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Human Aspect: Beware of the Exceptional Employee

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Tacky? Well, may be!

It sounds counter-intuitive to be warned against the exceptional employees – the ones who work hard, put in extra hours, demonstrate organizational citizenship behavior, go the extra mile, help others, do not apply for leaves and put the organization before their own personal selves. Especially when we keep on hearing about ongoing war for talent.

Who doesn’t want an exceptional employee! I know for sure that I do!

The Story

Tapa loves her family. She loves her family so much that she not only makes her family breakfast, she literally earns her family the breakfast. She does not let her husband work. Her husband does not complain about the arrangement. He is a religious man who likes to read, write and think about God. He loves staying in his own realm.

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Her kids love Tapa too. She comes back from the office, cooks them food with the help of the maid she pays for. She also does the kids’ homework assignments. She does not want to give them “stress“. Her children read enough to get decent marks in school and with the increasing weightage on project marks, they have been doing better than the average because Tapa takes care of all their project assignments.

Tapa does not complain. In fact, she enjoys it all. She likes staying “engaged“. And her family members adore her. Her neighbors respect her. She is the leader with a hashtag.

But one day, in an unfortunate accident, Tapa ends up in the hospital with both legs fractured.

Now, imagine!

Imagine what would happen to her family members who were so dependent on her for everything. How would they manage? By going the extra mile, did Tapa actually make the family stronger or fragile?

The Organization Set-up

Similarly, in an organization, we have some exceptional employees like Tapa. They would do everything for their organization and bosses. But one day, they would quit or retire (or like Tapa: end up in a hospital with fractured legs). And just like Tapa’s family, the organization would be at a loss as to how to manage without them – forget about improving, just staying at the same level would be impossible.

Why does it become difficult to manage?

Because no one else was prepared to play the role played by Tapa. Forget the role played by Tapa. No one was prepared to play the role for which they were hired for in the first place. Every responsibility, accountability and eventually authority was centralized. The other members just never came to know about the 3 legs of the tripod which holds up an organization.

How to identify?

It isn’t rocket science. Just track the data easily available and communicate!

  1. Who are the ones working longer hours? Ask them why.
  2. Are all your employees taking vacations? Who are the ones not taking vacations? Ask them why. And make them take vacations. Seriously!
  3. How is the organization performing when the key employees are on leave or are even out for some training? Only in the absence of exceptional employees, can stress-testing of the organization take place.
  4. In this age of technology, no job should be critical. We make it critical. And if we want and have the will, we can “de-critical” a job too. But to understand all that, the ones at the top need to be good listeners.
  5. Talk to the exceptional employees. Check if they are training employees in their stead?
  6. Rotate employees across departments. Do not keep one employee with the same job responsibilities. The time period may vary from one type of job to the other but job-rotation not only enhances the motivation levels of employees, it also helps create a good bench strength of future leaders who have a holistic idea about the business overall.

These are some of the tips. But I am sure that much more can be done.

By the way, the work martyrs also harm themselves while putting in the effort to remain exceptional. They burn-out! Mind you, we need exceptional employees for exceptional results but not at the long-run cost of the organization or the health of the employee.

Tapa’s Future Action

While in the hospital, Tapa sees how her family has fallen in a state of despair. They cannot cook for themselves, wash their clothes or even instruct their helping hand. Her children cannot do their homework and eventually flunk. Her husband finds it hard to even use the ATM and buy vegetables. All this makes Tapa think. She makes a new resolution.

After she is released from the hospital, her style of working changes. She prioritises and does only the essentials. She helps her children with their homework only when necessary. She makes her husband search for a job and he gets one. They both take turns in doing the shopping for the household now.

Tapa becomes happier. And her performance at her work-place has become better although she spends less time there. Her children grow up to be self-reliant adults who understand the dignity of labor. Her husband is taken more seriously and he has got a new audience for his religious lessons at his workplace.

The total earning of the family has gone up. The members have become stronger. And they are better prepared now if at all someone falls sick or an accident befell someone.

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The same would happen to your organization too. If only you start managing your exceptional employees better. If only you be aware! 

Author: Amartya Dey, India

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