Many high-performing clients I am working with tell me they feel punished.

Punished for what you may be thinking?

In their words, they were punished for high performance, over achieving and exceeding expectations.

Here are a few examples of how many high performers feel they are being punished.

  • Increases in the number and bottom line they need to achieve.
  • Unrealistic expectations are set around KRAs.
  • High pressure and stress, given more to do with less resources.
  • Lack of professional development (Why invest when they are performing?)
  • Limited growth opportunities as there is nowhere to move, and they are kept in a role they are exceeding in.
  • Lack of individual support as they may seem not to need it.

In the workplace, high performers are typically not punished. Instead, they are rewarded, recognised, and even given opportunities for promotion or further learning and development to maximise growth and succession.

However, the world has changed, and so have the many ways of working, including this common challenge of being punished instead of rewarded when performance is high.

We all know the importance of being recognised and appreciated in the workplace.

When people feel appreciated, there are many benefits, and research shows that people with strong relationships at work are 61% less likely to want to switch jobs.

Here are a few reasons why high performers may be encountering difficulties:

Work-Life balance: Many high performers have a full focus on their careers and tend to prioritise work over family, social life, and wellbeing. This can lead to burnout, mental health issues and a constant strain on their wellbeing and relationships.

Cultural Dynamics: Certain workplace cultures do not fully understand, appreciate, or recognise contributions from high performers. This can result from a lack of performance evaluation systems, a lack of feedback and coaching to understand performance and sometimes even bias.

Growth opportunities: The opportunity to grow can be stunted for individuals that exceed expectations. Often there may be no succession plan, or they are kept in a holding pattern as their manager may see them as irreplaceable and keep them in the same role.

Resentment from others: Sometimes, peers or colleagues can become envious or even threatened by the success a high performer may have. This can stifle deep and meaningful interactions and relationships at work.

Many high performers will not experience these challenges, which is my hope; unfortunately, there are many people experiencing these as I write this article.

So how can leaders and organisations reward high performers?

We can approach this from many angles, depending on the organisational structure, culture, resources, and overall objectives.

Here are a few ideas:

Recognition and Gratitude: Show you appreciate high performers and let them know.
• Compliment high performers on the fly; don’t always wait until the time is right.
• Spend 1:1 time providing feedback and coaching to understand where your high performer is at.
• Individually or as a team, kick off team catch-ups with the question, “Who and what are you grateful for?”
• Introduce “Win Wednesdays”, where each team member shares a win, big or small and who and what helped them achieve this.

Projects that challenge: Get high performers to lead high impact projects that challenge them and keep them motivated. This shows that you trust their abilities and keeps them challenged.

Succession Plan: Every person should have a succession plan. Make sure you take the time to understand where high performers want to go. Look at a pathway and increased responsibilities that serve the high performer, not just new KRA’s that are bigger than before.

Self-Development: Many high performers love to grow and be stretched. Make sure they are provided with professional development. This could be training on specific skills, leadership courses, a personal coach or mentor or attending industry association events. Investing in this shows you are committed to their continuous learning, growth, and success. Utilise high performers to teach others and replicate success.

Balancing work and life: It’s important to recognise that work isn’t life, and life isn’t work.
Many high performers put pressure on themselves to keep performing and achieving. Ensure they take their annual leave; reward them with a well-being day or fun team activity. Make sure you are offering flexible work arrangements, including remote work options. I always say to watch the work and not the clock.

The way to reward high performers, whether they are your direct report, a peer, or a colleague, will vary from person to person. We need to understand each person at a human level and know what they like and what motivates and energises them.

Regular conversations, open communication and feedback are the best way to start.

High Performers, which could be you, are needed to make workplaces exceptional places to work and thrive.

Are you rewarding or punishing high performers in your workplace?