How to Rescue Burned-Out High Performers

Consultant Mark Murphy knows something terrifying about your staff. "In 42 percent of organizations," he writes for Forbes, "high performers are actually less engaged than low performers."

Not only does this seem counterintuitive, but it's worrisome for employers on just about every level. Murphy makes the case that this is a self-inflicted problem. When a "slacker" drops the ball, the reliable high performer is usually asked to help. A low-performing worker has figured out how to game the system and has little interest in changing it for the better. That makes them more likely to tell management that everything is fine, while high performers may point out flaws in the workplaces. If a low-performing employee ultimately gets the same recognition and reward as a high performer, it's bound to demoralize the latter.

That's a perfect recipe for burnout, and a mental health crisis at work. As many as 1 in 5 highly motivated workers report feeling this way, while nearly three-quarters of American workers overall don't feel engaged with their job. It's worth knowing that certain mindfulness techniques have been shown to help recover from burnout, but an office bears some responsibility for protecting its workers — especially the load-bearing ones.

Murphy suggests that one key way to get the most from your workforce is to actually hold all your employees accountable. That means low performers must be both incentivized to do what you're paying them for and held accountable for their level of engagement. A little workplace anxiety is actually good in most cases, as it can push workers to strive. For any employees too scared to make an effort, it's important to know that failure is an option. Not only that, but failing big might turn the best outcome you never saw coming.