In a competitive global world companies need to maximise performance from all of their employees. So new research, from Smith School of Business, Queens University which shows that employees ‘out-of-the-ordinary’– both high and low achievers – underperform due to being victimized by their peers rather than supported is concerning.
When other recent research has emphasised the importance of inclusivity and diversity in teams, the inability to establish a safe, supportive working environment, free from fear and victimization, can not only damage productivity but can also hamper innovation and creativity.
Most employees occupy the ‘great middle’ with each employee pulling his or her weight at an ‘ordinary’ level in the team. Those employees that are higher achievers can make ordinary team members look bad by comparison and those that are low achievers can cause resentment as the team has to prop them up. Following this logic the researchers Jaclyn M. Jensen (DePaul University), Jana L. Raver (Queen’s University School of Business), and Pankaj C. Patel (Ball State University), found that the greater the gap in performance between individuals and other employees, the higher the level of overt or covert victimization to which they were subjected.
High performers were more likely to experience covert ‘behind your back’ victimization, in the form of withheld information or the silent treatment. Low performers, less popular or able to retaliate, were subjected to more instance of overt ‘in your face’ victimization, sometimes on the receiving end of threats, profanity, and yelling.
The researchers also looked at whether employees who showed benevolent tendencies towards their co-workers would be less likely to experience victimization. They found that benevolent high performers who tend to be more sensitive to the differences in performance between themselves and their teammates can help offset victimization by helping others with their work. Poor performers, on the other hand, continued to be targets of overt victimization regardless of their levels of benevolence, possibly because aggressors perceived fewer risks of repercussion. These low performers can be caught in a downward spiral, in which poor performance leads to victimization, which in turn brings their performance down further.
Unsurprisingly, the research found that overt victimization which effected levels of individuals’ job performance also had an effect on group performance and the organization as a whole. To counter these bad effects the researchers suggested:
1. That managers consider using performance metrics that lessen direct comparisons.
2. High performers be given more challenging assignments and developmental opportunities, and be “separated into a different peer group to avoid direct performance comparisons with more poorly performing co-workers.”
3. Low performers should be nurtured “not only to address poor levels of performance but also to decrease the separation between performers in the work group, thus reducing this polarizing effect.”
4. Bolstering team dynamics is essential. By encouraging a shared purpose, establishing psychological safety, and minimizing unnecessary competition, team members develop a sense interdependence and are less likely to victimize outliers.
This article is based on an original article at QSB Insight
The original research: Is it Better to Be Average? High and Low Performance as Predictors of Employee Victimization. Published: Journal of Applied Psychology (vol. 99 no. 2, 2014)