Ideally, we’d want the highest performing employees to be the most engaged with the company; the ones that are motivated to give 100% and would think their company is a great employer. However, this isn’t the case.
New analysis from employee engagement survey firm Leadership IQ reveals just the opposite. In 42% of the organizations surveyed, the lowest performers were much more engaged than the high and middle performers. The worse part: low performers don’t even know they are low performers.
“Low performance is not a state that should remain in perpetuity,” said Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ. “Leaders must ensure they don’t continue forever and dig into the issues.”
Leadership IQ’s analysis looked at 207 organizations across all industries and sizes. The analysis compared employee responses to engagement statements such as “I am motivated to give 100% effort when I’m at work,” and “Leadership holds people accountable for their performance,” with the organization’s assessment of the employee’s job performance. In 87 of those organizations, low performers were more likely to agree with those statements. Since job performance is based on the organization’s evaluation, not Leadership IQ’s, the firm found that low performers did not realize that they were the least productive of their coworkers.
“It’s not uncommon for managers to avoid conversations with low performers,” he said. “High performers see this as skating by and it undermines a sense of fairness.” He said that it shows high performers that the organization is not a meritocracy.
This is critical for productivity, as employee engagement is measured according to two dimensions: the extent an employee is willing to give 100%, and the likelihood an employee will recommend the organization as a great place to work. In that 42%, the low performers are the most engaged, which puts the company at risk of losing these high performers.
“High performers are intrinsically motivated, but are burning out as they take on a disproportionate share of the work,” Murphy said. Once high performers burn out, they begin to wonder if the boss recognizes what they bring to the company, and might begin to look for a new company that understands their value.
As dismal as this seems, keep in mind that the other 58% are getting it right. Their highest performers are the most engaged, so achieving a balance between performance and engagement is possible. Murphy says that part of achieving that balance is leadership taking the time to remove some of the hurdles that are getting in the way of high performers’ ability to do their best work.
“When [high performers were] asked whether it would be preferable to work with a low performer or to work short staffed, short staffed was the overwhelming answer,” he said.
In fact, a separate Leadership IQ study of over 70,000 employees revealed that 93% said that working with low performers actually decreased their productivity. Murphy said this is because working with a low performer is not a benefit to a high performer, as the high performer has to pick up the slack while low performer just gets in the way.
Murphy also recommended that leadership take the time to hold employees accountable and to differentiate between high and low performers with clear and transparent standards. Leadership needs to be transparent as to what constitutes a high performer.
However, the entire burden of increasing performance and productivity doesn’t fall just on leadership. Murphy says that employees also need to take some initiative by analyzing their performance through self-reflection.
“Every employee needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they should be doing certain things,” he said. “If you don’t know where your performance is, you need to ask the boss. You need to ask about strengths and weaknesses to get an accurate perspective.”
A top-rated research and management consulting firm, Leadership IQ provides employee engagement surveys and leadership training (both online and onsite) to the world’s most successful organizations and their leaders. Leadership IQ is headquartered in Atlanta, GA with regional offices in Washington DC, New York City, Chicago and Shanghai. For more information, call 800-814-7859 or email [email protected]