It’s something I’ve thought was true, and now there’s proof: Being good at your job is not always good for you. According to research from the Duke University Fuqua School of Business and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, very good employees get punished with more work and with higher expectations than other workers while getting paid the same.
My wife used to tell me the same thing. She argues that good teachers get punished. When she was teaching first grade, she realized that discipline was essential. She spent the first few weeks of every school year working on establishing a routine and order. She wasn’t a screamer, but she was consistent and firm. Her students were disciplined and learned because of it. She also spent quite a lot of time at home working on her lesson plans, making them interactive and hands-on. They were fun and interesting for the kids.
Some of the other teachers didn’t want to spend the time doing that. They just ran off worksheets all week long – dull and boring for the kids but easy for the teacher. Some of the teachers just waited to see what she was doing and copied her work. Somehow, their lessons were never quite the same because they only copied materials but had no deep understanding of how she imagined their use.
When school board members’ relatives, the principal’s relatives and other teachers enrolled their kids in that school, they wanted them in her class. When another teacher had a difficult or unruly student, they were often transferred to her class – because she had discipline. That other teacher was rewarded because she did not have the skills or discipline to handle that student. When the principal was being reviewed, her class was the model room the principal took visitors and administrators to. She could never have an “off” day. It was all added pressure.
When her students moved up to second grade the following year, the second-grade teachers fought to get her kids because they knew they were prepared and disciplined. She certainly took pride in that, but she understood that the second-grade teachers – and the principal – expected more from her than from the other first-grade teachers.
Knowing how good she was, the principal kept adding assignments that the principal did not trust to other teachers. She kept working more and more after school, not that anyone noticed or cared. That pressure – among other things (more paperwork, more documentation, more testing, etc.) – eventually took its toll. All that time, she was doing extra work while getting paid the same as the other teachers. She left the classroom.
This is a danger to both the employee and the employer, as Christy Koval, a Ph.D. candidate and first author on the Fuqua School of Business study, pointed out. “Managers … should take note. If you take those high-self-control people for granted, you may risk losing them. While relying on go-getters might be a good short-term strategy — they’ll get stuff done — in the long run,” Koval suggests, “they might become dissatisfied with this burden we’re placing on them.”
In other words, they are more likely to leave unless that burden is more evenly spread around your entire team. So, instead of relying on one or two superstars on your team taking up the slack, it’s time to start getting everyone else to start improving their work and polishing their skills if needed. Team work implies that everyone – including YOU THE LEADER – does their share of the work and continually moves to push themselves to improve and do more.
You, the leader, have to be the person who models the way. You have to show that you are willing to improve your skills, learn something new, step out of your comfort zone, take on challenges you hadn’t before, work harder, and bring everyone else along with you, even if you have to drag them kicking, crying and screaming. If you don’t show that you are willing to do that, why would anyone on your team take you seriously if you ask them to improve?
Arnoldo Mata heads Leadership Resource Group, specializing in leadership and management training, grant writing and strategic planning, with more than 25 years working with non-profit organizations, community organizations, local governments and private businesses. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.