Why Top Performers Are So Hard To Please

Why are the best employees also the hardest employees to retain? In short, because they care the most and, in turn, are the most easily disappointed and frustrated. All-star employees have high standards. They demand a great deal from themselves and from others—including their employers. The details that the average employee may not even notice can become major sticking points for the best employee. 

In a survey of 1,200 U.S. Army rangers, Thomas Britt of Clemson University found that the obstacles to high performance such as work overload resulted in lower levels of morale and job satisfaction. These effects were greatest for the most highly engaged soldiers. “The most committed and personally invested rangers, the ones who ranked work-relevant values as the most important, ranked morale and job satisfaction lower in the face of insurmountable impediments.” In other words, the rangers who cared most about their work were the most demoralized when they were prevented from doing their best.

One of the most common source of frustration for high performers is insufficient resources, such as time, technology, and support staff. Unless they are given the tools that they need to do their work at an optimum level of quality, top performers will feel stymied and frustrated, causing them to leave the organization if not resolved quickly.

Another source of frustration is found in the type of work assigned. Everyone wants to do work that utilizes their strongest skills. But for top performers, this is critical. Top performers quickly become disengaged if assigned to work that someone else could do more effectively and efficiently. To prevent this, employers must assign the right type of work to their best employees. And this can be done only if you understand what the “right” type of work is. How is this accomplished? Only with frequent interaction, monitoring, and feedback. The employee may be able to tell you what he or she is best suited to do. But he may not. It may be that he needs some coaching and one-on-one guidance from his manager to be able to articulate the areas where his talents lie.

The Action Plan

Goal: Retention of the organization’s best performers.

Obstacle: Deeply rooted disengagement

Cause: Inability to perform work that utilizes the employee’s specific skill set.

Solution: Regular interactions with the employee to determine what aspects of his current workload give him the most satisfaction and what institutional roadblocks are preventing him from performing at his maximum level.