WHO wouldn’t want to be a star employee? The salary is nice, as is the chance to climb to the top and tell others what to do. The downside is that your co-workers may hate you. The notion that jealous managers bully high-performing underlings, whom they see as a threat to the social order, has been well researched. But management theorists now say it is not only small-minded bosses that star workers need to overcome; it is also their colleagues.

A study by Theresa Glomb of the University of Minnesota and Eugene Kim of the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that workers have a tendency towards what Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, defined as “upward social comparisons”. They overestimate their ability and judge their standing in the office against those with more talent. Falling short leaves average Joes envious and spiteful. Tall poppies, says Ms Glomb, are chopped down in a variety of ways, including ostracism at social events and humiliation before the boss.

All this rarely happens in industries such as the technology business, where outperformance is, by and large, admired by all. It is typically found in stagnant...Continue reading