It's become a truism of modern management that it's far more important to focus on your stars than to worry about bringing your underperformers up to par. And so, many workplaces do just that, publicly recognizing good work, promoting those who consistently turn out stellar results and, of course, showering top performers with extra cash.
As a result, many managers would be forgiven for thinking their best workers might be more insulated from a setback or two. But research published in the Academy of Management journal shows that when career stumbles occur, such as being passed over for a promotion or receiving a less-prestigious assignment, the performance of "high status" people suffers much more than that of those at the bottom.
"There's this belief that high-status individuals have advantages others don't," said Jennifer Marr, a business professor at Georgia Tech. "There's this idea that they're more resilient. But what we found is that because they've made this a really central part of who they are, it's more devastating when they lose it."
The research, by Marr and Stefan Thau, turned to an unusual source of data: Major League Baseball. The two looked at how the performance of baseball's stars vs. its also-rans fared after losing out in salary arbitrations between 1974 and 2011. The research showed that those players who came into the arbitration with marks of distinction (All-Stars and major award winners) and lost their salary fights had a much bigger hit to their next season's performance than low-status players or those who got the salary they wanted.
"I thought maybe they'd feel devastated but they'd build up their strength and go out and do their best," Marr said. "That's the narrative we're used to."
This shows a downside of "stars." Their identities are more wrapped up in their status and they are more affected by bad career news.