Are You Cursing Your Employees?

It's happened to me. It’s happened to Mike. At least a few family members have been cursed. Several of my friends have been cursed by their employers. 

There is this mysterious, illogical curse that employers place on hard-working employees. When the curse is set, unfortunately the only way I’ve seen it broken is by the employee ultimately leaving the company. 

Original skull and cross bones image by Ann- Kathrin Rehse.

Original skull and cross bones image by Ann- Kathrin Rehse.

The curse:

The hard-working employee gets the most work. Gets piled with work. Gets other people’s work. Gets laid-off employees’ work.


My friends, this should not be.

Instead of being rewarded for their productivity, efficiency and creativity, the hard-working employee sometimes receives the curse of an unending, insurmountable, stressful amount of work.

More work (+ stress) is not a reward.

If an employee is highly productive, satisfied, but not yet bored, then they are probably in their sweet spot of work. If you add more, it’s going to throw off the sweet spot and potentially burn them out.

I get it. They are trustworthy. They are your go-to people. They’ve made it easy to put more in their hands because they work hard and will come through for you. But - they are your go-to people. And you’d like to keep them your go-to people. To do that, you’ve got to care for them. Cursing them with an insurmountable amount of work and consequent stress is not caring well for them.

When your hard-working employee realizes that their hard work is “rewarded” with more work, more time spent at work and more stress, they realize that the only way out is to work for someone else. They recognize they are marketable - after all you didn’t trust that project to just anyone, you gave it to your hard-worker - and they start looking for an employer that values their contributions and doesn’t curse them with work.

There’s also nothing more infuriating to your hard-working employee than getting someone else’s work, becoming overloaded and watching the underachieving employee still get paid the same.

It creates a culture where poor performance is acceptable and great performance is cursed with carrying the work load.


My friends, this should not be.

But, how do you break the curse?

First -

Stop cursing your hard-working employees with more work. Talk to them. Maybe apologize to them. We’re all people. We all screw up. Figure out where their not-bored-but-not-overworked sweet spot is and maintain it.

Second -

Have all your people be your go-to people. If there are people who aren’t your go-to people, consider moving them into their area of talent or potentially letting them go. If they aren’t doing well in their jobs, there is likely a reason for it. They are talented, they have strengths, but they may not be using them in the position they’re in. Find a place for them to use their strengths. If you don’t have place for their strengths in your business (you probably do), find a place that their strengths would be best used and refer them.

Accepting the curse of the hard-worker leaves much at risk. Not only is your go-to employee affected, your long-term business culture and productivity is at stake.

It’s in your power - end the curse of the hard-working employee.

Overworking Causes Permanent Damage

He has permanent shoulder damage from being a little league pitcher. There is such a build up of scar tissue in his right shoulder that his right hand is colder than his left because of the lack of circulation. My husband’s going to be 29 this month and he’s still feeling the effects of an overworked arm from pitching in little league over 20 years ago.

Original photo by Ryan Wilson.

Original photo by Ryan Wilson.

What are your most valuable assets in your business? Is it your creative brain? Is it your employees? Is it something that wasn’t meant to be run like a machine? I’ve often heard businesses say that their employees are their most valuable assets. I worked at a firm that truly believed it, since all their profits came from billable hours. However, instead of creating a sustainable, healthy environment in which their employees could bill hours long-term, the company ran their people ragged. This article (beware of explicit language) clearly showcases what I was observing in the culture at this firm. The environment wasn’t one of healthy, sustainable living. It was dehumanizing and above all, profit-focused.

Overworking your assets may cause permanent damage. In the case of employees, they will never get that time back that they’ve given up. They are aware that they are sacrificing their lives right now for the hope of something greater in the future. But when the future comes, they know they won’t get the past back. Just like my husband lost the chance to pitch long-term, you lose part of your life to your overworked hours - permanently removing that time from your life.

Overworking people also incites terrible physical health, mental health and overall productivity. You want your business to be a place that your employees praise. A place you can be proud you ran when your life is said and done. You don’t want to regret using your employees like machines to generate as much profit as fast as possible. You don’t want to regret that you went through employees like paper towels.

And what about you? You know that time is your most valuable resource. Are you overworking because you're stressed? Submitting to the stress, instead of saying no to it, and overworking doesn't help you solve your problems. Give up the stress. Give up the overworking. It causes permanent damage - because you can never get that time back.


Concise, quality articles on why overworking employees and yourself is bad for your business and you:

The One Thing Ruining Your Ability to Solve Your Business's Problems

Last fall, I worked at a fast-casual chain while completing my MBA. During my time there, I really wanted to learn about how the business worked and what made it so successful. I noticed many things - how the customers were so attracted to photos of the food, the importance of presentation and lighting, how fulfilling and exhausting consistent customer service is and how easy it can be to sell more menu items by simply suggesting. I was only there for a short time, but I was surprised by how much I had learned about what matters in running a fast-casual restaurant.

I don’t think it really matters where you’re working or what you’re doing - you can learn wherever you are (even if you’re just learning what’s not right for you). You can discover a new customer service method for your business when the resort employee offers you a drink while you’re relaxing on the beach. You may discover a better display method for your product while grocery shopping. However, you must be present to do so. Not just physically present, but fully engaged as well.

This doesn’t mean you should be obsessed with your business, never “turning it off”. You don’t have to actively be looking to discover ways to improve your business in order to do so - people have strokes of genius while in the middle of seemingly unrelated tasks all the time.

But the sure way not to discover a creative solution is by being stressed and distracted. 

If, when laying on the beach, all you feel is stress about how your business is doing back home and are preoccupied with that worry, you’re not going to notice how the resort staff asks if you want a drink. If all you’re worried about while grocery shopping is getting out of there quickly, you’re not going to notice the creative produce display when you pick up bananas. In order to be a creative problem solver in your business, you need to be mentally present. Your life is not something to rush through. Your seemingly mundane tasks, like grocery shopping, contain opportunities to learn, discover and grow.

If your mind is clouded with stress, you eliminate the opportunity to discover the solution to the problem you’re stressing about.

Be present, be teachable, be open to discovery and you may learn more than you thought, which could take your business further than you thought possible.


More resources on creativity and stress:

Effects of Stress on Creativity by Lisa Riley (Taxi)

The Science of Creativity by Amy Novotney (APA)