• 04.02.13

Why Your Company’s Worst Performers Are Happy As Clams

It seems paradoxical, but the worse performing a worker, the happier they are. Here’s how to figure out where they’re hiding and give your organization’s real star performers a boost.

Why Your Company’s Worst Performers Are Happy As Clams

Your slacker employees may be going to great lengths to avoid doing much at work, but they actually love their jobs. A new study by Leadership IQ found that in 42% of companies, low performers report high levels of engagement. These employees are more motivated and more likely to enjoy working at their organizations than middle and high performers do.


When I first heard this news, I couldn’t believe my ears. And then, the light bulb went on. In most organizations, low performers are pretty much left alone. They are happy as clams because no one notices or bothers them. They can just sit there quietly and won’t be discovered as long as no one does anything to alter the terrain. And if someone does come along and notice something isn’t quite right, they can bury themselves further in the organization where it will be months and sometimes years before they are discovered. If that weren’t scary enough, low performers were also more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work than were others in the organization. Just what a company needs. More low performers.

Mediocre performers can do a really good job of hiding under the surface. Most are experts at busywork, which they bury themselves in to appear busy. The boss usually dashes on by and heads for their ace performer, who by the way is now doing the work of at least two other people. Which probably explains why top performers in these organizations aren’t nearly as happy as the lazy clams.

Top performers are exhausted from treading water daily as they try to stay afloat. Many started out wanting to be a big fish in a small pond, but are now rethinking their strategies. Fish, you see, can be caught and held out to dry if they make just one wrong move. Clams? Well, they stand a much better chance of not being found as long as they move with the tides.

According to the study, top performers are stressed out at work and are undervalued by bosses despite making the most effort. Work is often assigned to them because they are the only one the boss can count on. They are afraid to say no and lose their place among the elite in the organization. But at some point, something will give. They will either die of exhaustion or they will be lured away by promises of a better work environment elsewhere. Then what will you do?

It’s time to put your clam rakes into action. Look around the organization for tiny bubbling holes that might indicate there is a clam playing Words with Friends buried under all that paperwork. It may not be obvious at first, but do spend some time looking and you’re sure to root up a one or two of these guys. Once you are able to locate one low performer, there will most likely be more around the same area. Like clams, low performers prefer to be in groups close to each other.

Once you rid yourself of these low performers you can then seed your organization with a new crop of people who will welcome the opportunity to work alongside other great performers. This will signal to your top performers that you really do care if they sink or swim.


[Image: Flickr user Mark Mark]

About the author

For more than 25 years, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, has helped leaders in Fortune 500 companies, including Best Buy, New Balance, The Boston Beer Company and small to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She is known world-wide as “The Talent Maximizer®.” Roberta, a leading authority on leadership and the skills and strategies required to earn employee commitment and client loyalty, is the author of the top-selling book, Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2011), a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book For Leaders.