How forces keep the best employees down

7K0A0129There are two effects that David Yamada, Suffolk Law professor and author of the Healthy Workplace Bill, describes in his “Minding the Workplace” blog. These two effects keep the best workers from climbing as high in the corporate ladder as their often less competent colleagues:

The hi-lo-combo

Advocate Torii Bottomley observed that often a subordinate with high competence and high ethics will report to a supervisor with low competence and low ethics. The subordinate may pose a threat to the often insecure supervisor. Professor Yamada goes on to say that the best people often do not rise to the top. He quotes an address on leadership to West Point cadets by William Deresiewicz, who says that “excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you.”

The Dunning-Kruger effect

Professor Yamada points out through the Dunning-Kruger effect that incompetent people overrate themselves, and competent people overrate others. According to Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average…. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”

The consequences

There are two main results from these two effects:

The hi-lo combo. Highly competent and ethical employees either shine, get bullied, and look for new jobs to escape the bullying or diminish their skill levels to not put bullseyes on their backs.

The Dunning-Kruger effect. The incompetent demand promotions, while the competent miss out on them and don’t see themselves as leaders.

Our impact

We don’t have to resign ourselves to these two effects. Throughout history, cultures change when people begin to question the status quo and bring unjust situations to light. Just as sexual harassment law didn’t get rid of sexual harassment but instead made it much less common by serving as a reminder of workplace expectations and changing work cultures, the Healthy Workplace Bill, when passed into law, will change how we view competence and accepted behavior in the workplace.

We’ve already seen the increased demand for these changes. With the furthest progress in the history of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill and a buzz in the State House about the bill thanks to your efforts, we’re well on our way to improving workplaces. We’re on the brink of something great and historical, and we need as many people as possible to continue to contact your legislators and urge them to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill to help stop workplace bullying in Massachusetts.

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