Ever experience performance punishment? Imagine if Derek Jeter were so valuable to the (then) Greensboro Hornets they would never allow him to progress through the developmental leagues and on to the fabled career in the majors he (and baseball fans around the world!) now enjoys.
Or, what if the Cleveland Cavaliers gave LeBron James the keys to the kingdom to incentivize him to play out his entire career in a secondary media market with a slim chance of ever winning a championship?
Oh wait, we don’t have to imagine that one! After all, that’s precisely why he changed employers as soon as the chance of free agency presented itself. But this post isn’t about the self-proclaimed “King James”; it’s about a phenomenon known as “performance punishment.”
It happened to LeBron, it has happened to me, and chances are, it has happened to you or someone you know.
What is Performance Punishment?
Simply put, performance punishment is when you perform like a superstar and the so-called reward is to your detriment.
Sometimes performance punishment is subtle. Witness the self-proclaimed King James prior to his move to Florida.
If it’s a “LeBronish” case, performance punishment is when you are too valuable to the organization you’re within your current role, so they prevent you from pursuing other growth opportunities, effectively putting what’s good for the organization ahead of your goals and aspirations.
Now if your employer is top notch, they will ease your pain by throwing money at you or even creating a fancy title for you to sport . . . nearly anything to keep you their version of quiet and contently performing like the superstar they (and you) know you are in your current position. It’s all good until you realize, they have you right where they want you—and they plan to keep you there as long as you’re on the payroll!
And that’s performance punishment in the best case scenario.
The Disadvantages of Being the “Go-To” Person
Sometimes performance punishment is a bit more dubious. In this case, the alleged reward for pulling yet another rabbit out of the proverbial hat is a heightened expectation about your future performance leading to even more work.
Let me give you an example.
You have a major, immovable deadline to meet at work so you stay at the office an extra 4 hours before taking the project home to finish it. You sleep 3 hours, go into work early to polish the presentation and make your boss and your team look awesome to the higher ups.
Your boss and team toast your success later at the staff meeting with a chorus of “atta boys” or “atta girls” and you force a smile through a sigh, looking forward to some quiet time with your pillow as soon as it’s quitting time.
The next week, your boss, faced with another fire drill, makes a b-line to your workstation even though you told him/her you have after work plans that night. In the months to come, you quickly realize you are now the “go-to” person on the team.
Your reward? More work. More responsibility. More stress. Longer hours. And fewer pats on the back because of your proven ability to “save the day” is now your new normal.
That’s performance punishment. But I digress. . .
So while you work late and get assigned all the missions impossible, your co-workers enjoy a nice balanced work life. They come in at 9:01 am after enjoying a leisurely cup of their morning coffee and then head off to take their kids (imaginary or real) to soccer practice promptly at 4:59 pm at the end of each day.
You, on the other hand, feel like you must come in early and stay late just to keep up with the mountain of work that keeps getting piled on your plate as the result of being one of the team’s top performers.
Adding insult to injury, the one time your co-worker has to work 30 minutes late, you find it impossible to empathize.
Good ‘ol Performance Punishment is at it Again!
Making matters worse, the one time you fail to successfully complete a mission that 007 and MacGyver together couldn’t work their way out of, your boss wants to address it as a performance issue as he/she has “come to expect more of you”.
And sadly, your boss is right. Your performance IS the issue. But not in a way you could have ever imagined!
That’s performance punishment.
The Cure for Performance Punishment
Let me see. What would the self-proclaimed King James have you do? How about if you relocate to a city by the beach to accept a fantastic new job at a growth-oriented organization with an all-star team of coworkers and produce a TV documentary to announce your Decision to move on as the ultimate resignation letter?
Ok, maybe not (for most of us anyway!) but you can’t blame a girl for dreaming.
What are your dreams, I mean, thoughts? Share them in the comments!
Popular search terms for this article:
performance punishment, punished at work, performance punishment theory, punished for being a good worker, punished for being good at my job, why work hard get punished, why work well get punished, workplace performance punishment