may work with the high performer delivering in the short term but rarely works effectively in the long run. Eventually, the overachiever “burns out,” realizes that not everyone is required to work as hard, or realizes that the dedication to work has ruined their personal lives – their health, relationships, and self-respect.
More importantly, the overachiever models this behavior for subordinates and peers, then unconsciously replicates the systems of social control and overwork that helped create them. If you are a leader, you have a responsibility not just to your organization but also to yourself and the people who work there.
Help your colleagues to achieve their full potential, but do not allow yourself to exploit their insecurities or your own. Maintain accountability and require employees to perform the work the company pays them to perform irrespective of tenure or status.
If you are a leader who is wondering, “Why am I working harder than ever?” Or why are my highly compensated employees leaving in large numbers? Look at yourself and the organization that created the culture of over-reliance on high-performing employees. Hard work can be rewarding, but if you and your team are on the hook for unlimited support, it’s not sustainable in the long run. Charis can help aim for sustainability.
Learn to recognize when you are driving yourself and your staff too hard and reach out to Charis Advisory Group to help you improve your productivity, engage your workforce, and retain high-performing employees.