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Last Updated November 21, 2023

Managing High-Performing Employees

A Guide to Nurturing Overperforming Employees.

Every workplace will have employees who consistently exceed expectations and deliver exceptional results. While having a high-performing employee can be a blessing for getting through tasks quickly, this level of output  can present its own unique challenges for managers, which are often overlooked or mismanaged. 

To understand what a high performing employee actually is, let’s look at the spectrum of performance and a definition for each. 

  • Underperforming Employees:
    • These are individuals who are not meeting the expected standards or goals set for their job.
    • They might struggle to complete tasks on time, produce work that doesn’t meet quality standards, or have difficulty fulfilling their responsibilities.
  • Performing Employees:
    • These employees meet the basic expectations of their role.
    • They do their job competently, complete tasks on time, and generally fulfill the requirements of their position without major issues.
  • Higher-Performing Employees:
    • These individuals go above and beyond the basic expectations, consistently produce high-quality work, and demonstrate a strong commitment to their job.
    • Higher-performing employees are often seen as reliable, proactive, and valuable contributors to the team.
    • They consistently achieve outstanding results, often taking on additional responsibilities and contributing in ways that go beyond their job description.

In summary, underperforming employees struggle to meet expectations, performing employees meet the basic requirements, higher-performing employees consistently exceed expectations.

Managing high performing individuals – the delicate balance

Effectively managing high performing individuals requires a delicate balance between recognising their achievements, maintaining a productive work environment, and supporting their mental health and well-being.

Now let’s take a look at each section in more detail and consider how you can build into your human resources framework ways to proactively manage high-performing employees, including;

  • Set clear expectations
  • Conduct regular one-on-one meetings
  • Supporting individual mental health and well-being
  • Continuous Improvement and Innovation

Step 1: Set clear expectations

For high-performing employees, who consistently exceed targets, it’s crucial to establish transparent expectations to ensure a sustainable and positive work environment. This involves clearly defining their role using the position description and specifying desired levels of output, such as conducting a specific number of client meetings per day or response times to enquiries.

To maintain clarity, consider incorporating opportunities to revisit expectations during key points in the employment lifecycle, such as probationary periods, annual performance reviews, and when an employee takes on a new role.

Additionally, it’s beneficial to establish clear boundaries regarding standard hours of work and days as well as expectations around additional hours. With the introduction of hybrid work conditions, where the lines between professional and personal life can become blurred, there might be a temptation for employees to work beyond regular hours. By setting team and business rules, we can guide a positive work culture and correct any emerging norms that may need adjustment.

Step 2: Conduct regular one-on-one meetings

Regular one-on-one meetings are essential for managing employees effectively and continually checking in on the expectations set out in the step above. It can also be an opportunity to understand the drivers of motivation (anxiety, achievement, or power), review the expectations set, and make adjustments where necessary.

Setting up a recurring meeting to ensure you always have the time to meet is a great way to prioritise these discussions. When deciding the frequency of the meetings, it can be helpful to think about the following:

  • The stage the employee is at with their role (new or established)
  • Length of time the individual has been in the role
  • Seniority or criticality of the role and the impact of the individual on others
  • Level of impact on the employees’ mental health and well-being

For example, if it is during probation, it might be weekly or fortnightly to ensure clear expectations are understood and met while the employee is navigating their new role and knowledge about the business.

However, if it is during a performance review process, the meetings might be less frequent, and you may decide to hold them every two to three months.

Step 3: Support mental health and well-being

Delivering exceptional results over an extended period of time can have an impact on an individual’s mental health and well-being. 

The Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health found that 2.8 million working Australians had mental illnesses that led to them taking time off to maintain their well-being.1

With estimates that workplace absenteeism due to mental health was costing the economy AU$10 billion, and presenteeism adding an additional AU$7 billion, the role business plays in maintaining the mental health and well-being of the workforce was beginning to be unpicked.

It is becoming increasingly important to support your employees, and by checking in regularly with them, you can monitor the state of your employees and address when changes are required. 

It can be helpful to review position descriptions and job design to see how they are coping with the changes in expectations from the industry and customers. In addition, to review leave entitlements that are on offer, ensure employees are taking regular breaks to rest and recharge and consider what health and well-being initiatives your business offers. These can make positive steps towards maintaining a productive work environment and supporting their mental health and well-being. 

Step 4: Continuous Improvement and Innovation

By setting clear expectations and regularly reviewing, you can identify if there is a difference between the employees continuous improvement or innovation. If there is, there is an opportunity to review a process or system. The review can be an individual or team review of how the process can be improved or changed for alignment. Promote a culture of mutual respect and recognition to maintain harmony and maximise productivity.

Managing High Performing Employees effectively.

Managing a high performing employee requires a delicate approach that balances setting clear expectations, regular one on one meetings, promoting collaboration, and conducting effective meetings; you can harness their potential while ensuring their mental health and well-being are also looked after. Remember, managing overperforming employees is not about suppressing their talents but effectively directing them and aligning expectations.

Review your individual employees and address any high performing employees. For further information or assistance with a specific employee or team, contact Small Business Society.


  1.  https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/mental-health/report/mental-health-volume1.pdf


The information provided in this document is for your guidance only and is general in nature. It does not constitute as legal advice. It is the responsibility of the individual to seek legal advice where required.


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About Kate Tongue

Kate Tongue is the founding Director of Small Business Society.

She is a qualified and experienced Human Resources professional with more than 10 years of experience across the private and public sectors.

Her particular interest and experience is in managing the employee life cycle, delivering process improvements, and Human Resource strategy.

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