The Dangers of Over-Reliance on High-Performers: How to Create a Sustainable Work Environment
Over-promotion, overburdening, over-reliance, or even over-utilization are all words that describe a significant organizational problem: what happens when an employee’s success in their current role leads to them being given more and more responsibilities without a corresponding increase in resources or support. Essentially, we are talking about an organization rewarding exceptional work from high-performers with more work.
However, what it really means is that an organization begins to expect too much from a high-performing employee, giving them excessive work or responsibilities to the point where it becomes unsustainable for the employee. It is arguably the worst compliment an organization can give its high-performers. It is also highly unethical, considering that such performers rarely get the pay increase to justify the increase in the workload.
Some have suggested that over-reliance is a slippery slope. However, I believe there is no slope. It’s a cliff. Over-reliance often results in numerous negative consequences that ultimately hurt the worker and the organization.
One of the most significant negative consequences of over-reliance is burnout. Burnout is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. Burned-out employees may become disengaged, less productive, and more likely to leave the organization. Furthermore, over-reliance can lead to decreased performance, as employees may become overwhelmed and unable to maintain their high output level. Moreover, it can lead to health issues like stress-related illnesses, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease.
Another major issue that arises from over-reliance is decreased morale among employees, as they may feel that their contributions are not valued or that their workload is unfair. This can lead to high turnover, as employees may leave the organization searching for a better work-life balance. High turnover can be costly for organizations, as it can lead to the cost of recruiting and training new employees and decreased productivity.
To prevent over-reliance on high-performers, organizations must recognize the limits of their employees and provide them with the support and resources they need to continue to perform at a high level without burning out. Some ways to prevent overworking high-performers include:
- Setting realistic goals and expectations: Clearly communicate expectations and goals to high-performers and make sure that they are realistic and achievable within the resources and support provided.
- Prioritizing and delegating tasks: Prioritize tasks and delegate some responsibilities to other team members to ensure that high-performers are not overwhelmed by their workload.
- Providing resources and support: Provide high-performers with the resources and support they need to meet expectations and goals, such as additional team members, training, or equipment.
- Encouraging work-life balance: Encourage high-performers to maintain a healthy work-life balance and to take time off when needed.
- Regularly reviewing and adjusting workload: Regularly review and adjust the workload of high-performers as necessary to ensure that it remains sustainable.
- Providing fair compensation: Provide high-performers with fair compensation, including benefits and incentives, in recognition of their contributions and to avoid any sense of exploitation.
- Fostering a culture of open communication and feedback: Encourage open communication and actively listen to concerns and feedback from high-performers so that you can address issues before they become a problem.
- Involving high-performers in decision-making and giving them autonomy in their work: Giving high-performers more control over their work can help to keep them engaged and motivated and reduce the risk of over-reliance.
- High-performers should learn to say no and set boundaries: High-performers should be aware of their limits and be able to communicate them; they should also learn to say no in some cases and set boundaries.
The point is that this is a very serious issue. Unfortunately, the issue is getting worse in this stressed and demanding labor market. However, this practice will not end well for the organization. The best case scenario is that the employee attempts to endure the hardship, burns themselves out, and becomes vocal about your organization’s culture. The worst-case scenario is that the high-performer quits, goes to a rival firm, and becomes vocal about your organization’s culture.
That said, it is not all about the organization, though. It’s important for high-performers to take some responsibility and initiative as well. High-performers need to be aware of the red flags that show they are being overworked, such as working longer hours, experiencing pressure to neglect personal responsibilities, and feeling fatigued and burnt out, among others. They must also be aware of their limits, and communicate their concerns, to find a balance between their workload and personal life.
Over-reliance on high-performers is a significant organizational problem that can lead to numerous negative consequences for the worker and the organization. If your organization cannot get a handle on the issue, remember that there are trained professionals willing to help. Leadership development and organizational development can help in preventing over-reliance on high-performers. Leadership development can help managers and supervisors understand the importance of setting realistic goals and expectations, setting boundaries, prioritizing and delegating tasks, and promoting a healthy work-life balance. Moreover, organizational development can help organizations identify the root causes of over-reliance and develop strategies to address them, such as providing additional resources or support.
Now is not the time to lose your high-performers. Now is the time to multiply them. Navigate accordingly.