The Employees You Should Worry about Losing – The Average Ones

July 11, 2022 9:00 am Published by

A disturbing long-term trend has been documented by research – that a vast majority (up to 87%) of the workforce is either not engaged (read: they are present physically but not mentally or emotionally), or are totally disengaged (they actually undermine the success of an organization).  This is in spite of the fact that over 85% of organizations have an employee recognition program (which obviously aren’t working).

Don’t Focus So Much on Top & Low Performers

A basic challenge in working together with others is that not everyone performs at the same level with regard to the quality and amount of work done. Within a team, you will probably have at least one high achiever, a few above average employees, a group of solid team members in the middle, and then some who are not performing up to the level expected.

Most supervisors and leaders spend too much time and energy focusing on their top performers and/ or their low performers. But the group they should really be concerned about is the solid middle group – Joe & Jane Average. Why?

Because your top performers are self-motivated and are the ones who receive recognition and rewards through the company’s performance-based recognition program. The problem? This only reaches the top 10-15% of your team members, and the same ones year after year.

And your lowest performers may or may not improve with lots of time, attention, and training. They are important as individuals (we all are) but they are a black hole for investing organizational resources, and (unless they are government employees and protected from firing) they will probably not be around long.

The Key to Success: Your Average Performers

While many leaders focus on high achievers or worry about low performers, I would suggest that even more important are another group of employees: those who are critical to a successful organization but often get overlooked. They are the Average Achievers – the larger group of “middle” employees.

The middle employees are those 50–60 percent who generally do their work but aren’t going to be recognized as top performers. Since they rarely reach the highest levels of performance and recognition, they can be overlooked and go for years (even decades) without hearing any words of encouragement or praise. An analogy would be that the middle group of employees is like the flour and eggs in a baking recipe. If all you have are spices and icing, you don’t have much of a cake.

But these are the employees who need appreciation for their “day-in, day-out” work on mundane, routine tasks. If you lose your middle employees, you will struggle to perform well as a team. I liken them to the linemen and linebackers on a football team. They aren’t the star quarterbacks and running backs that score most of the points, but they are critical to having a solid team. Often, when encouraged and treated with respect, a number of the middle workers move up and become key team players important to the success of the organization.

Conversely, if neglected and ignored they will either sink into the lower ranks of performance as a result of discouragement and not feeling valued or they will quit and move on to another place where they hope to be appreciated for their contributions. (Remember: 79% of employees who leave voluntarily cite a lack of appreciation as one of the key reasons they quit.)

You don’t want this to happen. So I suggest the following:

Support and encourage those reliable employees who are doing a decent job. Everyone needs encouragement. And often these individuals are doing the best they can with the skills and education they have. Showing a little appreciation can go a long way to keep them encouraged and part of the team.

Celebrate team accomplishments as well as individual achievements. Remember, it takes a team working together to achieve significant goals. And your solid middle group of team members enjoy celebrating the wins you experience together – and deserve to celebrate with the higher-level leaders and stars because without their support, the goal wouldn’t have been reached.

Communicating appreciation to your solid middle group of employees will pay huge dividends in the success and stability of your team. Don’t neglect them or you’ll have a revolving door of team members (and you’ll be spending a lot more time hiring and training than you want to!).

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July 11, 2022 9:00 am


  • Renee says:

    The biggest issue is employers only allow 10% to 15% of their work forces to be rated as a ‘high achiever’ and then a percentage has to be at the bottom. This means all the rest may not get the rates/recognitions they deserve because of this restriction. Since there is this rule the ones they like the most get rated highest and the ones they dislike the most get the lowest. Everyone gets stuck in the middle.

    • Paul White says:

      Renee, unfortunately, many companies adopted this approach for rewarding high achievers, espoused by Jack Welch(former CEO of GE). However, after he left the company, its performance and profitability declined significantly, and many leadership experts have pointed out the negative impact this model has on employees, teams, and organizations. Your comment points out one problem. How much an employee’s rating is influenced by how “liked” their are by the supervisor is always a question, but the influence can be lessened by objective goals and behaviors being identified. The more serious problem, I think, is that the system pits team members against each other and (has been reported to me by numerous supervisors), leads them to losing quality employees. I wish I had an easy solution for you, but I don’t. You may want to take a look at some of our resources for toxic workplaces (Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, for example.)

  • Brian Neff says:

    Great article Paul! I have always strived to show appreciation for all contributions. I have something to add to your comment:
    ‘Support and encourage those reliable employees who are doing a decent job. Everyone needs encouragement. And often these individuals are doing the best they can with the skills and education they have. Showing a little appreciation can go a long way to keep them encouraged and part of the team.’

    Often, the individuals are also ‘doing the best they can’ with the training, machinery, tools and time available. Management needs to provide ALL the resources employees need to perform at their best. I often see employees struggling to perform with old equipment, poor maintenance, old computers/software, incomplete tool kits etc. with challenging schedules. Managers need to do their part to provide essential resources.

    • Paul White says:

      Brian, thank you for your comment. You’re right, management needs to make sure ALL of their employees have the training and resources they need to do their jobs well.

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