Don’t Overlook Recognizing Your Top Performers

Covid-19 working conditions have created all kinds of additional stressors, and employee engagement levels are fluctuating between historic highs and lows. Now is a great time to recognize your top performers and ensure they feel appreciated for their contributions.

Transactional Thinking

It goes without saying that no matter how an employee is performing, getting overlooked for hard work disappoints all the same, and being recognized for a job well done builds confidence all the same. But as organizations devote more resources to encouraging middle and low performers, high performers tend to get overlooked.

Your best employees create such a sense of ease and comfort in their daily work we can sometimes mistake high performance for high job satisfaction. This is commonly referred to as the “zero-defect mentality” – the idea that when someone is doing their job reliably well there is no need for guidance, support, or feedback. At a time when all employees are being asked to do so much more, it’s important to not fall under its spell.

High Cost of High Performance

The zero-defect mentality can become toxic when high performers end up getting assigned more strenuous duties by virtue of their talents with no continual feedback or recognition of their extra effort. In his Forbes piece 3 Reasons Why High Performers Are Often Miserable, bestselling author and human capital researcher Mark Murphy elaborates:

Imagine it’s Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and the board requests a major report due on Monday at 9 a.m. It’s a tight deadline, and this report could derail your career if it’s not done right. You’re going to need help to get the report written which means that you and someone else are in for a rough weekend of work. So, who do you turn to for help: the employee who gives 100% effort, or the employee who gives 50% effort? Obviously, you’re going to turn to the high performer who gives 100% effort.

3 Reasons Why High Performers Are Often Miserable – Mark Murphy

Transaction Inaction

It’s easy to get caught up thinking employee recognition is transactional – I give you x amount of recognition until you reach y level of performance, and that equals more profits. But the proposition is more complicated than that and has been made more fragile by the ongoing pandemic. Employee recognition has always been about more than the give and take. It’s also about the daily interactions, human relationships, cultivating an identity around showing gratitude for great work, and making sure everyone feels respected and safe, among other things.

The Great Equalizer

We all need some recognition for our work to remind us it’s worth something, especially now. In an engagement drought your high performers carry a lot of water, so making sure they aren’t overlooked is crucial. Recognition is a great equalizer, showing your employees that hard work is rewarded on its own merits, and everyone is supported. But for it to succeed it must include everyone, from top to bottom.

A previous version of this post was published in 2019 and can be found here

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