What’s Performance Punishing?

Performance Punishing occurs when the employee who performs very well is rewarded with more demanding work. Because they do such a good job, you load them with more and more work. Because they set high standards for themselves at work, you trust them to always produce exceptional work.

They often work out of hours without extra pay to get the job done. You always rely on them in a crisis. And they never complain or say “no”.

Why Managers Punish Performance

Conscientious, trustworthy, reliable and competent employees are hard to find. When we discover them we rejoice.

To satisfy ourselves that they’re as good as they seem, we give them more responsibility. They seem to thrive. We can’t believe our good fortune. So we ask them to look after some tedious work that everyone else avoids. They do it brilliantly.

We tell ourselves that we’re giving the employee an opportunity to “develop their skills” and “expand their experience”.

The downside for the Valuable Employee

We can “burn out” our most valuable employees this way. In extreme cases, they leave. If they stay, the quality of some of their work deteriorates. Instead of recognizing that they’re overloaded, we tell ourselves that they’re “not quite up to it”. We blame them instead of ourselves. We cease to encourage them. Over time the once outstanding employee Agency┬ábecomes just another worker.

Other Employees

When we give all or most of our most demanding work to one or two people, other employees can’t develop. We’ll never know how good they could be.

We accept average performance from them and they expect it of themselves. If we make demands on them in a crisis they won’t respond. They see unusual work as someone else’s work. We don’t expect much from them nor do they from themselves: a self fulfilling prophecy. Everyone loses.

Our overloaded and overworked people see their colleagues getting an easy ride. We’ve sown the seeds of discontent in the minds of our most valuable people.

We don’t notice any of this. We’re simply delighted with the efforts of our best people. And we feel they’ll thank us for the opportunity we’re giving them.

A 7 Step Alternative Approach

It’s a bleak picture. But it does happen. If you want to avoid the effects of Performance Punishing

– distribute work evenly among employees

– have clear performance standards for each employee

– give all employees the opportunity to do more demanding work

– if possible, structure jobs so that employees must work together to complete them

– have a job rotation plan using more experienced employees to teach less experienced

– spread “crisis” or tedious work across groups of employees

– always seek employee input on improving systems for better performance.


Performance Punishing is not uncommon. And its easy to understand how busy managers fall into it. The worst effects result in loss of your best people. It’s disruptive and risky at the very least.

The alternatives ensure development options for all employees, more management confidence in all employees and smoother, more productive workflow.


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