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The Impact of Tall Poppy Syndrome in the Workplace

The Impact of Tall Poppy Syndrome in the Workplace

What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a social phenomenon in which people are criticised, resented, or ostracized for their perceived success or achievements. This can manifest as belittling their accomplishments, spreading rumors, or excluding them from social groups. It is often attributed to cultural values of egalitarianism and modesty.

In Australia and New Zealand, business leaders sometimes use the term “cutting down the tall poppy” to describe people who put down others for their achievements. This behavior is seen as stemming from a cultural emphasis on equality, where standing out too much is discouraged.

What are the effects of tall poppy syndrome in the workplace

Tall poppy syndrome in the workplace can stifle ambition and innovation. Employees may hesitate to share ideas or strive for excellence out of fear of being criticised or resented by their peers. This can lead to a toxic work environment, low morale, and high turnover rates as talented individuals seek more supportive workplaces.

Successful individuals occasionally choose to leave their current job in search of a new workplace. They do this because they believe that other places will appreciate and recognise their efforts and ideas to a greater extent. Here are some of the effects:

  • High turnover, particularly among new starters
  • Lack of innovation and ambition
  • Employees feeling psychologically unsafe and hesitant to try new things
  • Lack of career development and longevity within the organisation

What causes tall poppy syndrome to develop?

Tall poppy syndrome can stem from cultural values emphasising equality, where standing out is discouraged. It can also arise in competitive environments that foster jealousy and resentment towards successful individuals. Self-doubting individuals may also exhibit tall poppy syndrome as a way to cope with feelings of inadequacy.

Some office workers may want to undermine their successful colleagues because to jealousy or self-doubt about their own achievements. Others may feel threatened by their colleagues’ success.

If you think tall poppy syndrome is happening in your company, stop it. If allowed to spread, it could become a toxic part of your company’s culture.

What are the symptoms of tall poppy syndrome

People who are victims of Tall Poppy Syndrome may have many different problems, both mental and physical. According to a study by Dr. Rumeet Billan, 87% of the 4710 women surveyed from 103 countries had experienced TPS at work 1. Here are some of the most common symptoms of TPS:

  • Loss of confidence: Victims of TPS may experience a general loss of confidence in their abilities and themselves.
  • Substance abuse: People may use drugs or alcohol to deal with the stress and anxiety of Tall Poppy Syndrome.
  • Insomnia: TPS can cause sleep disturbances, making it difficult for victims to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Physical symptoms: Victims of TPS may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, and muscle tension.
  • PTSD: In severe cases, TPS can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Anxiety: Anxiety is a common symptom of TPS. Victims may feel anxious about their work, relationships, or other aspects of their lives.
  • Depression: Depression is another common symptom of TPS. Victims may experience depression, loss of hope, and lack of motivation.
  • Relationship problems: TPS can cause problems in personal and professional relationships. Victims may feel isolated and unsupported.

How to deal with tall poppy syndrome?

To deal with tall poppy syndrome, focus on goals and achievements rather than comparing to others. Celebrate the success of others and foster a positive environment. If you experience tall poppy behavior, address it directly and professionally. If it persists, seek support from a manager or HR.

3 tips for manager to deal with tall poppy syndrome

Ensure the team has a common goal

As a manager, it’s important that you’re able to effectively communicate the team’s goal to everyone. A common goal can encourage your team to work together to achieve success.  

Create a personal development plan for employees

Creating a personal development plan with your employees means that you can help tall poppies grow while also allowing other team members to work towards developing their own skills. You can also take this opportunity to help team members realise their ambitions and help them develop, which may assist in preventing tall poppy syndrome from sprouting.

Celebrate successes

A team member’s hard work and accomplishments should be recognised and rewarded, and you shouldn’t play down one person’s success for fear of seeding tall poppy syndrome. When a tall poppy is not recognised for their achievements, they may feel underappreciated and become disillusioned. At the same time, it’s important to remind other team members that one person’s success does not define another person’s failure. 

Read more: How to create peer to peer recognition in the workplace

3 tips for organisations to deal with tall poppy syndrome

Lead by example

Leaders often influence workplace culture. If leaders don’t reward success, downplay achievements, or belittle others’ accomplishments, it can affect the whole team. If you give special treatment to people who don’t work hard, it can hurt the company culture. It’s vital for leaders to set the tone for the rest of their organisation by empowering and nurturing high achievers.

Create the right culture

If this is happening within your business, it’s important to deal with it and not ignore it. People who achieve things without making a fuss are more valued in our culture.

Some people perceive tall poppy syndrome as advocating for the lowering of successful individuals. To combat this, aim to foster a positive culture that celebrates success, encourages high achievers, and offers growth opportunities for all.

Recognise when a tall poppy syndrome needs to grow

Tall poppies are high-achieving employees. It’s important to support them and help them plan their careers within the company. This will help them succeed and stay with the company.

Helping your workforce thrive

How to deal with tall poppy syndrome

Foster a culture that rewards success and encourages growth with ELMO’s Rewards and Recognition software. Promoting a culture of appreciation in your organization can encourage talented individuals to succeed. It can also motivate others to pursue their aspirations.

ELMO’s employee rewards and recognition software integrates with the rest of the ELMO cloud HR & payroll suite. Including peer to peer recognition, social features and integrated rewards, ELMO Rewards and Recognition can help to boost employee engagement while also building a workplace culture to be proud of. 

ELMO Software is a leading provider of integrated, cloud-based HR technology operating in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. With over 3,000 customers, ELMO helps users to save valuable time, money, and resources by streamlining HR processes within one easy-to-use platform.

Highly configurable, the solutions can be tailored to meet each organisation’s unique needs and processes. What’s more, supportive implementation services and dedicated Account Managers help our clients to get the most from their ELMO platform and drive a higher return on investment. Visit the ELMO website to find out more or book a demo to experience the platform for yourself.