The Employees You Should Worry about Losing? The Average Ones

July 17, 2023 9:39 am Published by
A man walks out of his office with a box of his belongings. Resignation

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 17, 2023 9:39 am


  • L Stewart says:

    Yes! Work is a team sport. I am so done with hearing about HIPOs as if they occupy a space all on their own. They bring their gifts to the team and we should recognize that. We should also recognize that everyone on that team has their own contribution to make and we have to pay enough attention to find out what that is.

    The most successful coaches makes sure the HIPOs know, as valuable as they are, no one person can make the team successful. Wayne Gretzky got more than twice as many assists than goals.

    Interestingly, it doesn’t take much to make a team fail: just one bad manager.

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