Employee Engagement: 3 Morale Killers for High Performers

By Dr. Terry Jackson

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

In academia and corporate America, one of the hottest topics today is inspiring high performers and employee engagement.

As scholars and organizations try to find solutions to increase employee engagement, some employers remarkably find ways to mistreat high performers. Often organizations are not aware that they mistreat their high performers.

Three Morale Killers

  • Conformity
  • Micromanagement
  • Reactive environment

Research shows that people join companies but leave managers. The connection between employees and managers makes a huge difference in the degree of engagement and involvement people will feel. If people know you understand what matters to them, they’ll trust you to act in ways that align with their interests.

Here are descriptions of the “3 morale killers” that lead to high performers exiting an organization:


Many years ago, Earl Nightingale was credited with saying, “the opposite of success is not failure; the opposite of success is conformity.” Conformity is defined as a social influence involving a change in belief or behavior in order to fit with a group. It is yielding to group pressures (Crutchfield, 1955).

Compliance is the most common form of conformity. It is the form that is observed most. Compliance is changing one’s public behavior while privately disagreeing.

In his book Overachievement, Dr. John Eliot states, “by definition, high performers are abnormal; they strive, throughout their entire careers, to set themselves apart from the pack.” What this means is forcing a high performer to conform is not suggested. Conformity is not in their DNA. By nature, high performers are non-conformists.

Micro Management

Micromanagement is a destructive management style in which the supervisor closely observes or controls the work of the employee. It can have negative and long-term effects on a business’s success. It ties up management in issues that other employees are better suited to deal with, resulting in time and productivity loss.

It also displays a lack of trust in employee performance and ability, which leads to employee frustration, demotivation, and burnout.

When employees feel they have little control or power over their own work, they can become resentful, disengaged, and less likely to contribute to their full potential.

Reactive Environment

Effective, high performers operate with a proactive approach. Reactive environments are draining and demotivating to high performers. They embrace the truest sense of what it means to be a visionary.

They are able to perceive the challenges and introduce systems that facilitate navigating through those challenges when they hit. They also foresee the good times ahead and set up to take advantage of and celebrate those times.

High performers think differently, act differently, and seek environments that encourage creativity.

Environments that include any of the three morale killers will be detrimental, and high performers will seek environments where the morale killers are non-existent.

How Do You Inspire High Performers?

If you have ideas about high performers that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Terry Jackson
Dr. Terry Jackson
Terry is Managing Partner for WEpiphany. Developing People is Terry’s purpose and passion. Terry brings 25 years of experience working for organizations and is also a certified Executive and Business Coach, and Sales Trainer.
  • Kirk Hallowell says:

    Great blog. Very clear and consistent with my experiences. I often wonder how much these dynamics are fueled by a manager being threatened by a high-performing employee.

  • Chris Elliott says:

    I like the simplicity of 3 items. What do you see as some tactics for overcoming these; in particular, creating an environment of pro-active behavior?

  • Mark Graybill says:

    Good article Dr. Jackson – especially the Morale Killer in Conformity. I’d like to offer some further thoughts regarding conformity if you don’t mind. This is in line with my doctoral studies in social neuropsychology.

    At one time in my career I worked in an environment that placed such incredible value on conformity it required presentation skills more elusive and subtle than what was taught to Eliza Doolittle (from My Fair Lady, to pass her off as a lady born to upper society). When people would get together to meet such deportment is expected and if you don’t exhibit such behavior you will be appeased at best but usually ignored – and never will your contribution there be accepted.

    Unfortunately, no one does or can teach you how to behave – they just know that you do or don’t because they “feel” that you are or are not assimilating the culture. It is unfortunate for those who are not built to automatically conform in every nuance right down to their perspective because they never will. Consequently, they will remain an outcast from the sociopolitical in-group ever the more.

    When I first started there, I heard more than once the question if I was a new employee – that people who’ve been there a while don’t talk the way I did. None of those experiences were related to explicit aspects of the organization such as processes and procedures – or a particular professional context. What they referred to was revealed in their ambiguous responses to my question “Why?” They couldn’t tell me what I said that made them think I was new – they “just knew”. Perhaps this is why newbies get marginalized and treated with condescension and even contempt when they offer an idea.

    Pressure to conform at that organization operated so far below conscious awareness that no one knows what it is. Most just learn how dangerous behavioral dissent is and so tried to avoid it at all cost. You learn the hard way after being there for 5 years or more, what words and behavior – even the most subtle and consciously undetected, that is acceptable and is not acceptable. You learn by the most devious and powerful of punishments: silence and ostracizing. This keeps it on the limbic system down-low and as a result, they have such a lack of conflict that diversity of thought is not actually tolerated (officially professed though).

    How might it be changed? A quick Jack Welch method would be effective, which would be to start firing managers that propagate the culture, but because it is their “kingdom” that won’t happen. Besides, that organization doesn’t believe in firing people (unless they break the law). If they don’t like you, they will ask you to leave and if you don’t force you into a position that marginalizes you – or turn the grapevine so against you that you might as well hide in your office the rest of your career. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job either. The quantity of “dead bodies” at that organization is astronomical.

    How do you think morale is at such an organization? Well, there is the morale you show publically, and then there is the real morale you might share secretly with trusted colleagues off campus. You just get into your routine, do what you’re told, and hope you can survive until retirement. At best you let go of any hopes and dreams early on – and when you’ve been there long enough and not rocked the boat along the way, you might get a little responsibility and have the authority to do something on your own. You then propagate the culture by at least marginalizing and ignoring new people – regardless of their education and experience.

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