The Burden of Responsibility
I don't think it's any secret that organizations rely heavily on their most competent personnel to keep the company moving forward. Whenever there's a problem, or something is falling behind - the inevitable tendency is to look towards the most competent person in the room to take over and get it back on track.
Recent research looking at "the burden of responsibility" was undertaken by a team of researchers from Duke, Georgia and Colorado universities. There researchers looked at the impacts that being competent had on those workers that had competence. The research also considered the longer-term impact that it had on organizations when work isn't shared equitably amongst the workforce.
In the survey, of more than 400 employees, researchers identified that the high-performers fully understood that they were doing more than their colleagues, and they also felt that their managers never fully grasped how hard it was for them to be high-performers - the amount of work that it took, and how hard it was to remain at the top of their game. These high-performers were unilaterally not happy with being assigned, with what they saw, as an unfair workload.
Managers and co-workers often failed to grasp that they were even placing an additional burden on their colleagues that they considered 'most competent'. Specifically, the research highlighted that managers often failed to properly recognise (or remember) the amount of tasks that they're being assigned to the competent person and how long those tasks take to complete. In defence of managers, this is was often because the competent person continued to meet the deadlines and finishes the tasks assigned to them, and not say anything about it. For the managers this seems to create the mindset that 'it's easy for them', regardless of whether this was true it was or not.
Interestingly, the study showed that peers, co-workers and companies generally expected more out of their most competent persons. When asked whom they'd allocate a task to, most survey participants assigned the work to the most competent person because they believed that it was he only logical choice - by assigning the work to the more competent person, it would be accomplished successfully and to a higher quality. Of course this seem fair if you're the person assigning the work but probably no so fair if you're the competent person. Think about it for a moment - is it fair that if you're being paid the same, but you're having to do all the work whilst your co-worker can just slide on by with lower expectations and workload?
Researchers suggested that whilst it might make sense that organizations rely more heavily on competent personnel, they should also recognise that in doing so they are benefiting disproportionately from that employee and this is causing the competent employee disproportionate stress. To counteract this, organizations need to consider more robust reward and recognition schemes where is high-performers are recognised properly for their ability to deliver whilst others don't.
For managers and leaders its as simple as remember that just because we know a particular high-performer can do something for us, it doesn't necessarily mean that we should allocate that work to them. Work should always be allocated fairly, and if it's necessary to assign work because of a clutch situation, then the high-performer should be recognised and thanked for their efforts above and beyond.
The survey suggested when highly competent personnel feel that they aren't being allocated a 'fair share' of the workload, or that they aren't being adequately recognised for their additional efforts, then it is highlight probable they will leave the organization and seek their recognition elsewhere. Managers should consider giving the 'cream' jobs and opportunities to the most capable employees and the low quality, time consuming work to the less capable employees.
Remember - don't push your high-performers to breaking point whilst allowing the under performers to bask and profit from their inadequacy.