is it unfair to give my best employee more work than everyone else?

A reader writes:

I manage a small team of 6-8. Let’s say our work is auditing the use of office supplies — every single one that comes in the door. Not only are we auditing the upcoming shipment of pencils, but also going back and looking at copy machines, paper reams, desk chairs, and every single Post-it note that came in before our team existed. Needless to say, we have more work than we can ever hope to accomplish, although the main focus is new supplies.

The best worker on my team, Norbert, has previous experience auditing office supplies and good connections in the company, and can easily perform twice as many audits a month as the rest of the team. The work of the others on the team isn’t subpar or bad, it’s just not as fast as Norbert’s. When I delegate work out, I tend to look at how many audits each team member currently has, and assign to the person who is juggling the least. It’s definitely not Norbert every time, but he does get more than his colleagues. I previously did a “round-robin” method of assigning work, but it can quickly bury people who have a lot of other audits on their plate or have been out on PTO.

Each audit is unique in that it could take anywhere from five days to three months to complete, and there’s no way to know ahead of time where it will land. I follow up with each member of the team bi-weekly to discuss their current audits and see if I can help with nudging them further along, so I know that none of them are just sitting on work to prevent being assigned new audits. When I assign work to Norbert, he often complains about being “punished” with extra work since he takes on more audits than the rest of the team.

I’m kind of at a loss as to what to do here. We have a huge backlog of audits to complete, so the work will just keep coming for years and years, literally. Due to the nature of the audits, it seems unfair of me to say, “Everyone needs to complete 10 audits a month!” when the volatility of them may preclude that from happening, or my team may get done much quicker than that and just be twiddling their thumbs for a couple of weeks. I have tried tasking Norbert with assisting his colleagues with their audits — my way of saying, “Teach them how to be as fast as you, then!” but the complaints remain. In my opinion, I am keeping each member of my team busy with work to fill a full-time position. I suppose my question is, are his complaints valid, or is he just being a jerk? Is there a better way for me to assign work to my team, keeping in mind that we have an enormous pile from which to pull?

Norbert’s complaints are valid.

It’s reasonable for him to say he doesn’t want to perform twice as much work as the rest of the team, at least not without some kind of formal recognition of that — at least a higher salary since he’s contributing more than your other staff members, and possibly a higher title too (which should come with a salary increase).

If you’re not offering him those things, there’s no incentive for him to continuing producing at twice the rate as everyone else.

I think you’re looking at it as “I’m paying everyone for 40 hours of work and I expect their full energy for that 40 hours, whatever that produces.” But Norbert isn’t wrong to want you to factor in his contributions relative to other people’s.

Some people like Norbert are happy to be the most productive team member — often because they derive personal fulfillment from that. (Even then, though, you need to recognize their higher level of performance with money. Just because they’re not as disgruntled as Norbert doesn’t mean it’s okay to underpay them relative to what they’re contributing.) But Norbert has made it clear that he’s unhappy having higher workload than others, and his stance is fair.

(If I’m wrong and you have rewarded him with higher pay than his slower colleagues, then you need to have a different kind of conversation, one where you jointly agree on what reasonable goals are for his position, recognizing that in that case it’s a different role, and a differently compensated role, than his coworkers’ jobs.)

{ 451 comments… read them below }

  1. The Lexus Lawyer*

    I hope it doesn’t have to come to a competitor recognizing N’s worth and offering him more for him to get what he deserves here.

    But somehow I feel like I have seen this movie before.

    1. froodle*

      …I hope it does. Poor Norbert. Imagine performing at 2 x your collegaue’s level, getting more work piled on and your manager referring to your complaints about it as you “just being a jerk”.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Agreed. Not, “how can I keep this guy?” but “how can I make him shut up and like this?”
        Not cool.

        1. Scarlet2*

          This. Also, “teach them to be as fast as you”: why should the other employees try to become as fast as Norbert when they see that the only reward is more work?

          1. Ashley A*

            Not only that but why should it be Norbert’s job to train these people on top of the work he is also doing that is above and beyond what his team mates are doing?

            1. HigherEdAdminista*

              Exactly! It sounds like it would be the managers job to assess what makes Norbert such an efficient work and try to implement training on this for the department, whether that is promoting Norbert or paying him to work on this special project.

              Instead they are passing the buck and making even more work for Norbert for seemingly nothing.

              1. WantonSeedStitch*

                This. Maybe shadow shadow some of your employees (including Norbert) to see how most of them handle the auditing process, vs. how Norbert handles it. Does he have more knowledge of certain things? Does he have a different approach? Does Norbert know that all the staplers are going to be either at people’s desks or in the supply closet, so he just looks for them there, whereas everyone else looks in the cafeteria and the bathrooms as well, even though no stapler has ever been found there? Find out where his speed comes from, and maybe you can get the other employees to speed up a bit. Being able to say “my entire team increased productivity thirty percent” is a great way to be able to advocate for raises for all of them.

              2. MusicWithRocksIn*

                Sometimes this stuff cannot be taught. I can’t teach my coworkers to have a faster reading or typing speed. I can’t teach them to pay closer attention to detail – sometime people can notice things with a quick glance that other’s can’t. And while I can teach them a plethora of tricks to use in excel, they are probably not going to be the exact trick they need and them just googling their problem and learning from the experience would save us both a ton of time and teach them more about excel.

                1. Tumbleweed*

                  Ability to Google something and figure it out by yourself is such an unappreciated skill a lot of the time.

                  Though while it wouldn’t really make sense in most jobs for you to teach it…people absolutely can increase their typing and reading speeds those aren’t inate.

            2. quill*

              Also this letter smacks of someone who doesn’t understand that people do need some down time at work. Whether that’s to deal with semi-work related things like dealing with their health insurance, or simply to take a five minute longer lunch than usual.

              1. TechWorker*

                I didn’t get that vibe to be honest. Norbert absolutely has the option of stretching his own work or taking breaks so that when the assignments roll around he’s not the person with the most free time. The LW gives no indication at all that they’re expecting him to be productive all of the time.

              2. World Weary*

                This! I was so good at my job that the boss took away all the easy things that I could do to be productive when burnt out near the end of the day, and then was annoyed when my productivity went down because I couldn’t just do the hard stuff flat out every single day. You need to have a mix of easier things too.

            3. Coffee Bean*

              Right. Agree with you 100% here. Norbert learned techniques on his own. Now he needs to tax himself further by providing training? Why should this fall on his plate?

              1. Certaintroublemaker*

                I mean, sure, have him do it—after you give him a title bump to go with the extra job duty and a pay raise.

          2. Liz*

            Not only that, but some people are just “better” and I use that word loosely, at some things than others are. And no matter how much the others try, it may not be possible for them to emulate a higher performer. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but its really not fair to try and get everyone to work identically.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Yup. For example, I kick butt at trivia, and routinely “win” about $30 000 when I track my score while watching Jeopardy. Part of this is having a spongy brain (in a positive way) when it comes to random bits of knowledge, and the other part is that I can read the questions lightning fast. I could not teach this to someone because it’s not something I sat down and learned.

          3. Lisenka*

            Oooh, I have been Norbert. My job was to vet deals on a group-shopping website (think Groupon). I was a top performer for 9 months straight, was asked to train new hires (which I gladly did)… and promptly fired after training a whole new team.
            When the management asks you to train others with no monetary incentive – RUN.

        2. Crazy Cat Lady*

          “Teach them how to be as fast as you, then!” really struck a nerve with me. Two of my colleagues and I get this on a daily basis. It’s the manager’s way of “passing the buck” and avoiding have to actually manage their employees. At some point Norbert is going to get tired of this, look for (and find) another job. Then when he explains why he’s leaving, I can guarantee you that the manager will say “why didn’t you tell me about this earlier, I could have done something”

          1. The OTHER Other.*

            An old job of mine was like this, they claimed to have a “culture of excellence” and have “high standards” but doing your job quickly meant more work, and doing it well didn’t result in getting raises or promotion.

            The “raises” were really just cost of living (often inadequate even for that) and unless you were on a PIP, everyone got the same amount. I was pretty fast with some undesirable busy work and found myself getting assigned more of it. Coworker said “smarten up. If you get 50 of these, do 49 of them and then read or do whatever. If you’re asked, say you’re almost done. Don’t finish and turn it in until several other people have already, or you’ll just get more of it.”

            The upper managers could not figure out why they kept losing their best people.

            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              Yes! I was really good at doing the long term donkey work at an old job and as a result I was assigned most of it while everyone else got the short term interesting jobs. Basically, I was punished with more work for being efficient. That job is history. Now when I’m tasked with donkey work because “You’re so good at it!” my response is to let someone else do it.

              1. Gimme Chocolate*

                Oh my goodness!! I am one of those stuck with the donkey work because (a) I am good at it, (b) it is a lOT of work (as we said, it’s donkey work), (c) Hardly anybody else wants to do it because’s donkey work and (d) my bosses don’t want to go through the trouble of finding /training other people because I make their lives easier by doing the donkey work.

          2. Underrated Pear*

            Me too. It’s not unreasonable to try to implement, but the way it was said in the letter was just… no. OP, when you say you tried to task him with training his coworkers, did you sit down and talk about how you could remove other things from his plate in order to do so? Did Norbert seem receptive to the idea of teaching/training others? Because that is an entirely different skill set than being an auditor, and he may (1) hate the idea (which is fair; it is not the job he wants to do) or (2) be fine with the idea but actually be a terrible teacher (which again is fine, because he’s an auditor, not a teacher).

            1. Underrated Pear*

              Also – sorry, new thought – I think it’s worth trying to pick apart what Norbert’s motivation would be for training others to be as fast as he is, and whether that would solve his unhappiness. If he successfully trains his colleagues, it seems like the only person who would concretely benefit from that is… you (and the company). You’ve said there is enough backlogged work to last for years, so it’s not like it will take anything off their plates; it will just get the wheel spinning faster. Norbert would still do the same amount of work, the rest of the employees would do more work, but… for what? It won’t be compensated or even bring the satisfaction of having reached a finish line. It will just bring MORE WORK, ENDLESSLY, with no reward for them.

              Reading your letter, it’s easy to think that Norbert’s complaints are only about the inherent unfairness between his colleagues and him, and that once his colleagues are shouldering the same workload, he should be satisfied. But the *bigger issue* is that, assuming your other employees’ work is satisfactory, the company’s expectations for auditors is X, and he’s producing twice the expectations. Even if everyone else successfully starts working twice as fast, it won’t solve the problem; it will just make the whole team mad because the company used to have X expectations and now the goalposts have moved to X-times-two, with no additional compensation aligned with that change.

              1. Gimme Chocolate*

                You make some valid points here. I know the stationery scenario is just hypothetical but it soulds like there is an issue with the fact that they could never really finish what they are tasked to do. That sounds like a whole process re-think and perhaps some automation are needed. Who wants to be in a job where there’s so much work that you never finish. I mean, yes, people want jobs but this almost sounds like torture.

        3. Just Another Cog*

          Yes, yes, yes!

          I once had a manger who said he “always gives new tasks to the busiest people on his team since he knew they’d get done”. He’d say this as he was dropping ten new files on my desk while others in the department had half my workload. Initially, I was flattered that he depended so much on me, but then woke up to the fact that I was producing way more than many of my colleagues for the same money. I went to a major competitor soon after.

          Like Alison, I sure hope OP is at least paying Norbert a lot more than his colleagues since he is truly a superstar.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        I don’t know, though. If nobody is working more than the standard 40 hour dirk week or is significantly more stressed is it unfair? Is the solution to give everyone 10 audits per month and Norbert gets to sit around half the time doing nothing while everyone else works all the time and a few get to work more than 40 hours because they’re slower or newer and learning.

        It’s not quite as straightforward since an audit doesn’t take a fixed amount of time, and Norbert’s skill should get him a raise, but I don’t think the solution is for him just to work less. People are generally paid with the expectation of a working full time hours.

        1. Anon all day*

          Perhaps people should be paid based on their contributions/actual work produced. There’s nothing magic about a 40 hour work week beyond convention.

            1. Anon all day*

              Do you mean, like qualifying for health insurance or overtime? If so, yes, you’re 100% right. More, I meant my response as a way to indicate that maybe employers should offer those even if someone isn’t working 40 hours, but is handling a “full” workload.

              1. Ally McBeal*

                Adding on that workers rights, as they exist in 2022, often call for a shift away from employment-based health insurance.

          1. Calliope*

            Freelance work is essentially that. Personally I find it incredibly stressful and disruptive of work life balance and am glad to be back to a salaried position where I don’t have to be full speed ahead all the time.

        2. Luthage*

          So only people who work extra hours or are stressed should get a promotion? That’s a rather gross conclusion.

          1. Greige*

            I don’t think that’s what Person is saying. They’re trying to figure out why a workload that keeps Norbert as busy as everyone else is “punishing.” I am, too, actually. If he’s not compensated appropriately and deserves a better title, that’s what the discussion should be about. This sounds like he thinks he’s being given work for the sake of making him miserable, which doesn’t sound like it’s the case at all.

        3. ferrina*

          I agree- I work in a project-based industry, and each project is unique. It makes sense to continue to assign work based on current workload. (So one person may do 10 projects a month; one person may do 2).

          That said, when one person clearly has skills that outpace their colleagues, it makes sense to give them a raise and a promotion. It’s also good for their colleagues- it shows them how they can improve their work and what their rewards will be.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            That seems to be the missing piece here; the colleagues really aren’t incentivized toward higher performance, because the rewards for that are simply more work.

          2. Koalafied*

            Yes, I think the lever that needs to be pulled here probably isn’t changing how work is assigned. It’s probably more about better aligning compensation with performance. Either straight-up give Norbert a promotion or a big ol’ raise that appropriately reflects the value of his contributions, or if leadership balks at increasing base salary enough, this might be the kind of work that lends itself to performance-based compensation awards, and it might be slightly easier to sell leadership on keeping base salaries where they are and giving quarterly bonuses to employees who hit certain performance targets.

            1. No Longer Looking*

              Yup – create an “Auditor II” or “Auditor III” position that is effectively the same position with the same duties, but has higher expectations of production level and possibly higher expectation of providing mentorship.

          3. Shan*

            Yes, this is where I land. At my current company, I’m given a) more and b) harder tasks than some other coworkers in my department. However, I also have a more senior title, a higher base salary, and get larger bonuses.

          4. allathian*

            Yup, that’s it. Norbert should be rewarded, not with more work, but with a higher salary and title.

        4. Spencer Hastings*

          I agree. Also, people are saying that Norbert is performing at twice the level of everyone else, but I think all the letter actually said was that his absolute number of audits completed was twice the others’, right? What we would really want to know in order to judge this would be the relative complexity of those audits. (If I do 10 simple audits this week and you do 5 complex audits, which of us is performing better? Impossible to know.)

          Since it’s not possible to know in advance exactly how much work an audit will take, maybe it would help the LW more to get a sense of what tasks people are actually spending time on when the audits drag.

          1. Another health care worker*

            With the context of Norbert’s extra experience doing this work, and the fact that he always gets more audits done than his coworkers–not just sometimes–the LW’s conclusion that Norbert is simply a faster worker seems right.

          2. quill*

            Yeah. Are other people slow because 10 routine audits come in, norbert gets all of them, norbert now has 10 audits so audit 11, which has a bunch of problems, is given to someone else and takes them half the week?

            1. But if Norbert came in already with experience doing the job he’s currently doing, why wasn’t he given a different title and more of a numeration in the others? It seems like that should be no-brainer.squeakrad*

              But if Norbert came in already with experience doing the job he’s currently doing, why wasn’t he given a different title and more of a numeration in the others? It seems like that should be no-brainer.

                1. I have this urge to start doing this until Alison makes a rule against it*

                  But I give the “honor” of having the commenting rule named after them to Squeakrad.

                  Made me smile too :)

        5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Give everyone 10 audits to complete and when Norbert finishes early he can do professional development or a work related side project. Or, assign him more, give him higher pay, and a title that reflects his skill

          1. Ginger Dynamo*

            Precisely this. Currently, there is nothing to motivate Norbert to keep processing audits so quickly besides not wanting to disappoint the boss’s expectations built on his previous experience, and that can be a very flimsy motivator in the long run leading to burnout. Either Norbert’s compensation needs to be increased to reward his doubled contributions, or you need to give him some other incentive (or both) because otherwise you are wearing down the patience and motivation of your most valuable employee. Maybe Norbert could work on a project that helps categorize the backlog of audits to increase efficiency down the line, or he can learn skills to prepare him for the next step in his career. Training others on top of his doubled workload isn’t a reward.

        6. Nephron*

          I have a job and am currently a Norbert. I have been forcing myself to work slower because every time I got ahead I got more work. There has been zero reward except more work, so I slow myself down because if I get too far ahead I can handed more things. I would say OP needs to slow down so Norbert settles into intermediate speed, or Norbert might decide to settle into same speed as everyone else.

          1. calonkat*

            This. Either reward him, or expect him to figure out that he SHOULD only do what others are doing.

      3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        That’s what hit me as well. OP, if you are looking at your best employee as “being a jerk”, you need to look at your own management style. Why are you using such insulting language instead of finding ways to celebrate and retain your best team member?

        1. The OTHER Other.*

          That language jumped out at me also, likewise the suggestion that Norbert train his coworkers. Why isn’t the manager training his employees to make them more productive?

          I hope Norbert gets treated better, either by his manager or by going someplace where exceptional ability merits being rewarded with something other than insults and more work.

      4. No Longer Looking*

        I don’t have to imagine it, I did that for years doing contract work. Below a certain income level companies simply Do Not Care about you as a person – you are a machine.

        I had a brief third-shift data entry managerial stint (management is not my forte) and had to deal with people complaining that coworker “Cara” was falling asleep at her desk – but she was still putting out 30% more production during her day then anyone else was, and I frankly didn’t care, I told them if they were doing 130% of quota, they were also welcome to nod off.

        The most amusing/tragic time was when the center ended up short on people but not short on work so the company authorized a piece-work incentive for two months. Cara perked up at that, and proceeded to double her income for two months by hitting about 210% of quota. I was the only other person in her speed range and asked if I could be dropped from Manager back to Production for a couple months so I could do the same, but was politely declined. :)

      5. Medusa*

        Seriously. I’m a little flabbergasted. (Can there be differing degrees of flabbergast?)

    2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      To quote Taylor Swift and Bon Iver – “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending.”

    3. mreasy*

      Yeah I mean…if it would cost OP twice as much in labor costs than Norbert is currently getting to replace him…it seems like the math in favor of a HUGE raise is pretty simple.

      1. Chria*

        I would argue that this actually depends on the role. Of course the key is to be upfront and honest with the employee, but sometimes 2 lower level employees could be better than 1 higher level employee that’s outgrown the role. More variety in skill sets, more redundancy for sick days/vacations/someone getting sick or winning the lottery, more opportunities for cross training, etc.

        I’m not saying it’s the case here, but I do think it’s a valid point for employers to consider (the key is actually thinking it through and not falling into it by default because they just burn through their highest level performers!)

      2. By Any Otter Name*

        I was a contract Norbert as part of a team of five. About 90% of our work was to tear down and rebuild Teapot Testing infrastructure that was used by a team of about 30 developers and 30 testers – i.e. we were on the critical path for the whole project, a delay of even one hour meant 4-8 people were idle while they waited.

        Before I joined the team of four between them managed about five of these a week for the whole group.

        I joined and soon (two weeks) my personal output was five a day. I literally did as much in a day as four others could do in aggregate in a week.

        Client was delighted. Client behaved like OP. Client wanted me to do even more and proposed cutting two of the team.

        I said I was willing to do the work of four but if so I wanted to be paid like three – they were still ahead by all prior metrics.

        Client did not see it that way. There were no adjustments to my duties, my targets, or my daily rate.

        I moved to WFH as much as possible, and did only what was required to look like I was maintaining my numbers. In practice this meant (as I continued to improve in productivity) I worked 2-3 hours a day while billing a full day, since I was by that point doing 5-6/day even on 2-3 hours of work. A few others were aware; mostly the manager types stayed quiet as they wanted the output. A couple of ICs complained that I worked so little and they were told to go away until they could hit even 33% of my numbers.

        Norbert will quickly do something similar or find another job where productivity is rewarded rather than punished.

    4. Khatul Madame*

      The sad truth is that Norbert is most valuable where he is due to his connections in the organization and vast background knowledge. He will not be able to be so productive at a new company. He might still get a very nice raise if he jumped, of course.
      In OP’s shoes I would be asking, why other team members are not growing their competency to become more like Norbert; and whether the career and compensation progression, or lack thereof, play a role here.

      1. The OTHER Other.*

        “ In OP’s shoes I would be asking, why other team members are not growing their competency to become more like Norbert”

        Why should they? Their only reward will be more work. And perhaps, their manager will wonder if they are “jerks” for not liking it? OP is creating this culture.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        That closing question is only useful if the focus is on the second half (compensation and progression) and not the first (why don’t these employees improve).

    5. starfox*

      I hope Norbert does go somewhere else. This letter made me see red, but I’m trying to follow the “be civil” rule. :) Here’s some smiley faces to cover up my rage. :)

      1. I am my office’s Norbert. However, I voluntarily took on more work in exchange for bonuses. Even knowing I made the choice and knowing that the money is worth it, I still get a little whiny (to myself) like “ugh, more work for me again.”

      2. You are really lucky that Norbert isn’t intentionally taking longer to do his audits because you’re doing this to him. If I were him, I’d have an ebook open and take regular reading breaks, or I’d be listening to an audiobook while working to slow me down.

      3. Norbert has no incentives to do this much work. He deserves to be paid more, whether that’s a higher base salary or receiving a bonus per audit above and beyond the usual worker output (this is similar to how my bonus is structured).

      4. You seem to care so much more about what’s “fair” to your under-performing team members than Norbert.

      5. The contempt you feel for Norbert is clear from your letter.

      6. It is not Norbert’s responsibility to train his colleagues. If you don’t want to blame the rest of the team for being slow, then blame yourself for not training them better. The way you’re placing the blame for underperforming colleagues on Norbert is… actually, I don’t even have an adjective strong enough to describe it.

      7. You actually have to ask if Norbert is being a “jerk?” I… I don’t have any further comments.

      I hope this one gets an update with a severely chastened OP!

      1. I Fought the Law*

        This letter made me see red, as well. I was my last job’s Norbert. Now I have a new job making way more, but by the time I got there I was so burnt out that I can barely function.

      2. Nephron*

        Current office Norbert and I have slowed down massively in the past year. OP needs to work out a slower pace for Norbert or Norbert will pick a slower pace.

      3. Jora Malli*

        4. You seem to care so much more about what’s “fair” to your under-performing team members than Norbert.

        This, all day long.

        I’m in a situation at my current job where management made some decisions that made things really hard for me. When I asked why, the response was “we felt that this would be the kindest way to approach Low Performing Colleague’s issues.” But the thing is, in attempting to be kind to my low performing colleague, management ended up behaving in a way that was extremely unkind to me. I’m re-evaluating where I see my future at this organization because of it.

        OP, you sound like you’re trying to be kind and understanding about the issues the rest of your team face. Why are you not also trying to be kind and understanding about Norbert’s needs?

      4. By Any Otter Name*

        > 4. You seem to care so much more about what’s “fair” to your under-performing team members than Norbert.

        This +1000

        I completed an MBA within the last decade and the HR subject had a unit entirely on how to deal with a broad range of ability and performance within one’s team.

        Literally every other student in the class came up with some variation on “ignore the A-list; heavily focus on and train the C-list to lift them up”.

        I was the only one who said “either ignore the C-list or actively manage them out; do not waste a dollar of training budget on them; spend 90% of training budget on the A-list, 10% on the B-list, and hold out the prospect of significant training and other staff development as an incentive”.

        Everyone was horrified – including the instructor who had a background in corporate HR. It wasn’t until I asked the class “how would you feel if you saw training money spent on others but never on you?” that a couple of them said “I would leave!”. “And if you always got the training money?” “I’d stay and milk it!”

        “Precisely! So in my plan, the disgruntled staff leaving are the C-list whom we’d want to exit anyway, while the A-list want to stay to milk it. But according to the rest of you it will be the C-list who stay forever while your best and brightest leave disgruntled.”

        As far as I know this is still how it’s taught. Invest in the worst and ignore the best.

    6. Squeakrad*

      I just talk to my husband who worked in a very similar job until he retired last year. One way they worked it out with us to assign someone to actually estimate how long each project or mini project or section with tape. Perhaps Norbert could be assigned as the “estimator“

      Work on the project for a week or so and then figure out how long it might take. Then Boss can assign it to the appropriate person.

      Or maybe Boss can do that? It sounds like a big part of the issue is that no one knows how long these things will take until they’re in them.

      1. Chria*

        But at that point if Norbert is getting all the longer audits because he’s faster than everyone else, his metrics may be comparable but he’s still doing more work than his coworkers. And if the longer ones are distributed equally among coworkers, Norbert is still going to get through his workload more quickly.

    7. Ks*

      As a “Norbert” many times in my career I’d say he’s justified in his feeling. Many times I have been “punished” for over performance with a “Meets expectations” rating with expectations double that or many of my peers while the others exceeded their low expectations and got a higher “exceeds expectations” rating. If you remove the incentive to do something you get less of it. If you punish something you get less of it. Norbert either realizes it or will and in turn reduce his effenciency to keep from getting more work and is likely looking for someplace that will recognize and reward his talent.

    8. Reluctant Mezzo*

      I was paid the same as other accounts payable clerks at ExJob for completing over twice as many vouchers per day. Oddly enough, I am not there any more.

  2. Pascall*

    I definitely feel Norbert. Being a high-performer but not being rewarded for it is the fastest way to convince someone to look for another job (which is what I’m doing now!) You either lose the employee or lose their productivity when they realize that it’s not doing them any favors.

    1. Cold and Tired*

      I’ve been fortunate to work for an employer where my high performance has led to big raises and title upgrades. Without that and other extra benefits over the years, I’d have definitely moved on to a different job.

      OP – either get Norbert more money, or hire more people. If you don’t, you’re going to lose him and end up in a worse spot in the long run, so it’s a win win for you all.

    2. LTR,FTP*

      If I were Norbert I’d start doing 20 hours of work a week and 20 hours of… whatever else I felt like doing. Why should I do double the work for the same money and status as everyone else?

      1. Pascall*

        Yup! I spent the extra time I had building up my LinkedIn and resume lol. The rest of the time I spend reading this blog or doing some professional development here or there.

      2. Rayray*

        I agree it isn’t fair to Norbert. Give him a raise if he is a more efficient worker getting so much more done than anyone else. Most likely, the other employees have figured out they will get more work for doing their tasks efficiently and well so they simply pretend it takes a longer time than it actually does.

        1. Just J.*

          Excellent point. The top performers around me are all adrenaline junkies who thrive on the stress of deadlines and getting sh*t tons of work done. People like this are few and far between. I am positive Norbert’s co-workers see his work load and nope out.

        2. Suz*

          “The other employees have figured out they will get more work for doing their tasks efficiently and well so they simply pretend it takes a longer time than it actually does”. This is exactly what happened on my team under my previous boss.

        3. Lacey*

          Even if they’re not pretending, there’s no incentive for them to improve their speed/skill, because the reward is just more work!

          1. Amaranth*

            And they know the work will never run out, so as long as they are reasonably proficient = job security! It sounds like all Norbert’s coworkers know he is faster and isn’t just getting easier audits, so maybe the solution is better pay, or actually talk to Norbert and see if he wants every Thursday off, to leave at 3pm each day, or a combination of things to remain motivated to work.

      3. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        I wrote half of my first novel on the clock at one job because I was producing three times as much work as anyone else, and I still had hours of the day where there was nothing left to do. This was mostly because I was able to automate a bunch of manual processes using Excel and building macros in the order entry DOS-based system. I tried showing others my methods but they were people who had been doing their job the same way for 10-20 years, and claimed it was faster to do it their way than to learn something new.

        1. Pascall*

          What kind of novel? What a good idea! I HAVE been wanting to write a kid’s book for some time.

          1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

            A romance novel! I never worked on the spicy parts there, but everything else was fair game. I just brought the file back and forth on a flash drive.

      4. Threeve*

        You should work full-time because you’re being paid to do a full-time job?

        If Norbert were working longer hours or taking fewer breaks than everyone else, or he was missing out on other opportunities, or being asked to oversee other employees when it isn’t supposed to be his job, etc etc that would be different. But it sounds like he’s simply more efficient.

        Working more efficiently and working harder are two different things. Nothing in the letter indicates that Norbert is actually putting in more effort or taking on extra hours. He isn’t complaining about being overworked or burnt out. The same amount of effort just goes farther for him. It happens. It doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have to fill his time.

        1. ShanShan*

          Thinking like that is going to end with Norbert filling his time at another company.

          It’s silly to say “just suck it up and do it” to your best employee, if that employee is unhappy. OP’s company has a lot more to lose from Norbert being unhappy than Norbert does. If the job doesn’t appreciate him, there are plenty more that will, but I doubt OP’s company will have an easy time finding another Norbert.

        2. Clobberin' Time*

          Except that the LW repeatedly says that her department is backlogged and everyone is “juggling” tasks. The whole problem is that she is assigning more work to Norbert because he is “juggling the least” due to his efficiency.

          So this isn’t a job where time vs. number of tasks done in a day is fungible. AND, not only is the LW pushing the backlog onto Norbert, she’s pushing HER job onto Norbert by suggesting that he ‘train’ everybody else.

        3. Excel-sior*

          Whether effort or efficiency, he is completing twice as much work as anybody else (with no drop off in quality) and this should be recognised.

          Oh, and the LW does mention that they’ve asked Norbert to train the rest of the team, despite this not being part of his role.

          1. Amaranth*

            LW frames it as almost a favor but its really a punishment for being efficient and complaining.

        4. ferrina*

          That statement assumes that all workers’ time is of the same value. Not all worker’s time is equally valuable, and it seems that Norbert’s time is more valuable than his coworkers (based on his output/value to the company). So Norbert is being paid to do the full-time work equal to that of his coworkers, not the maximum possible work that he can accomplish. In order to ask for him to work full time, in good faith you must pay him what his time is actually worth.

          Unless you want to pay your best worker and your worst worker the same. And under that logic, your CEO needs to make the same as the intern. After all, they’re both being paid to do 40 hours of work*, right?

          *Yes, I know that CEOs often work more than 40 hours and that intern’s hours vary widely. Point still stands.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Just make the CEO hourly and pay them the same hourly rate as the intern.

          2. Chria*

            I would agree that Norbert doesn’t necessarily need to be expected to work to his theoretical limit and it’s important to recognize his efficiency, but I don’t know if the backlog will ever get cleared up. And if there’s a fixed amount of money for the role and an unlimited amount of work, it could be that OP just owes Norbert an honest conversation and an offer to be a reference when he goes job searching.

            1. Amaranth*

              I agree OP owes Norbert an honest conversation about what he wants and what they have the power to offer – without the underlying resentment that comes across in the letter to AAM. I mean, how dare Norbert point out he’s dong the work of two people! I wonder if OP is being held to any metrics at all because the fatalist ‘this backlog will never get done’ attitude doesn’t create much incentive.

        5. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Your company should not care about how HARD you work. Working hard is not the same as being profitable or useful to the company – if it were, we’d still have people handwashing all clothing, instead of using washing machines.

          Someone who can do a job more efficiently should be rewarded for that very efficiency – ignoring that they are doing so, and insisting they do more work than everyone else is punishing them for the very efficiency that makes them more valuable to you.

          1. mf*

            “Your company should not care about how HARD you work. Working hard is not the same as being profitable or useful to the company”

            This is a really good point. People who are very efficient are also extremely useful to their employers. If your employer rewards your efficiency with nothing but more work, all they are doing is motivating you to be less efficient.

    3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      I was Norbert once. My salary topped out in the job band where I was placed. I was told how appreciated I was, but they couldn’t give me a higher title nor a significantly higher salary. Another company did.

      OP, if Norbert’s value is 2x everyone else’s, you need to reward him, both in money and in title.

      1. Maxie's Mommy*

        Exactly. Asked for a raise, didn’t get it—“not in the budget”, etc. So I took a better offer, and 2 replacements later they asked me back, because “no one said you did all THAT!” Yes I did, when I asked for the raise.

        1. ferrina*

          I was the glue that held the department together, and I had proven it both on paper and in action many, many times. Yet somehow there wasn’t money for a raise to bring me even close to market rate. I went to a place that offered me a 65% increase. 90% of the others in that department left within a year.

    4. Efficient Ellie*

      Preach! I’m looking to bail on my law firm job (nonlawyer timekeeper) for exactly this reason. I’m consistently praised for efficiency, but under the thumb of the billable hour, efficiency is worth exactly nothing. Maybe worse than nothing, since I come up short of my hour requirement partially because I can’t find enough work to take up all that time unless I…drag my feet on purpose? Which I just can’t bring myself to do.

      1. jlynnm*

        This – I hate billing (paralegal here) – I am efficient and hate to overbill a client. So if it takes .6 hours I’m only billing .6 not 1.2 or whatever. But then my billables are low for the month and I get in trouble for that – never mind that I do all kinds of office management that isn’t ‘billable’ to any client. I can’t bill a client for entering my attorney’s time for him, or for ordering office supplies (Small office someone has to do it).

    5. Scarlet2*

      Oh yes, I’ve been there too.
      It really sounds like “your reward for being very productive is… more work”. It’s the opposite of an incentive.

    6. Joielle*

      That’s where I foresee things going with my current job. I know my boss is just trying to give me interesting projects and I appreciate that, but some of it is stuff that’s really on the level of my grandboss. So far, I’m glad for the development opportunities, but I know there’s not really any way for me to be promoted here (unless TPTB create a new position, which is unlikely). So at some point, I’ll use this experience to get a higher level job somewhere else. That’s how it goes when you don’t compensate someone appropriately for doing a lot more work (or higher level work) than their peers!

    7. Esmeralda*

      BTDT. I stopped volunteering for “extra” work — got myself off high-effort committees, stopped raising my hand to pitch in for last minute help, that kind of thing. I always step up when our admin needs help, I’ll help out others who are also working hard and efficiently. When I’m asked to step up and take on something extra — I make sure something else comes off my plate.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        I had one job in my 20s where I was taking 3-hour lunches and still overperforming. Naturally I was fired when they found out about the lunches, because no one cared about the overperformance. The Corporate-think in this country is so out of sync with what they should be doing to encourage efficiency.

    8. Mockingjay*

      Also been a Norbert. The worst part was being held to a higher performance standard than my peers (same title, pay grade). TPTB got used to high quality and very high quantity output, so when I did make a minor error (at that pace, surprised I didn’t screw up more), it became a Very Big Deal. But it was perfectly fine to have me fix or complete my coworkers’ work. When I protested doing that on top of my own substantial workload, “well, they’re just not up to your standard” or “Mockingjay, we need you to be a team player.” Grrrr!

      Reader, I left that job.
      For more money and less work.

  3. Jean*

    If he’s really looking at his workload as punishment, which it sounds like he is, then at minimum you owe him a one on one conversation about what his goals are and what he needs to feel appropriately recognized and rewarded. And really listen, hear him, and be willing to work with him on what he’s asking for. Throwing your hands up and saying “oh well, it is what it is” while letting his complaints bounce off of you with no response is not the way. You will lose him if it continues.

    1. Ginger with a Soul*

      Is there any way to let Norbert pick which audit he performs next? Or to delegate the assignment of audits among the team to him? This would serve as 1) recognition that he has the expertise in this area and is outperforming, 2) a reward for the work he is doing, and 3) hopefully a means of allowing him to feel like he has some input into his workload. I know that it’s impossible to tell how long an audit will take in advance and that choosing between auditing pencils vs. auditing paper clips may not be much of a “perk,” but it could be worth a try.

      Also, is Norbert faster at the *entire* process or is there some particular element of the audits (e.g. manually tallying pencils in boxes) at which he is faster than everyone else? If so, could you reconfigure these assignments so that they are handled by multiple team members, with Norbert doing the portion at which he is fastest and then passing it on to a colleague? Then the structure could shift to: Norbert does the tallying and passes the rest of the audit on to a colleague. Once each colleague has a pair of Norbert tallies waiting for them, Norbert is off the hook on doing more tallies until another team member completes an audit.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        Your last paragraph is an interesting one. As others have pointed out, the LW wants Norbert to train his peers to be as efficient as he is, and yet LW doesn’t appear to have taken any steps to understand what those efficiencies even are.

        1. quill*

          Yeah. Is Norbert a fast typist? Has he discovered this one weird excel trick to make checking the math easier? Is everyone else looking through the regulations in an unsearchable PDF and Norbert has one where you can search for a specific word?

      2. Buffy will save us*

        I was wondering myself if there is anyway the manager can vet the audits to get a rough estimate as to how long it should take and use that as a delegation tool (and not listing Norbert as a separate time category just b/c he’s faster than average.) Then it can be more fair- say 8 audits per month & 2 long term- or whatever.

      3. MsClaw*

        Yeah, there were a few things that jumped out at me here…. Like if the audits vary in degree of difficulty and time investment, how are they even measuring that he’s completing things twice as fast?

        I sympathize with the idea that everyone’s getting paid for 40 hours. If Norbert is especially efficient, he should get more compensation. But another question that really needs to be asked is *how* is he twice as fast as EVERYONE ELSE on the team? Does he have excel skills that could be shared? Does he have some connections for getting info that he could introduce others on the teams to? Are other members of the team slacking off?

  4. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

    But none of this addresses the actual question: how should the letter writer allocate the work?

    1. Jean*

      Ideally, Norbert will be able to continue to support a higher workload once he and the manager have come to an agreement on ways for him to be appropriately compensated for it. But that conversation has to be had first.

      1. KHB*

        That’s the ideal solution, but if it’s not possible for whatever reason, what then? Norbert gets assigned the same workload as everyone else, which results in Norbert twiddling his thumbs for 20 hours a week while a backlog of work just sits there not getting done? Because that doesn’t seem right either.

        1. Anon all day*

          If it’s not possible, then the company has to realize that they’re going to/should lose Norbert to another job, and then they’re going to be in an even worse position.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That’s what’s incentivized when companies aren’t willing to recognize high performers.

        3. WetPigeon*

          Why not?
          Their tasks are done. Presumably to the level of satisfaction deemed OK by the job description and their manager.
          Especially if salaried and not hourly, just because there are more tasks (it sounds like an endless amount of them) does not mean it falls upon Norbert to complete them right away.

        4. Umpire*

          The backlog is not Norbert’s problem. It’s the company’s problem, which they solve by hiring more people. Norbert completed his work? Good then don’t mind him “twiddling his thumbs”. Language like that is for micromanagers.

        5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Norbert gets those 20 hrs to develop new professional skills to advance his career goals

          1. Calliope*

            I doubt he‘d want that. I had a job like that and finding something arguably work related to occupy my time for twenty hours a week or whatever was soul killing. I definitely think more money and a promotion are likely to
            Be better for his morale.

      2. Just J.*

        Agree strongly with Jean. Distributing work load, especially when you have a lot of work coming in and your backlog is strong, is difficult no matter the industry. And there is no easy answer to this. Ask me how I know. But piling it on Norbert because that’s the easiest answer for the OP is not the right answer.

        Norbert needs to be appropriately compensated and / or promoted. You must keep your top performers happy or another company will.

    2. BPT*

      But I think it kind of does. If you can stratify the positions – say Team Lead or Lead Auditor vs other Auditors, and then adjust pay accordingly, then it would make sense for the Lead to have more work than the others and pitch in with training them. Then the workload allocation wouldn’t have to change that much, but moreso you’re structuring the position to fit the workload.

      1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

        But only kind of. The letter writer explicitly asks if there is a better way to assign the work, and that question has been sidestepped. Yes, it sucks that Norbert is doing more – but what other options does the LW have if they can’t stratify?

        1. BPT*

          The problem is that you’re always going to have a relative top performer(s) and more average performers. OP says that the others’ work isn’t subpar, but the top performer is that much better. If the goal is to have everyone complete an exactly equal amount of tasks, you’re setting your department up for failure. Either you tell everyone that they have to complete 10 audits in a time period (while Norbert has routinely been completely 20), meaning that Norbert will be sitting around twiddling his thumbs once he’s finished, and audits will keep piling up. Or you tell everyone they have to meet Norbert’s productivity, setting the other employees up for failure, causing them to be fired or choose to leave, and again handicapping your department. Trying to make everything exactly equal is not going to solve your problem.

          If the department can’t stratify, then they have to acknowledge that Norbert will likely leave for somewhere that does pay him commensurate to his contribution. That’s kind of the three options here: try to make everything equal which will disrupt the work of the department, stratify, or lose an employee. That’s what this manager has to contend with. If they can’t stratify, are they left with two bad options? Yes, but that’s kind of the way this works.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            If they can’t stratify, the high performers should get merit raises at a higher level, and be considered for promotion (assuming they are suited to the higher level position – there are people who are great individual performers and terrible managers). They can be given more choice in assignments – the more interesting work, for example. They’ll be the last to go in the case of layoffs.

            There are other perks – flex time, more PTO, either officially, or the ability to take the occasional untracked day off, first choice at the best office space, extra professional development.

            Honestly, in Norbert’s position, I’d back off on my productivity to, say, 1.5 x the average rather than twice. If questioned, I’d say that I had realized that I was headed to burnout with the previous level, and needed to move back to something more sustainable. Then watch as the manager tried to figure out how to put me on a PIP for outperforming all the other employees.

        2. Just J.*

          Ok, taking the practical approach to respond to this:

          OP: Are you tracking time sheet so you know for sure how many hours your staff are working on each audit? How does that compare with past audits of similar size and scope? How much fee is being consumed on each audit and is each audit profitable? These are all of the key metrics a manager has to have to assess how the team is performing.

          From there, you can figure out who is loaded up and not loaded up and do it FACTUALLY based on time sheets, etc. There are tons of time management / people management software who will help you chart this out to see it graphically. OP’s bi-weekly meetings will give feed back on whether or not the facts of time and money are balancing with what her staff is telling her in her meetings.

          From that, you shift work around and assign new work appropriately. It is NOT EASY. Some people will be overloaded and some underloaded, so you have to be aware and shift new work and sometime old work to keep things balanced. But in order to do it, you have to have the facts of who is doing what.

          Any other team leads want to chime in? I’ve distilled this down pretty hard, but I’ve been senior management in a deadline driven industry for over two decades. You have to juggle, but you have to have the metrics to know where and how.

          1. Watry*

            Not a lead, but we had a similar situation on my team, and the answer ended up being ‘go back to round robin’. I’m in government so there is no stratifying, though. If we are overloaded, we can address it with the supervisors or ask each other for help. It does take some trust from supervision that we won’t lie about our workload, and I know they check sometimes.

            1. Olivia*

              “It does take some trust from supervision that we won’t lie about our workload, and I know they check sometimes.”

              Your last line reminded me of something that had seemed off to me when I first read through the letter. OP says that they check with everyone biweekly to make sure “that none of them are just sitting on work to prevent being assigned new audits”.

              Um, what?

              If you suspect that your team (seemingly everyone on it) might be intentionally being unproductive in order to not get more work, to the extent that you check in with them every other week (I am really hoping OP did not mean twice a week), that to me is a sign of a problem. If anyone who is not Norbert is doing that, then they are not only not being a team player, but they’re doing it knowing that their colleague is being forced to pick up their slack. This is not the normal amount of Parkinson’s Law stuff that one might expect.

              On the other hand, maybe OP’s team isn’t made of a bunch of slackers at all, but OP is a micromanager who doesn’t trust subordinates enough. The fact that they are so ungenerous towards Norbert makes me think this could be a possibility. Either way, this looks like it could indicate a big problem with their team that they don’t even seem to realize is not normal.

              If these making-sure-my-employees-are-actually-working meetings are happening twice a week, that is so much worse. At that point this person is really not being a good manager, whether the problem is slackers or micromanaging. (To me, bi- is every other ___ and semi- is twice every ___, but I never hear “semi-weekly”, so I looked it up and apparently “biweekly” is used for either.)

          2. NYWeasel*

            Our project load is very inconsistent. Project A and B might look equivalent at the start, but with A all the deliverables fall in place super smoothly and with B there’s tons of back and forth to get anything done. These factors aren’t assessable at the start bc the friction is often externally driven. I feel for OP bc I often don’t know for 4-6 weeks whether I’ve buried a team member in a project or not…and by then I’ve had to assign out 2-3 other ones.

            OTOH, what sticks out to me is that everyone is focused on Norbert’s pay. It’s not always up to the manager—I can’t just promote my team members or give them raises and bonuses bc I want to. I have a very limited pool for merit increases and outside of that, I have to convince the entire LT that my team member should get more $$—and then there’s generally a queue that those team members get added to for when $ becomes available.

            Instead I work with my high performers to explore what they are interested in, and we look for stretch work that supports those goals, so that they can be ready for future opportunities. In Norbert’s case, coaching the team to bring the team’s overall capacity up is great experience for future people leader skills. Or perhaps he’s more interested in process improvement to reduce the drag of projects. The idea is that there’s a tangible thing that Norbert can point to as experience gained. My manager does the same thing with me, and I don’t resent the extra work bc I know how it relates to what I want to do overall.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              However, loading on stretch goals and still paying Norbert the same as the lower level performers is going to be noticed by the high performers. Doing more complex work for the same pay?


        3. quill*

          Some sort of compromise to stop this from becoming resentment and burnout? Either screen so that Norbert gets the more difficult audits due to his experience and other people can get volume practice with the quickest ones, or realize that you can’t ask Norbert to do 200% of the work of anyone else but you might be able to ask him for 130%. Or figure out why he’s so good at this and develop some training. And if you can’t pay Norbert better for getting more work done, you won’t keep Norbert.

        4. TrackingCookieMonster*

          Because there’s not an actual way to answer LW’s question the way they want it answered because there’s other factors at play here that make it not possible.

          LW is basically Ned Flanders’s parents at the moment: “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas.”

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        To clarify, Lead Auditor or Auditor II/III = best auditor with more complex or more volume of work, but Team Lead = leading and managing the team.

        I know it seems nitpicky, but language in job titles matters. ;)

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          One hopes the title has more pay than Auditor I. Norbert will notice if it doesn’t.

    3. my experience*

      I think the answer is — OP can allocate work the exact same way! It’s just that Norbert should be paid more.

      1. Aggresuko*

        I can already see the “But Norbert and the entire team are all the exact same level, I can’t elevate Norbert above anyone else financially!” argument, somehow. Same thing I got, actually. I do process things a lot faster than other people do, but I’ll never get any more compensation for it either because I’m naturally fast at processing.

        As someone else said above, there’s really no good solutions here if “give Norbert a bump up” isn’t an option.

        1. Nesprin*

          Or ask for X audits per week and accept that if norbert finishes his in 20 hrs, he gets to do whatever he wants for the other 20 hrs. Or alternatively pay bonuses proportionally to the number of audits done. Or give Norbert first crack at picking which ones he wants to handle.

    4. Pascall*

      What I would do is first see if Norbert CAN be rewarded or recognized with a title/salary that befits the amount of work he’s doing. If not, then OP should scale back what is being assigned to him to equal the same amount as the rest of the team and provide him with opportunities for learning new skills, professional development, attending conferences, learning opportunities, or just giving him free time to read or work on personal projects if that’s allowed. To fill in the rest of the time that he’s there. Then inform the rest of the team that if they too can improve their speed/quality of work, they’d be afforded the same benefits.

      1. Mangofan*

        If OP can’t reward Norbert appropriately, they could also offer Norbert to split the difference – say, have him do 30 hours of work with 10 hours free for whatever. That way, Norbert has some incentive to stay, and OP has incentive to keep him.

    5. Myrin*

      Yeah, I completely agree with the answer regarding Norbert himself but I’m not seeing anything regarding OP’s “Is there a better way for me to assign work to my team, keeping in mind that we have an enormous pile from which to pull?” (which is a question I find very interesting pertaining to situations like the one in this letter in particular) – Alison, is a part of your answer missing here or did you simply think that, apart from the Norbert situation, OP is doing the best she can?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The answer is that she can keep allocating work the way she is if she pays Norbert appropriately for his contributions or otherwise works out a solution that’s fair to him. If she can’t do that for some reason, then it’s the same as any situation where there’s too much work for your team: you have to either hire more people or prioritize and accept not everything can get done because you don’t have the staff to do it all. If she just continues what she’s doing, she’s going to lose Norbert and be forced into the latter method anyway.

      2. Koalafied*

        Yes, the answer to “Is there a better way to assign work [without changing compensation structure]?” the answer is no, there isn’t.

    6. Spearmint*

      It seems to me there’s really only four possibilities here:

      1) Continue giving Norbert more work and give him a raise to reflect that.

      2) Give Norbert an equal amount of work and hire more people.

      3) Give Norbert an equal amount of work and accept that less work will get done.

      4) Continue giving Norbert more work, don’t pay him extra for it, in which case he likely leaves.

      Paying Norbert more seems like the obvious best option.

      1. Clobberin' Time*

        Also, 5) Figure out if it’s possible for the LW to improve the rest of the team’s efficiency through the LW training them.

        The LW clearly believes that Norbert’s efficient ways can be taught to some degree (as opposed to being some innate quality of Norbert) because she asked Norbert to train the others.

        1. Fabulous*

          Training may or may not be the answer…

          Before training can be determined as an appropriate course of action, you have to determine the root cause of the problem – why aren’t the other’s able to produce as much as Norbert? Why is Norbert able to complete 10 when Jane can only do 3? What is Norbert doing differently?

          1. Coffee Bean*

            I agree with this. People frequently suggest training, and it’s not always the right answer.
            If Norbert provides training and his colleague don’t follow through on using Norbert’s techniques -or- if they lack some innate / unique skill set Norbert has, no amount of training will help. Also – what happens when Norbert goes on vacation? Does he return to a huge pile of audits, because the rest of lw’s team cannot produce Norbert’s output? Maybe the lw’s team needs more Norberts.

            1. Dragon*

              Agreed. Training won’t matter with people who aren’t willing to learn and then use that knowledge, or who don’t have a good work ethic.

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                That doesn’t seem quite fair. It’s possible to work hard, be willing to try to learn and apply new things, and still not reach Norbert’s level.

        2. MansplainerHater*

          Yes, this too! If the work is going to keep coming in for years on end, take some time NOW to make it more efficient and equitable for your employees.

        3. allathian*

          Yes. That said, the LW should try and find out if the others are actually working as efficiently as they potentially could, or if they’re simply not bothering to put in their best efforts because that would only result in them getting assigned more work, like Norbert? If so, giving Norbert a raise would be the best way to both incentivize him to stay and to show the average performers that if they improve, they’ll be rewarded for it.

          Even if the others are putting in their best work, Norbert deserves a raise.

        4. Amaranth*

          I felt like LW was presenting that as a way to shut Norbert up. As in ‘well if you don’t like how slowly they work, make them faster!’ So his working faster now…penalizes everyone else? But the worst part of that was LW stating they assign Norbert to assist as ‘their way of saying he should train them’ — is it actually ever *explicitly* stated to the staff that they should take on Norbert’s methods, or is Norbert just taking on more work?

      2. GrooveBat*

        I was Norbert once as well. My company offered a performance-based bonus structure that established a baseline productivity standard and added an incentive for those who were able to deliver in excess of the baseline. That was all very well and good; the problem was, the incentives were based on hours expended, so I was penalized for getting my projects done faster, while the lagging performers got bonused more because they took longer to get stuff done.

        My boss recognized the inherent unfairness in this, so he and I worked out a structure that assigned a set number of bonus “credits” by deliverable type, based on the average number of hours it took to complete *most* projects. The more projects you did, the more credits you earned and the higher your bonus. The plan did provide flexibility for projects that went off the rails and required substantially more time than the average, but overall we figured that the easier projects would balance out the more difficult ones and everyone thought the structure was fair.

        Not only did this compensate the stronger performers for their productivity, it also provided an incentive for the laggards to find ways to improve their output so as to earn a higher bonus.

      3. SongbirdT*

        If all options are on the table, here’s how I’d configure it:

        Everyone’s target is X reasonable amount of audits in Y timeframe. For every audit over the baseline, auditors get $$ bonus.

        This gives Norbert the additional comp he deserves, and provides a reward for other auditors who have a good month or whatever.

      4. yala*

        What’s the phrase? Sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money?

      5. Green great dragon*

        1a is other ways to show appreciation. Ideally, more pay, sure. If that’s not possible – at least recognising he’s doing a great job, and better than other team members. Does this position him well for a promotion? Since he doesn’t need training on the basics does he want other training that could help his career? Even the idea of him training others – it could be LW saying ‘well help the others then’, it could be LW saying they recognise he is very strong in these ways, could he run some training (of course adjusting his workload to create time) and letting the big bosses know how good he and his training is.

        A casual ‘I heard you ran some great training’ (or ‘you did a great job on the stapler audit – sounds like it was a nightmare’) from the C-suite isn’t going to fix the problem, but it might take a little heat out of it if he currently feels he’s getting no appreciation at all.

      6. Gnome*

        If paying more isn’t an option there are benefits that might be had. For example, pulling him aside and saying, I know you did three units already this week. Why don’t you kick off an hour early on Friday? Or implement the 59 minute rule for him for every Friday. Or whatever else is within OP’s power that would give him a better job without it hitting the bottom line. Maybe a one-off award for “most audits completed in 2021” with a gift card. I mean, these aren’t a lot, but if you are able to show him you value his high contribution, it would help.

    7. Pocket Mouse*

      Agreed. Seems to me that assigning it to the person who is next in line to run out of things to do makes a lot of sense.

      That said, this is a letter where the question asked is rather narrower than the question(s) that should be asked, as other commenters are highlighting. Getting Norbert’s sense of what he thinks would be fair, both about his title/compensation and workload distribution, could generate insight and ideas.

      1. Antilles*

        That makes sense as a distribution method yeah, but the reality is that if Norbert is really that much more efficient than everyone else, that “next in line to be out of things to do” is likely to be Norbert more often than Steve Slowpoke.

        1. JustaTech*

          In that case would it make more sense to assign Norbert the more complex audits that are expected to take longer? (I wasn’t sure from the letter if the OP could tell in advance which ones would be 3 days vs 3 months.)
          That would make the number of audits more even, even if the workload is still tilted in Norbert’s direction. But it would mean that other people come up in the “next in line to take a new audit” more often than Norbert.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            But then Norbert gets all the complex and difficult projects. Which implies that he should have a more senior position and the pay that comes with it.

            1. JustaTech*

              Oh, yes, exactly! 100% he should be getting paid more and/or have a more senior title.
              I was just thinking about the distribution of work itself.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yep. The LW mentioned trying a round robin system, but I think a queue system that allows for prioritization and that some things take more time makes more sense.

        Also, Norbert deserves a raise & title bump. If he’s a team lead, he can help assign work & assist his coworkers with questions.

    8. BA*

      It doesn’t feel like the work allocation is a problem. Given the nature of the work, it sounds like it would be a challenge to assign differently. It IS a challenge that someone gets their work done that much quicker/more efficiently.
      It is about performance of the one person over the others. That person should be compensated, or if money isn’t available, perhaps Norbert would like a 4 day work week instead of 5? Are there ways to compensate his efficiency in a different way?

    9. ants*

      The solution is in the answer: pay Norbert more and you can keep allocating work the way you are.

    10. anonymous73*

      I said this below, but OP needs to figure out WHY the others are performing at half the speed of Norman. If it was 1 or 2 that were new and learning, that would explain it. But something is off if he is producing twice as much work as everyone else. Once the WHY is determined, then a new approach to the allocation needs to be determined that is fair to ALL. And I don’t think we can determine what that fair approach could be until OP determines the cause of such a huge discrepancy is productivity. If it really is just a matter of Norman being that much better at his job than everyone else, and the productivity of the others is acceptable, then he needs to be compensated for it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s possible Norbert is just that much better; a truly high performer can often do 2-3 times the work of an average one. Or it’s possible the others are the wrong hires or need more training; that’s something the OP should investigate too. But it really could just be that Norbert is really good.

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          The LW said: “I have tried tasking Norbert with assisting his colleagues with their audits — my way of saying, “Teach them how to be as fast as you, then!” but the complaints remain.”

          So, one of two things is true:
          1) The LW believes that Norbert’s efficiency is a teachable skill that the other team members can learn from Norbert.
          2) The LW doesn’t really believe that Norbert’s efficiency is a teachable skill, but is assigning him to train his colleagues as a kind of so-there-smarty-pants reaction.

          Normally I’d assume #1, but given the LW calling him a “jerk”, I really wonder about #2.

          1. Myrin*

            I actually did get a distinct 2) feeling, mostly because of the “as fast as you, then“.

          2. Also not a fan*

            I’m a one-person department/service provider (took over a mess and remade the operation more efficient with few mistakes and get consistently good feedback from most patrons) but supposed to have 1 or 2 people trained as support/back-up.
            No one I have attempted to train, and no one who performed the duties before me, can work at my speed and efficiency. It’s just the way it is.
            My workflow is also all or nothing. Certain times of the year I am running at top speed, stressed out & ready to rage quit. Then it’s quiet time. Do I seek out busy work during quiet times? No, I do not. I need the down times to recuperate and prep for the next round of emergencies, not to mention keeping up with professional development required for the service I provide.
            If I had to work at top speed every day, I would collapse. Thank goodness my supervisor and up the food chain understand this. It helped that we performed a massive audit of every job function for every person in every department and I was able to see that my ups & downs evened out to mostly full time work.

        2. Smarter not harder*

          Could be the other colleagues have seen how working harder only gets you more work to do and decided to work slower. They have zero incentive to work harder or work more efficiently. I can see how this could be the case because I’ve worked in it (only for a month).

      2. JustaTech*

        Just to offer an anecdote, sometimes one person really is just faster than everyone else for reasons that can’t be taught.
        Years ago, we had one operator at our manufacturing plant who was about 25% faster than everyone else. This is generally not a good thing, as it usually means that this person is cutting corners, so management went in to observe them working to 1) see if they were cutting corners and correct that and 2) if they weren’t, figure out how they were faster so it could be taught to the rest of the team.

        Upon investigation it turned out that this operator was completely ambidextrous in a very manual process. Now, everyone was trained to use both hands at least some, but there are some fine motions that really need to be done with your dominate hand that just have to wait for that hand to be free. Except for this one person, who really could do everything with both hands at the same time. That’s not something that can be taught (at least not in our time frame), so that operator just got tagged as the Fast Outlier and management was sad when they left.

        1. Aggresuko*

          I speed read. That’s why I’m faster than everyone else, especially on proofreading issues. Can’t explain how I do it, but I’ve always been able to.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, I do that as well. I’m also the opposite of dyslexic in that when I’m learning a new language, I need to see a word once and the orthography is fixed firmly in my head, including any diacritic marks as long as I understand how they affect pronunciation. I essentially never make any spelling mistakes, I can honestly say that any errors I make are typos. Admittedly I’ve never tried learning a language that doesn’t use Roman letters, though.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I have a former coworker who could chat and get her work done, quickly and accurately, at the same time. In her previous role, she got talked to by her boss for being too chatty and keeping other people from getting their work done; her work was done, but everyone else’s was suffering. I don’t know how she’s able to chat all day and process her work at the same time; I certainly can’t! Some people just have a “one weird thing” that makes them better at the work than anyone else.

          1. JustaTech*

            I know a guy who can listen to NPR and type at the same time and I can’t imagine how he does it. I can barely listen to classical music and work on a spreadsheet. If it’s people talking I’ll just start transcribing.

    11. Nanani*

      In a way that doesn’t leave Norbert burned out for the crime of being good at the work.
      That might be the current system but Norbert gets X bonus thing (salary, benefits, title), or it might be something else.
      Maybe they agree on a “cap” for how much Norbert can be assigned, and if he finishes faster than the others he can chill?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Somewhere around +25% to +33% of average, I’d get nervous about relying on one team member for that much. Where am I going to find another +25+% team member to replace them if need be? So a cap would at least keep the succession expectations somewhat realistic (at the cost of not optimizing output until succession comes into play).

    12. Yorick*

      I think having Norbert assist others isn’t a bad idea. Not just that he might train them to be better, but that he’s being given some work to fill his time but not having to do twice as much as everyone else. Assign everyone the same amount of audits and have them help each other in their down time. Usually Norbert will be the one to help others, but not necessarily always.

      Another option is to have Norbert work on the backlog at his own pace while new audits are assigned to the rest of the team. Work on figuring out if Norbert has tricks to be more efficient that you can teach the rest. Then when Norbert is done with the backlog you might have gotten everyone else closer to his level and it might be more fair to allocate work to the whole team including Norbert the way you’re doing now.

    13. NVHEng*

      As a manager I have this same challenge with my team – a never-ending list of projects, inconsistent project scopes and a team of people with different levels of experience and efficiency around the job duties etc.

      I think there are three things this manager needs to do. She needs to understand Norbert’s worth to the company, she needs to set some reasonable targets – for each employee as an individual and for the team as a whole, and she needs to really look at improving the efficiency of her team.

      As others have said – Norbert’s value is 2-3x the other employees, so he should be recognized for that value, or he will walk and the team will be in a hole. And none of the other employees will challenge themselves to do 15% more if Norbert’s 100% more is not being recognized and rewarded. If she can reward Norbert and show there is value to the rest of the team to work more efficiently, then she can motivate them to learn new processes and procedures that are more efficient, or maybe even to split the work differently if that would make the whole team more successful and play on the strengths of the group as a whole.

      With respect as to the basis of the question – how to assign the work for her team… if she values Norbert and sets some targets for the team then it will be easier to understand how best to do that. Right now her only option is to just say “who isn’t busy” and that clearly isn’t working at all.

    14. starfox*

      The work should either be equally allocated among the employees, or Norbert should be paid more than his colleagues.

  5. L-squared*

    Totally agree with Alison.

    This is one of those questions where I don’t see how you type out everything, essentially saying “I give one guy far more than someone else, and he is being a jerk by complaining about it” and not seeing how bad that comes across.

    It seems you may need to figure out a better way to hand out these assignments. But just deciding that since he is faster he needs to do more work is a recipe for having someone leave.

    1. Graeme*

      I sympathise a lot more with the LW’s point of view – if you had a widget machine that made 10 widgets a day and another that made 20 a day, it would be ridiculous to run the second machine at half speed and end up behind your 25 wpd quota just to keep the workload fair. If you have an asset that is more productive than others, it’s not totally wild to want it to produce more and to question how to keep that production sustainable.

      A little more awareness the fact that people aren’t machines might well be needed – as Alison suggests, that could take the form of a different title and salary that reflects an expectation that he will produce more and/or has some responsibility for increasing team productivity. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking the question around how to keep that better worker happy. This isn’t anywhere near “bad boss” territory.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Also, the widget machines don’t look at each other & wonder why they get the same amount of oil & electricity, even though one clearly is doing more than the other.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        The fact that OP asked if Norbert is being a jerk makes me think that OP is verging on bad boss territory. Norbert is his best employee and is bringing up reasonable points. OP isn’t asking how to make the rest of the team better or find ways to incentivize Norbert and make him feel valued. Those are traits of bad bosses. OP, this is your chance to learn and not be that boss.

        1. Graeme*

          I didn’t clock on to the “is he a jerk” question, so yeah, that’s not great. But also, if Norbert is complaining about his workload, it’s not impossible to see why that being a possibility might come up, it just happens that LW is seemingly wrong in this case.

        2. Blue*

          This. That jerk comment really stood out to me; this is a manager talking about their employee, let alone the best performer, who brought up perfectly valid complaints about unfair treatment. I hope OP takes this as a heads up that they should reassess the way they’re thinking about and treating their employees in genal, not just in this one particular case. If someone came to them with a different complaint in the future, even if it may not seem valid at first, they should really make their best effort to see it from the emoloyee’s PoV before casting this kind of judgement. They should feel safe coming to their manager with concerns and having that discussion.

          1. Emilia Bedelia*

            It sounds like Norbert is pretty frustrated, so he may just be complaining in a jerky way. It’s possible to be right and also sound like an asshole at the same time. OP may be letting Norbert’s attitude cloud their perception of whether he has a valid complaint or not – it’s still OP’s responsibility to make a fair judgment and solve Norbert’s concerns, but he may indeed be a jerk (personality wise).

      3. anonymous73*

        Asking if he’s being a jerk is where the problem lies with OP. That tells me a lot about their attitude the whole situation. They could have said “Is Norman being unreasonable or does he have a valid complaint”, but no, they thought he might be a jerk.

      4. Persephone Mulberry*

        [quote]But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking the question around how to keep that better worker happy.[/quote]

        Unfortunately, that’s not the question the LW asked. There’s a world of difference between “how do I keep my employee happy” and “how do I make my employee stop complaining.”

      5. starfox*

        I actually don’t sympathize at all. People aren’t machines. A metaphor using machines for people is a bad metaphor.

        It is well into “bad boss” territory to call someone a jerk for pushing back on having to do more work than everyone else for no reward.

  6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I don’t think Norbert is being a jerk when he tells you, his manager, that his acknowledgement for being efficient and effective is more of the same work.
    You are frustrated that he is frustrated. You can change this.
    Ask Norbert what projects he prefers and let him cherry pick some projects.
    Is that fair? Yes. He should get some type of reward/privilege for being the best.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, and Norberts rewards should also be transparent to the rest of the team. Currently there’s no incentive for them to improve their performance, because they aren’t stupid and they can clearly see that Norbert is only getting more work for being better than they are at his job.

  7. CatCat*

    Yeah, OP, the organization is incentivizing Norbert to either slow down or leave. It also shows the slower employees that there is no benefit at the organization to becoming more skilled so they’re better off just staying at their current skill level.

    None of this is a desirable outcome given the amount of work to be done.

    1. Contracts Killer*

      I was a Norbert, and I slowed down. Our team had X time to review contracts. They were assigned pretty equally based on size and subject matter. In a team of seven, we had two underperformers, so when X time was approaching, the boss would look for who already finished their contracts and give them the underperformers’ remaining contracts. I wasn’t a faster reviewer, per se, but I wasn’t a dawdler like one or doing personal things all the time like the other. I complained several times. Nothing happened. So magically it started taking me the full X time to review all of my assigned contracts with no room to take on more.

  8. Another Norbert*

    I’m Norbert (not OP’s Norbert but I’m essentially in the same boat.) I do get recognized for my contributions above my peers, but the thing that drives me nuts is that I’m essentially always brought in at the 11th hour to fix the other work that gets behind. When what I really want to be doing is creating processes and having more responsibility to make it easier for the less-experienced folks to do their jobs more efficiently. But I’m not being given the opportunity to do that because it’s always an emergency and they always need me to focus my time on just “fixing it” instead of making it better across the board.

    1. Resident Catholicville, USA*

      This- while I feel for Norbert and have been the Norbert, sometimes extra compensation/titles aren’t available at that level or within that organization. At that point, the manager needs to either figure out how to redistribute the work fairly- either get the others to pick up the pace (Norbert can’t possibly be only getting the easiest work; he must have some way of doing this that makes it easier than other people can) or distribute the work based on people’s skills. Unless this is a situation where it’s never been done before and there’s no backlog of data to identify what takes less time and what doesn’t, surely there is a way to quantify the easier audits as opposed to the more complicated ones? I’ve never done a job where, after an intro period and some time doing it, I wasn’t able to identify what the easiest problems to solve would be and what take longer and adjust my timetables accordingly.

      1. Just J.*

        1 million times this. Why is there no backlog of data? Even if the audits are wildly different, I doubt the wheel is being reinvented for each one. What data has been – or can be collected – so efficiencies can be identified?

      2. quill*

        Yeah, if the process that’s speeding everything up is ‘Norbert knows where to start on the audits’ or ‘Norbert found a system shortcut’ it can be taught, but that’s the manager’s job. If they want to have Norbert improve the system or train others, they need to cut back on assigning Norbert things so that he has time to do that.

      3. NoviceManagerGuy*

        This is what gets me too. The LW really has no way to identify what will be a fast one and what will be a slow one? I just refuse to believe that it can’t be done. The LW wrote about assigning Norbert too much, but the real problem is she doesn’t know how much work she’s assigning, ever!

    2. L'étrangere*

      That’s a very frustrating situation to be in, Norbert II. I think you can hear your answer loud and clear from what the commentariat is telling the OP. You might try a pincer action though, as you’re brushing up the resume.
      How about, after each emergency, taking the time to think of what process improvement(s) would have prevented it? And really take the time, don’t get rushed into something else, they owe it to you as stress compensation. One main action if possible, to practice priorities and clarify the message. And write it up, clearly and persuasively.
      Then you have a choice. Either give it to your company and let them choose whether to recognize your contribution now or consider implementing those changes after you’re gone. Or keep them to yourself and in any case be more ready to talk cogently in interviews about what you would do in your next job. Much depends on how exasperated you are and whether you think you’d be pleased to give a shot at fixing up this company if you got a chance.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes to this, Another Norbert! Your group/org/company needs a CAPA program – corrective action/ preventative action. As in, when there’s a problem first you fix it, and then, before everyone moves on, you create a system to prevent it from happening again (if possible).

        The third time you have to fix the same problem the company has lost money/time because it could have been prevented if they’d let you build the system.
        (It doesn’t completely prevent problems for happening again, especially if part of the problem is “user”, but it helps a lot.)

    3. BookishMiss*

      Hi, are you me? Being a firefighter is exhausting, especially if, after, you’re able to point out root cause and how to avoid the fire in the future, and then guess what! Next week, same thing happens, and you get pulled in to fix it.

      Managers and above, when the people you go to when you have a fire suggest a process change to avoid the fire in the future, please listen to us.

    4. turquoisecow*

      This is a good point. There’s only so much that money and title bumps help someone feel appreciated at their job. Maybe Norbert wants to be in on the planning, maybe making the processes more efficient is something that needs to be done at a global level rather than an individual, maybe there’s some things that can be changed about the processes or the systems that will make *everyone* more efficient, rather than just Norbert. Since Norbert had been there awhile and has good relationships with others in the company, it stands to reason that he might understand the big picture and want to be involved in that.

      Or maybe not. Maybe he just wants to go in and do his job and go home, but he’s resentful of his less productive coworkers. Maybe he’ll never be happy and is a complainer. OP doesn’t know until they try a few options. In my experience, raises and title bumps usually also mean more responsibilities and decision making power, maybe even supervisory responsibility. So it’s reasonable for OP to say “ok, we’ll give you more money and also we want your input on these things” and see how that goes.

      1. Also not a fan*

        Me, this.
        I choose my jobs very carefully because I want a certain amount of pay and to be able to leave my work at work and not be exhausted or made ill from stress.
        Offering me promotions won’t work because I don’t want more work or responsibility.

      2. Just a Thought*

        Yes! turquoisecow “…he might understand the big picture and want to be involved in
        Or maybe not. Maybe he just wants to go in and do his job and go home …”

        “Or maybe not.”

        Yep. Maybe he has no interest in moving up into increasingly managerial positions. Maybe that doesn’t fit his idea of work/life balance. But that doesn’t mean he’s willing to be under-compensated.

        He might be ok with training people IF his audit load is reduced. Or maybe not. OP is never going to know unless they actually have a conversation with Norbert.

    5. MsSolo UK*

      Similar, with the bonus of often wishing they’d just bringing me in earlier. 9th hour, maybe, so I can get it finished and not stress about it myself. I feel like my colleagues see the pace at which I can complete tasks and assume that’s how long tasks take, so wildly overestimate their own capacity and end up in a panic while I spend half my time twiddling my thumbs and then having to work at a manic pace, even for me, to hit the deadlines. Though there are efficiencies that can be found and things that can be taught, a large part of it is being able to touch type, which really shaves a huge amount of time off tasks, and having been doing the job long enough that I’ve memorised a lot of the processes and categories and don’t need to refer to guidance or look things up.

      1. MsSolo UK*

        (there’s a managerial role at work I’m going for, and I think my manager is too as a sideways move – she’s been clear that if she gets another role she’s going to recommend me for hers, but I don’t know if I want to manage this team without me on it! There’s no way we can hit deadlines without at least one person working at my speed, let alone while we’re hiring and training a new person, and if I’m a manager then I will have significantly less time to pick up the slack)

      2. Just a Thought*

        I was shocked to learn that touch typing is not being taught in schools. Nor Word, Excel and their derivatives. Pointing and clicking only gets you so far.

        And I’m by no means expert at Excel, but I’ve inherited spreadsheets that added rows that should have been columns, etc, etc.

  9. Sauce Pilot*

    I have been Norbert. I asked for a reduction in work to match my colleagues’ or a transfer to a different higher paying role. I was tired of doing triple the workload for the same pay. I was denied the transfer because it would cost too much to replace me in my current role nor would they hire an additional person to alleviate my workload to keep me in the same spot. I no longer work there. I found a better less demanding job elsewhere.

    If you want to keep Norbert either pay him more or take it upon yourself to increase the others’ efficiency.

    1. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      There are a lot of Norberts out there. In my case it took three people to replace me, and the system I had designed and run and documented needed to be redeveloped because no one could get it to work after I left – and no one else wanted to learn it while I was there because it was something I had done to make my job easier that “wasn’t important.”

      I think the ONLY solution here for the OP that will keep Norbert is a raise AND title change which will be difficult to accomplish in most organizations – but I also suspect in this job market its too late and Norbert already has a foot out the door and OP will discover that replacing Norbert with a single headcount puts them even further behind. Once someone like Norbert starts pointing out the obvious, its usually too late.

    2. Joielle*

      My spouse recently did this. He was burned out at his old job and ready to take a pay cut to get a reasonable workload somewhere else. Well, he very quickly found a less stressful job, and it actually came with a 30% pay increase. The Norberts of the world have options!

      1. Joielle*

        Oh, and – his old job hasn’t been able to replace him after months of searching, and it’s apparently causing a lot of problems. So yeah, think about what happens when Norbert leaves, and whether that is better or worse than giving him a raise.

        1. Another health care worker*

          I was Norbert, in a very similar situation. 8 months later, I still haven’t been replaced. I have no idea what my former hospital’s plan is, but it’s not my problem anymore! Honestly, management just wants Norbert to stick around in the same job forever, and never advocate for himself, so they can benefit from that level of productivity without paying for it in any way. Norbert has to leave for anyone to get a clue, but even that isn’t enough to make change that would prevent the same outcome from happening again.

  10. Avril Ludgateau*

    TBH if I were Norbert, I would slow down. That would force LW to figure out how to properly distribute work, anyway.

    If your team is routinely and consistently overwhelmed by their workload, then the team is not big enough to handle the workload. Either you cut back on the amount of work or you add more workers, but having one person effectively carry a team leaves you at risk of that team, if not the entire operation, falling apart when (not if) that lynchpin is pulled.

    1. Avril Ludgateau*

      edit: the team is either not big enough or not well-trained enough, or both. Either way, this is on management to fix, not Norbert.

    2. MeepMeep02*

      I was Norbert in one of my contract jobs. I slowed down. Did as much work as everyone else and had plenty of time left over for online window-shopping for shoes and earrings. If the reward for doing fast work is more work, count me out.

    3. LTR,FTP*

      The OP indicates that there is a *bottomless pit* of work to be done. If I were facing that, why would I want to work any faster than I currently am? I’m just going to get *more* work to do from the bottomless pit, it’s not like I’m going to get time off or rewarded in any way. How do I know this? I just look at Norbert and see how he’s getting more and more piled on him because he works quickly. I’d much rather work at a leisurely pace and not stress myself out – especially if at the end of the day I make the same exact amount of money for doing two audits as I would for doing four, with no end in sight.

      1. Aggresuko*

        Yeah, I’m in a bottomless pit job too. Some days, well…I just don’t push myself so much if I’m not in the mood. Today, for example.

    4. Working Hypothesis*

      I wouldn’t slow down. That speed is what’s going to get him a better job at higher pay, where they don’t work him to death. If I can currently put on my resume, “Consistently averaged 14 successful audits per week,” knowing that 7 audits per week are typical for my industry, I’m not giving up that advantage! But I’m also darn well going to be leveraging it, by getting myself into a better job as fast as I can.

      1. meepmeep*

        That’s awesome if that’s what Norbert wants. Some people would prefer to just slow down, have a job with more down time and less pay.

  11. tessa*

    Everything Alison said, and also: How is it Norbert’s job to train everyone else to be as fast as he? Isn’t that just piling more work on him?

    I’d wager he has at least updated his resume, if not looking for a new job, and rightfully so if he is not being compensated with a higher salary for his contributions.

    I also wonder if Norbert’s coworkers see that his only “reward” for doing more than his fair share is…more work, and that’s all. Doesn’t leave much room to wonder why they hold back.

    1. KofSharp*

      I keep running into this bc I’m a Norbert, apparently they keep hiring managers who DON’T know the processes.

    2. MEH Squared*

      This is what struck me as well. When Norbert pointed out that he was doing more work than his coworkers for the same amount of pay/acknowledgement, his reward was…more work? And a manager who’s peeved at him? Where is the incentive for Norbert to keep doing topnotch work?

      Norbert, if you’re reading this, brush off the old resume and start looking.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Wait a minute, the LW never said that Norbert is paid the same as everyone else. Per the letter, Norbert is just complaining about getting more assignments when he doesn’t have much on his current docket.

        My question is whether Norbert is going all-out to maintain his speed, or if he’s faster because the work comes easily to him. In the first case, the solution is “don’t stress yourself out unnecessarily to go faster — just take the time you need for the task.” In the second case, finishing all your super easy work and then doing some more super easy work (and reaping the merit raises/bonuses accordingly*) is definitely not the end of the world.

        *Whether this is in play will depend on what industry this is a pseudonym for, but that’s basically how it works in mine.

        1. MEH Squared*

          You’re right. There isn’t mention of pay. It was my assumption that he’s making roughly the same as others/on the same level because I think the OP would have mentioned it otherwise. But I could be wrong!

        2. Excel-sior*

          True, they don’t say that Norbert isn’t paid more, but neither do they say that he is paid more; i would think that if Norbert were being paid more, the LW would have mentioned it as it would be a crucial piece of information in the whole “is Norbert being a jerk”.

    3. LilyP*

      I don’t think the idea was he would train them *on top of* completing more audits, but *instead of* getting assigned more work than the others. So everyone would get an equal number of audits to complete, but when Norbert finishes his early he’d be expected to spend his spare time helping his coworkers instead of twiddling his thumbs. He should obviously be compensated for taking on that sort of mentorship, but it’s not really an unusual or inherently unfair suggestion.

      1. Amaranth*

        What struck me is LW stating they assigned Norbert to help others but it sounds like they don’t actually assign the training — “my way of saying teach them” — so for all we know, Norbert takes Stack A to his own desk or coworkers want no part of being trained by a peer to do even more work. LW doesn’t appear to be communicating very well in general.

  12. Badass Lady*

    I’m also a high performer and I feel Norbert. The thing is, our high performance doesn’t come without a price tag. While we might be working the same hours as everyone else, our high productivity at work often leaves us with no energy for other parts of our lives. Not being recognized or compensated well for our productivity is a recipe that will push us out the door and into the hands of someone who will.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      ^^^^^ This. It isn’t always a matter of just having more skills and experience–it is coming to work with a single-minded focus on execution. And yes, that comes with a cost.

      God, I’m so happy I’m done with my previous employer. One manager did increase my salary as I gradually became a more valuable employee, but when New Boss came he seemed to think things were running smoothly bc of magic, when it was actually me busting my ass to keep them running smoothly.

  13. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, you wanted Norbert to train his colleagues. How was he to be rewarded for that additional work. A higher salary? A bonus? A promotion? Or was your thought that he needs to do extra work for free as a precondition to have a more reasonable workload?

    If it’s the last one, then I suggest you rethink how you are managing him. He is looking to you for help and recognition. You are giving him neither since it’s easier for you to dump work on him than actively manage the group.

    BTW, isn’t is your job as the manager to train your team to be more efficient?

    1. Pam Adams*

      BTW, isn’t is your job as the manager to train your team to be more efficient?

      My thoughts exactly!

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I can’t think of any job I’ve ever had where a manager actually does any training. It’s always been peers at the same level or slightly more senior colleagues in an adjacent role, but quite literally never a manager. That may not be the ideal way, but it’s very very common for a non-manager to be responsible for training people within the same team.

        1. Just Another Starving Artist*

          Especially when it’s the peer who has more/more relevant experience. Half the jobs I’ve had, my manager has never actually done the specifics of my job. They knew what it looked like if things didn’t get done, but knowing how to do specific processes more efficiently was out of their wheelhouse. If Norbert’s efficiency comes from systems he’s developed and jobs he’s had previous to this workplace, he’s got a unique skill set. Asking the person with that skill set to share it as a means of reducing their overall workload doesn’t seen out of line to me.

          (Of course, if he’s one of those people who shouldn’t be training anyone because he’s rude, impatient and acts superior, that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame, but there’s little to suggest that.)

          1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            I’ve been trained that way. But at the time, I was an associate llama groomer and the person training me was an executive llama groomer. His salary was probably 3x mine and his bonus was a multiple of mine. He was well-compensated for his role. Norbert is not.

            1. Just Another Starving Artist*

              Oh, Norbert should definitely be paid more from his performance. I just think that the training part’s a little more subjective. There’s a difference between regularly being expected to bring a full team and new hires up to speed on new systems (something that would make training a part of your job description), and a one-off showing a couple of coworkers some software hacks and telling them who to call to get things done more quickly (sometimes that’s more generally considered part and parcel of being a team member). It’s the extent and formality that makes a difference.

      2. All the words*

        This assumes the manager has the knowledge to perform the actual job with a high degree of proficiency. Mine can’t even answer job related questions. He simply can’t be bothered to learn.

      3. Lexi Lynn*

        And how were the other employees punished for not learning what Norbert was teaching them?

  14. Maddy*

    I’ve had this happen to me, and I’m no longer working at the company where it occurred. You need to either start paying Norbert more or change the way you delegate work.

    I went to my now former boss with complaints similar to Norbert’s only to have her say, “well yes, you are doing more than other team members, but it’s because you’re better at your job” as if that would be enough explanation to address my concerns. When I followed up that I wanted to be compensated appropriately for the amount I was contributing, she said even a modest raise wasn’t in the budget. I ended up just feeling demoralized – I knew that my boss recognized that I was contributing at a higher-level, but it felt like she was only using that knowledge to punish me, not to reward me in any way.

    I moved on to a job at another company a few months later. It seems likely something similar will happen with Norbert if you don’t do more to address the issue.

    1. Overit*

      This managerial attitude is why high performers either leave or stop being high performers.
      Norbert has neither any incentive to stay nor any incentive to do twice as much,as everyone else. The OP is teaching him and everyone else to work at the bare minimum.

  15. Sir Ulrich Von Liechtenstein*

    So, the reasons you give for Norbert’s higher speed are (1) previous experience in this work and (2) connections within the company.

    These both seem like temporary advantages to me. How long has this team existed? Was Norbert’s speed advantage higher over his colleagues in the past? Over time, it seems as though your non-Norbert employees should gain additional experience that increases their speed, as well as beginning to forge connections with other departments that increases that responsiveness as well.

  16. Jay*

    I am Norbert. I’m a doc who is very efficient during visits and also knows how to code appropriately, so my productivity is always higher than my peers. For most of my career, I did more work than everyone else and had my productivity questioned because I “didn’t look like I was working that hard.” Translation: I got my documentation done on time and didn’t complain as much as the men in the office.

    I wanted to be recognized for my productivity and have it acknowledged as a skill. I also didn’t want to end up having extra visits dumped on me because I could manage them – that’s how I ended up burned out. In the job I retired from, I did full-time home visits, so no one saw me, and I took a longer lunch and finished early almost every day while still outperforming most of my peers on productivity.

    Tl;dr: let Norbert know you appreciate his skill. Give him more money if you can and also give him more autonomy over his schedule. No matter how much you load onto him, the work will not get done. You might also ask him if there is a particular type of audit he prefers and give him more of that. He’s more valuable to your business than the others. Treat him that way.

    1. Aggresuko*

      “No matter how much you load onto him, the work will not get done.”

      Very good point.

    2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I had this happen to me at a medical clinic. I could easily see 2-3x as many patients as other people in my same role and see more complex patients.

      The other clinicians resisted having daily assigned patient rosters (for example, see these 10 patients today) and would drag their feet until I ended up having to take most of the charts.

      We reached a compromise that I was willing to see 50% more (for example 15 patients to their 10) but I was going home when I was done, whether that was 2 pm or 5 pm (usually it was closer to 2 pm).

  17. KofSharp*

    …Dollars to Donuts, Norbert is already looking for new work.
    2022 is in the middle of the optimal time for Norbert to look: Update his resume and look for a new job while he’s employed. He could probably just have his LinkedIn updated and set to show recruiters he’s open to moving companies.
    LW, if you want to keep him, reward him for his hard work. Even if you make it “Here’s what he’s handled, here’s what other people have handled” as a public document to the team, somethings off. Maybe let him finish an audit then have him write out his process?

  18. Helen*

    I’m wondering if there’s an option to reward Norbert with reduced hours — without reducing his salary or benefits.
    Definitely something that you’d have to ask first

  19. SG*

    I’m wondering if you actually told Norbert, with words, that you hoped he would be able to increase the speed of the people he was training. If not, you literally gave him MORE uncompensated work after he told you that was an issue for him.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I am glad to show coworkers how to do stuff but I am not becoming an actual trainer without it being officially noted and compensated.

  20. DrSalty*

    Yeah this isn’t a work allocation problem, it’s a personnel management problem. You need to talk to Norbert about the role, his goals, and almost certainly give him a raise. The reward for good work is indeed more work, but that additional work should come with tangible recognition (aka money) of how valuable those contributions are.

  21. anonymous73*

    Yes to everything Alison said. But you also need to figure out WHY everyone else is performing at half the speed as Norman. It would be one thing if you had 1 or 2 team members that were having trouble keeping up with the rest (maybe they’re new, maybe they’re slackers), but you have ONE person who is performing at double the speed as everyone else. This doesn’t JUST mean that Norman is exceptional, it means that others are not able to keep up with their workload. Once you figure out the WHY you need to make some significant changes in how the workload is completed.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Maybe the speed of the rest of the team is in fact a reasonable pace of work, and Norbert is an outlier.

      I’ve certainly been that outlier — I didn’t think (most of ) my co-workers were slackers, I could see that I had a higher level of skill at the task and efficiency overall. Some of that was from experience and training, and some of that was just my innate ability. If (most of) the others got more experience and training, they would get better, but if they did not have that innate ability, they would not be able to bridge that very substantial gap.

      No matter how hard I try, I am never going to be anything more than abysmal at sales — I lack certain innate abilities and characteristics and trying hard will not make up for that. And others will not be able to write as clearly and quickly as I can. For instance.

      OP, you need to figure out: is the rest of the team actually *slow*, or is Norbert extremely fast and efficient which makes everyone else LOOK slow/inefficient. In any case, you need to offer Norbert tangible rewards– money, title, choice of projects, other kinds of work (higher level, more interesting– what does he want?) IN PLACE OF some of his current work.

      And you either need to help the rest of the staff get more skilled and efficient, or acknowledge that they’re working a reasonable amount and let your superiors know that your office is doing as much work as can be reasonably done. If they want more work, you need more staff. You may need to protect your staff…

      1. Parakeet*

        Yeah OP even says that the rest of the team’s work isn’t bad or subpar, even though a lot of commenters seem to be assuming that they are (one good outlier and a group of average performers seems statistically more likely to me than one good outlier and everyone else is a bad outlier). I agree that what’s needed here is some kind of tangible reward, whether that’s a bonus, creating a “Senior Auditor” role with a higher salary, or something related to which work he gets.

  22. NyaChan*

    I feel Norbert’s pain here. It feels like being split in two when you are a person with good work ethic but are also watching the rest of your team dodge hard or time-consuming tasks because they supposedly can’t do it to the desired level. I can’t stand to do the work poorly or deliberately take longer because it feels unethical to me. But the solution from management never seems to be – set aside training time or make proper, timely completion a requirement for employment. They just dump it on the one person who isn’t slow or isn’t messing up. Why should I have to work evenings or on weekends for no extra pay or recognition because others don’t want to learn or do their jobs better?

  23. Still Salty*

    I was the Norbert of my team and I burned out. No extra pay, no recognition, just “We need you to do this.” At the time I was young and naive and early in my career, but after giving it 110% for two years I became Captain Bare Minimum afterward.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      When I got there at my last job, I realized that my bare minimum was other people’s high performance. So glad I left…

    2. TheRain'sSmallHands*

      Which is one of the reasons a person who wants to be a great manager of people figures out how to fix this problem now. You don’t want to turn a guy like Norbert into Captain Bare Minimum. You want Norbert – as a person – to find a place where his skills shine and he is adequately compensated for them. As a manager, when I had a Norbert, I coached him into a different job – we found a mentor for him in the job he wanted in the same company and when there was an opening, which in that field there always was, he was well positioned for it and I gave my full support to the transfer (and it paid a lot more than the job he was in – his mentor and I both argued for them to hire him in with a far more significant bump than standard – because he was crushing the low paid job he had and that shouldn’t hold him back – and he’d been preparing for this higher paying job for months – it wasn’t fair to do the corporate thing and cap his transfer raise). He spent a few more years with the company in that different job, and then moved on – he’s been professionally very successful.

  24. tessa*

    I have commented, but on second thought:

    Get out, Norbert. You owe it to yourself.


  25. braindump*

    You really need to look at why Norbert is faster than the others and then benchmark what is appropriate for the role.

    “Each audit is unique in that it could take anywhere from five days to three months to complete”. Do the “takes 3 months” audits involve a lot of waiting around for other parties? Do the ones that “take 5 days” somehow all come from Norbert?

    1. TPS reporter*

      Exactly, what is it about Norbert that is making it fast? Does he garner faster responses from stakeholders because he is well known or has a certain personality? Is he cutting corners? Is he making decisions that less experienced or less confident team members don’t want to make?

      Is there any way also to analyze up front how long you expect a given audit to take? You should be tracking metrics on completed audits, gathering various demographics and finding a way to categorize audits by levels of difficulty. That way you can design reasonable balanced portfolios across the team. The portfolios should also be designed to correlate with experience level and someone like Norbert should e a Senior or a III or whatever your system is for hierarchy. he should get a more difficult portfolio but more compensation as wlel.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      This. And why is it so unpredictable how much time it will take?

      And the point about waiting for other parties is a good one. Is Norbert faster in terms of hours spent, or “date file hits his desk to date file leaves his desk”, or both?

      1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

        In historical audit stuff, I’d assume the variation comes from how screwed up the documentation is.

      2. braindump*

        I really wonder what “see if I can help with nudging them further along, so I know that none of them are just sitting on work to prevent being assigned new audits” means. What concrete things have you helped with? Do some people need more helping than others?

        If Coworker #1 says “I’m waiting on the TeapotDoc from Lucinda”, is LW replying “ok, sounds like you have things under control” or “you can start a new case while you wait.”

        e.g. is Norbert simply multitasking?

  26. bee*

    I’m a Norbert and it’s almost entirely due to ADHD— I can hyperfocus on a task and get it done better and faster than anybody else. But! I can’t do it forever. My brain is just a sprinter instead of a distance runner or a speed walker. That might be a helpful change of framing for OP? Especially if you can’t give Norbert a raise, letting him leave early/giving him a four day week/not bothering him if he reads or surfs the internet in the afternoon might all be reasonable rewards/accommodations. That downtime is actually vital for keeping his productivity up and preventing burnout, IMO.

  27. aubrey*

    As someone who has been Norbert before, I would have been fine with a higher workload as long as I was: not expected to work more hours than others, not always pulled in last min to clean up after others, allowed to choose my projects as much as made sense (e.g. give me more of the the less-tedious jobs or nicer clients), perhaps offered more flexibility in general e.g. WFH/working hours, and, especially, paid more. Norbert’s idea of what would make this workload worth it might be different than mine, but if the pay and conditions are all the same for everyone, and there’s no reward for doing better work but getting more work piled on, I’d be looking to get that reward elsewhere.

    1. Nom*

      Yepppp. LW needs to be careful that Norbert isn’t working extra hours or cleaning up messes of people getting paid the same as him. These are two things that have made me leave jobs in the past.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree–if someone is efficient and gets more done in 8 hours than everyone else then I think it makes sense they would naturally do more work than everyone else. That’s not inherently a problem I don’t think, as long as you are not asking them to put in *extra* hours to get that extra work done. I think ideally if you could give them a raise for doing more work that would obviously be best (or a bonus maybe), and also they should be afforded a lot of flexibility. And make sure it is known that their performance is above expectations so whoever ends up in that role next isn’t held to Norbert’s standards if they are unusually difficult to meet for most people!

      I know at my job we are pretty much always in a state of process improvement with a long project list that doesn’t get touched as often as we would like. I think the expectation is that if you make a process more efficient you wouldn’t just like sit around and do nothing with your extra time, you would either make use of the extra time to possible take a look at one of the billion open projects or else you would check with the team to see if anyone needs help with anything.

      I’ve made a lot of my processes more efficient and often end up taking on extra assignments from someone else who is super swamped–but I keep firm boundaries and like I’m not going to work long nights and weekends to finish something that was initially assigned to someone else! But otherwise it makes sense for me to pitch in there so the team as a whole moves forward. (Though I also know I am able to ask for help if *I* am swamped. Doesn’t sound like Norbert ever needs to but hopefully it’s clear that if something ever came up and they needed things to swing the other way for a bit you would accommodate him)

      1. Amaranth*

        I wonder if being asked to help others just stirs Norbert’s resentment. Not only does he work faster than this person, now instead of being rewarded with downtime he is supposed to do part of their work as well. Its not just ‘do more backlog’ but ‘help create more of a gap between you and everyone else.’ I’m at a bit of a loss trying to picture connections within the company that can be regularly leveraged by one person for official audits that couldn’t be normalized for everyone else. I mean, is Norbert getting special access that makes others’ jobs harder, or is it that his requests get acted on before anyone else’s?

  28. yup*

    I’m so tired of managers acting like they don’t know this pisses their employees off. We see it, we know what you’re doing, stop punishing us for doing our jobs well.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Right? We all know they’re just taking the easy way out by letting us do all the work and acting like they can’t help it. Pay me more and do the work of lighting a fire under the rest of the team. It’s literally the manager’s job to do that.

    2. WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot*

      Between this letter and the one last week about not promoting the highest performer, I’m having flashbacks to my last job. Seriously, either of these letters could have been written by my most recent manager.

      I left and found a job that rewards me for my efficiency and knowledge. My old bosses are still scratching their heads trying to figure out what happened (it’s been eight weeks since I left). I told them, bluntly and in no uncertain terms last summer and again in the fall that if I wasn’t in a new job (internally) by the end of the year, I would look to leave. And I did. (There were opportunities for promotion along the way, they just didn’t act on it.) Not my problem anymore. But now they have a bigger one.

  29. DisneyChannelThis*

    You could incentivize completely certain amount of targets too. First person to hit 50 audits gets to pick where we order from for team lunch this month. Bonus PTO day for top 3 auditors over the quarter.

    Just make sure you’re not demoralizing everyone else too, ie reward top 3 not just top 1, and give lower down people options for lunch picks sometimes too.

    You may also need to do 50 audits without error or similar wording so not to incentivize rubber stamping audits with poorer work.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right, you can encourage higher work quotas without requiring them. There are options here.

    2. Stitch*

      I think you should look into non-competitive financial bonuses. By non competitive I mean it shouldn’t be “top performer(s) gets X” because that encourages a non collaborative environment. But “everyone who does X audition per quarter/FY gets Y” and Y should be a financial bonus.

      Now that also places the onus on you to distribute audits fairly so everyone can achieve it, potentially with financial recognition for a particular difficult audit.

      But the recognition should be financial and non-competitive.

  30. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Since you’re not sure whether the audits will be three days or three months—I wonder if there’s a way to rank or describe the auditors once they’re assigned and started? Could be a way to quickly know what each team member has on their plate.

    Or even better, have one gatekeeper auditor who gets each new audit to assess whether it three days/months before it gets permanently assigned. Once you know what level it is, pass over to the auditor of record based on each person having a similar number of each audit level.

    1. Squidhead*

      Yes, this! Norbert’s frustration is entirely valid; being rewarded for good work with more work feels very unfair if it comes with no added benefit. Maybe one way it could be addressed is with a triage system for these audits. If it’s impossible to know, in advance, how long an audit will take, then when does it become evident and can it be assigned to an auditor at *that* time? And maybe ask Norbert…does he want the long ones or the short ones? Would he prefer to crank out 8 3-day audits a month or dive into a 6-week one, with all the work that each audit entails which I assume is a combo of “generic stuff we have to do with every audit” and “specific things about this unique audit.”

    2. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Honestly I think this is the core problem. Norbert should be getting the most difficult ones (and paid accordingly) but you need to know what is going to be difficult first.

    3. Amaranth*

      Is it a case where by the time you have delved into the audit enough to classify it, you’re already neck-deep and it would be redundant effort to pass to someone else?

  31. Ms.Vader*

    I am Norbert in spirit – my output is 3x my colleagues and at greater quality. I have recently told my boss that I won’t be taking on a certain task anymore until other people are caught up – I’m being punished for doing my job well essentially. I can’t say this would work everywhere but if you want to keep top performers, you’re going to have to ensure they don’t feel resentful.

  32. well then*

    Managers, this is why you’re losing the “rockstar.” Most high performers are willing to pitch in, but not to the point it’s literally 2x normal workload.

  33. Mr. Tumnus*

    Sounds like Norbert is being affected by the Most Unfair Workplace Law:
    “Competence is it’s own punishment.”

    When being good at the job leads to being overworked and/or taken advantage of at the job, people leave.

  34. SomebodyElse*

    OP, you need to focus on getting more production out of the rest of the team

    I had something like this when I took over a team and really the answer was to improve throughput for everyone. It’s too complex to fit in a post in a comment section so I’d advise you to do some research, a great read and primer on the Theory of Constraints is “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt.

    You also should take Norbert off doing audits for awhile and have him observe the rest of the team to get his perspective on what they could improve on and where the process can improve.

    Then you need to observe everyone. What is Norbert doing that the others aren’t.

    Then get Norbert a promotion and raise!!!

  35. Jesshereforthecomments*

    I see a lot of fellow Norberts in the thread. Hope you all are getting the recognition and pay that you deserve!

    OP, as stated above, I am a Norbert too. I’m like physically incapable of doing the bare minimum or of only meeting expectations. My drive and my curiosity always make me do more, learn more, create more, etc. And when your boss(es) start expecting that as “normal” performance and basically on par with others’ expectations it sucks. It’s draining and demoralizing. Especially if you’re not given extra perks, pay, and/or promotions for it. In previous roles, I was not and I kept burning out and getting resentful until I decided to stop playing the game.

    I ended up scaling way back and performing what I needed to but not volunteering to take on extra. I went to grad school and put my extra time/effort into that. Once I graduated (actually 4 months before), I got offered a stretch promotion into a different line of work within the same company (because of my awesome reputation) and a fat raise. I was not sad to leave that team behind. People like Norbert deserve more from bosses like you.

  36. Software Engineer*

    Definitely agree about paying them more, and possibly giving them a promotion even if you have to make up a new title that makes sense (senior auditor, lead auditor etc). If nothing else, consider that you’ll probably have to replace them with 2 employees and how much more that would cost and you’ll see that matching pay to the work done will save the company money in the long run

    And you throw out ‘well train the others thenz’ to be snarky and get them off your case about doing more work but… ARE there lessons to be shared about the way this person works that could help the others do better? Can you free up time in your star employees schedule to work with the rest of the team and get them up to the same level? Should you free up time in their schedule to help others with tricky bits and enable them to move faster in their own work? The nice thing about these options is they can both make your whole team more efficient AND serve as good reasons to pay this person more (if management insists on different responsibilities for a promotion etc) and is great growth opportunity for them to unlock more opportunities later

  37. Dust Bunny*

    Team Norbert here. I’ve been Norbert in the past and, yeah, it rankled that I was just expected to work more, do a better job, and, in my case, do some things that other people technically should have been doing but weren’t confident in doing (but our bosses didn’t bother to address with additional training) while getting paid the same rate. Forget that. I stayed less than a year.

  38. Free Meerkats*

    I learned the lesson Norbert hasn’t back in high school; being good and fast at what you’re assigned only results in more being assigned. I was always near the top of auditing office supplies, but never the best. And in the Navy I learned how to look busy enough to avoid the, “Hey Meerkat, can you do this?” question.

    In my previous position before I got promoted to manager, I did show a lot of my skills as a way to be assigned the accounts I wanted to work on. It also got me more flexibility and over time positioned me to be promoted when my manager retired.

    But Norbert didn’t write this letter, his boss did. Give Norbert recognition in money. Otherwise you’re likely to lose him.

  39. Gwen Soul*

    I am surprised a the pile on of the manager here. It sounds like she has tried to balance work, tried to figure out how to make the rest of the team as productive and still get work done. I am the Norbert of my team and was “rewarded” with having s small team under me which has helped me see the bind the manager might be in. It doesn’t sound like she is upset at Norbert but has to balance while still making headway on the audits.

    OP, I think you need to find out what Norbert wants and how he best wants praise. It could be money, title, public recognition, or a balanced workload where he isn’t working hard then see what is in your power to do and advocate for what you can. Also tell Norbert what you can about what you are doing. I know I have wanted to give raises before but it wasn’t something I could do. And I have encouraged people to look elsewhere if I couldn’t give them what they need.

    1. MEH Squared*

      For me, it’s because the manager is asking if Norbert is a jerk and responded to his complaints by making him train his coworkers to shut him up. It very much sounds like the OP is frustrated with Norbert. Even the fact that she’s framing it as him complaining about it is in that vein. It comes across as if she just wants him to shut up and continue to work twice as hard/fast as everyone else.

      1. Gwen Soul*

        I guess I didn’t get that. I felt she was trying to make his coworkers better if he had the time. I know I would not know how to improve3 my teams work because I don’t do their work. The jerk comment i saw more as frustration then being mean, of course who knows, maybe Norbert is a jerk! I know I have rolled my eyes (off camera) as several people today.

        1. Just Another Starving Artist*

          Yeah, Norbert’s concerns are completely justified, but there are certainly people who express justifiable work concerns in an unjustifiable manner.

    2. Anonymouse*

      I think this could be an interesting solution of moving Norbert into some kind of lead role or something with more authority/expertise under the manager and maybe managing their own team or helping to manage this team. That way this manager gets some help in their role and gains the expertise of Norbet who has a lot of knowledge in auditing. Move Norbert into being your partner rather than “just your employee” and it might benefit both of you.

    3. NoviceManagerGuy*

      For me it’s that the manager has just accepted that she doesn’t know how big tasks are when she assigns them. That’s a huge hole.

      1. Chria*

        I think we can take the manager at their word that this is just the nature of the job, though. Maybe they could implement a triage step where they hand out audits, employees figure out how much time it will take, then it goes into a second pile to actually be redistributed. However, I don’t think that necessarily addresses the issue of Norbert just being more productive than the other employees. There are x amounts of work hours available among OP’s employee pool, and y amounts of audits to do, where y > x. Knowing exactly how y breaks down into individual tasks isn’t necessarily useful, because Norbert’s hours as a subset of x are still higher than his coworkers’. The thing to be addressed is how to allocate Norbert’s time and pay him for it fairly.

    4. Chria*

      > I have encouraged people to look elsewhere if I couldn’t give them what they need.

      I think this is one thing that defines a good manager, though. It’s not ok to just say “the work needs to get down and you’re the only one who can do it, so too bad”. I think it is ok to say “40 hours for you looks different from 40 hours for your coworkers, and this is what that could mean for you”. In the second conversation options could include restructuring their role, raises, title changes, more flexibility in their hours or time off (e.g. if they can do in 30 hours what coworkers can do in 60, let them “work from home” 1 or 2 days/week), or even just saying “you’ve outgrown this role and should look at where you want to go from here”.

    5. Just a Thought*

      “And I have encouraged people to look elsewhere if I couldn’t give them what they need.”


  40. Bagpuss*

    Yes, I think you need to consider howyou / your company is rewarding Norbert for his higher skills and then have a conversation with him both to make sure that he understands that he is being paid at a rate which reflects his higher productivity (if he is) , and if not, advocate for him to whoever has the power to make that happen .

    LW, can you have a conversation with HIM about how work is allocated – for instnace, can you give more choice about which audits he takes on? If you can’t get more pay for him right now, talk tpo management and then with him about what needs to happen for you to be able to get a pay rise for him (e.g. if this needs to be that he is doing a slightly diffrent range of work than others , such as more of the bigger aufits and fewer of the simple one, or more support for other employees, then be lcear with him and then work with him to make sure that he can achieve those goalsand that you are accurately recording what he is doing. Do you have any power to give him any other benefits? e.g. to allow him to leave early if he has compelted a certain amount of work?

    If you are not able to fo any of those things then I think the best you can do is be open with him about that – let him know that you have speoken to management about getting him a py rise / promotion / more flexible hours but have been unsucessful – at least that way he can make an information choice about what to do next.

  41. Mischief & Mayhem*

    I am feeling Norbert’s pain. As a long tenured herder of kittens, I am a high performer who is has been stuck at the top of the pay band for a number of years. Let’s face it, getting a lump sum instead of a raise is not the same. I either stick it out or move to another organization. I don’t get the whole not looking out for long-term employees thing. Companies want loyalty, but they have got to stand up for those of us sticking around. They don’t consider the cost of replacing us, and the mental toll it takes on those of us left behind to pick up the slack! This is why it’s an employees’ market and believe me I’m looking!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      . . . I have to confess that literal herder of kittens is one of the few jobs where I would fight people for extra work.

    2. Chria*

      > -term employees thing. Companies want loyalty, but they have got to stand up for those of us sticking around.

      I do think there is a point of diminishing marginal returns, though. I could believe that a senior kitten herder could be worth twice as much as an entry level one, but 3 times as much? Or 4? At a certain point it might make more sense to pay 2 people 1.5 times the base rate than pay one person 3 times the rate. You get redundancy, variety in other skills, more coverage for time off, etc. I do agree that companies frequently fall to the path of least resistance (overwork your best performers until they leave, then re-examine the role and workload) rather than explicitly thinking through this calculation, but I can believe that there’s a point where an individual contributor role just isn’t worth more money (or even more perks, if something like more vacation time for them means a backlog of work builds up). The key is to be explicit about this, both to yourselves and to the employee.

  42. Kramerica Industries*

    Maybe the audits need a bit more attention from a managerial level. I know that OP said that audits could take a few days or a few months to complete, but there must be a way to tell where the majority of cases fall – OP should be reviewing them in more detail before assigning. The way my team is structured (not audit, but other forms of intake cases), we have some members on the team who are better at the large, complex cases and are only assigned 5, and others who are good at small ones who may have 15 on average. The overall workload will look very different between each member, but if there’s a mutual understanding that everyone is working within their strengths, maybe that will help.

  43. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    There IS a tipping point even on more pay though — sometimes cash just doesn’t solve the problem — and it sounds like Norbert is in need of less work, not necessarily more pay, or both. Instead of focusing on Norbert’s emotions, the manager needs to either increase the number of employees, or look at replacing the lowest performer with someone who produces at a higher rate. Even though the OP says the rest of the team is not subpar, there is always a last place person and it’s just untenable to keep piling on a top performer instead of improving the rest of the team.

  44. Need More Sunshine*

    >I have tried tasking Norbert with assisting his colleagues with their audits — my way of saying, “Teach them how to be as fast as you, then!” but the complaints remain.

    OP, it is not Norbert’s job to coach his teammates. That is your job as their manager. I can see how this stance would seen very flippant to Norbert.

    1. LMB*

      Yup exactly. That’s putting even more work on him, this time out of his job description and pay grade.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Especially if it’s “my way of saying…” and not something like “I’d like to enlist your help with training. I will of course lower your audit load commensurately, the goal is to increase the efficiency of the whole team and not overburden you in the long term”. Perhaps with a bonus. We could go back and forth on the exact structure but my point is clear communication not this implicit nonsense.

    3. Esmae*

      Not to mention that he might not even be ABLE to teach them. The work might just come naturally to him in a way it doesn’t to his coworkers. It might not be something he can explain or teach, even if he’s open to the idea.

      1. Nanani*

        And some people ~don’t want to be teachers~
        “You’re so good at this, you should teach it” assumes a LOT and little of it is good.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes – why is OP not ocaching them, ot alternatively, if thisis soething he is willingto do, proposig that he shpuld be given a bump in pay and title and add that to his futies.

      OP, I think you needas the manager to look at why Norbert is more eficient, and then look at coaching the others to improve their work. I think you can ask if he can suggest any short cuts or efficiencies that he uses that he would recommend, (if you aren’t aware of this from reviewing / supervising his work) and then you can train the others to use those as well.

    5. Ess*

      This jumped out at me, too.

      I’d be really frustrated if I was stuck doing more work and the only support I got from my manager was “well, teach everyone else to do it, then!”

      He wants you to balance his workload, not add teaching duties to it.

      1. Amaranth*

        Not to mention LW is somehow making him responsible for tasking everyone else with more work. Way to pass down the resentment.

  45. Morning Flowers*

    This situation puts me in mind of elementary school (no, really).

    As a GT kid (with undiagnosed autism to boot), my father imparted on me exactly one formal lesson about how to manage being in school: “Never tell them how long it didn’t take you.”

    I spent the next twenty years unpacking all the details and implementation of that single idea:
    – When they find out you did it faster than they think you should be able to, they get mad — and maybe think you’re cheating, or lying.
    – When they find out you did it faster than they expected, you get “rewarded” with more work you didn’t want and that (often!) benefits no one.
    – When they find out you did it faster than they expected, they set this speed as your new baseline (even though everyone else’s baseline stays the same), and anything less than this speed and quality from now on is “disappointing” or a “failure.”
    – When they find out you did it faster than they ever thought *possible,* they start actually marketing you to other people and showering you with attention, opportunities, and obligations that you may not even want … and it’ll cost you a lot of capital to keep saying “no.”

    I screwed up on my father’s advice exactly once, turning in my first paper in undergrad that was of a type I’d never done before. When I got it back I expressed relief to the professor that I’d done well because I wasn’t sure if I was going about it right. His cheerful, excited, good-natured, “oh, then I’ll expect much better from you next time!” made me inwardly stamp on my own feet for a bit. It’s not like they give better grades than A’s, this could ONLY be bad for me.

    OP, don’t punish your top performer. I promise you that top performers have seen every single kind of management reaction that *management* doesn’t think is a punishment, but in practice, it is.

    Pay more for better work. You don’t have the excuse of “it’s not like they give better grades than A’s.”

    1. Gamer Girl*

      Wow, I wish I had heard this advice in elementary school. Maybe my life would have been different! That mistake you made once was my baseline in school. I’m extremely hard on myself, rarely considering anything to be my best work. Even though I’m really proud of what I can do, that outside expectation that everything should match the speed at which I did one thing is something I’ve really internalized.

      I’m going to tell my children this advice. Thank you!

  46. Nanani*

    It sounds like this is a goals accomplished job, not an hours-present one, and since the goals vary in size so much it might make the most sense to focus on that. Accomplish X -tasks- (not full audits but task units within them) per month.
    I’m a translator and charge by the length of documents translated. Not number of documents, since that could be anything from a letter with one paragraph of content, to a book hundreds of pages long. That feels at least a little bit analogous to the audits LW is describing.
    What is your equivalent to words translated? Set your monthly goals based on that, and let Norbert do something else (a less stressful task? or even just take time off entirely) if they hit that goal sooner.

    1. Despachito*

      Seconding this – if it is viable, set goals according to the length of your audits, and pay Norbert on the basis of this.

      Frankly, I am only motivated to work more because I charge by the amount of my work. Were it not the case, why bother?

  47. LMB*

    This is usually where bonuses come in, but with the type of work that’s described here where it’s quantity thing you wouldn’t want to incentivize sloppy work to rush through audits or people working crazy hours and burning out.

  48. Stand With Norbert*

    At first, I was going to address the LW, but this type of stuff with managers is unfortunately too common. They punish the efficient worker with the tasks of the lower performers instead of building this person up. And they know very well what they’re doing. It’s easier to pile on the good worker than be an actual manager and address the ones who don’t work as well. Then call the hard worker a jerk when they rightfully complain about it.

    So I will address my comment to all the Norberts out there….your job/manager will not change nor appreciate you, no matter what you say and no matter how hard/efficient you work. For your own sake, start looking for another job that will pay you for all the extra work you do. You don’t have to continue to work for this type of management. It won’t get better, and when you try to talk to your manager, you’ll be thought of as a “jerk”.

  49. Excel-sior*

    It’s not on Norbert to train the other team members to be as quick as he is, it’s on you I’m afraid. Unless you want to give him a salary bump and a senior role where training is part of his listed duties. Maybe you’ve already done that, but it doesn’t look as if you have. His job is to audit and he’s doing it damn well. Reward it.

  50. kiki*

    I think LW has to sit down with Norbert and discuss what he’s looking for. Does he want a higher role and to be paid more? Does he want more PTO? Does he want to move to a shorter work week (with a similar compensation amount)? I feel like LW is getting caught up in the logistics of fairness and how to allocate work before even fully understanding what Norbert is looking for.

    My mom was like Norbert at her last job– she was faster than her coworkers and could take on the messiest client accounts and get them cleaned up while other employees in the same time would just be keeping them running as-is. My mom was growing frustrated by being given all the messiest accounts, cleaning them up, then having them given to somebody else, only for her to be assigned another messy account. She was considering quitting, but her manager talked to her and asked if she’d be interested in working three day weeks at a higher rate of pay. She took that deal and stayed another two years until she decided she was ready to fully retire. I think it was a win for everyone at the company as she left all the accounts in tip-top shape.

  51. My cat is the employee of the month*

    Raise your hand if you’ve been Norbert, and got yourself out of that job because of having to carry the team this way. Me. I am Norbert. And I’m much happier now.

    I’m assuming that Norbert is letting you know that they are working on leaving.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. Turns out Norberts can get better jobs with better salaries pretty easily.

  52. Chelsea*

    This is tricky for several reasons. I have a similar situation on my team where project numbers are not equal. This is rarely because one person is better than another (although naturally that is also true) but rather because each project takes a different amount of effort to complete. Sometimes that does mean my top performer carries more weight, however my top performers also have a higher title and salary.

    It sounds like rather than giving Norbert so much extra work, he should be promoted and tasked with developing training that would make his colleagues as efficient as he is. This way you multiple the productivity, instead of just saddling Norbert with all the work.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, we have a situation where we have a lot of people with the same general job description but there are big differences with how much work they do.
      That’s reflected in pay – we make sure tpo reward the best prefomers with higher pay and make sure that they know that they are appreciateed and that their pay reflects their higher standarads.

      WE have had situations with the less effcient performers sking for more pay and citing that they belive or know that others get paid more, and we have set out for them why that is and the specific things that they would need to be doing to get a higher rate of pay . The job is not one which really lends itself to lots of different titles and that isn’t someonthat the relevnat staff members have indicated that hey would value so we have focussed on pay and specifc feedback rather than changes to titles.

      Our higher performers in the roels all seem to be content and we’ve found that the poorer perfomrers either starrt to improve with the specifc feedback (win win, we get better work, they get more pay) or they carry on grumbling but fon’tget much sympathy from other staff becaue we’re pretty open about what criteria we’ve used.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Just to add, I think the differnce between the top performser and the lest effective is probably around 40% at present

  53. Meow*

    It’s hard for me to understand through the metaphor what kind of industry this might be, so I’m guessing this might be too radical of a change, but as someone who works in IT, I can’t help but see this through a help desk lense. So with that in mind… instead of assigning people audits that may take anywhere from 5 min to 5 months, why not create a queue of audits, and let everyone pick from the pool to work at at their own pace? There is still room for management to prioritize assignment of more important audits and make sure no one is slacking, of course.

    What this means for Norbert is, because he is quicker than everyone else, he will likely still do more audits than everyone else, but he also doesn’t have to feel like he is having work piled onto him, since he somewhat picks his workload for himself.

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      I think this can work if the audits are roughly similar. But if they’re not, what you’ll get is people cherry picking the easiest ones and leaving the dogs. And guess who ends up getting the dogs? Norbert. Ask me how I know.

      1. Meow*

        Yeah, it is a system that requires you to trust your employees not to slack off to an extent. But that’s where a (good) manager comes in and makes sure those kinds of audits are being taken up. If the manager isn’t spending their day manually assigning work anymore, then they should have plenty of time to make sure that employees are still voluntarily picking up the longer/more complicated audits too.

  54. Yikez*

    I left a job because of this. It went from “you’re so good at this” to “we can’t afford to hire anyone to help with this”, they told me the most they could give me was a 4% raise (for double work??). Within 2 months I was out and signed on with a company paying 35% more.

    You’re going to lose good working if you expect them to take on tedious tasks with a smile. How smoothly will your audits go when you’re down your “star” employee?

    1. Birdie*

      At least you got offered a raise. I got told at the end of 2021 “There’s absolutely no money, you got a raise last year!” When I left a couple months later, they magically found the money to not only up the pay for my role, but actually split off a whole bunch of responsibilities and made it an entirely separate (and new) position. To say I’m bitter about it is an understatement.

      (Except I don’t have to work for those crazy, awful people any more, so I still won)

  55. Parcae*

    We have a Norberta on our team: we all do the same type of work, but she cranks out *substantially* more in one of our two lines of business, by virtue of her years of experience and work ethic. She also assists the rest of us with tricky assignments and does a bunch of training and mentoring, which she appears to enjoy.

    Roughly two years ago, she got exactly what Alison recommends here: a salary bump and a Senior stuck in front of her title. I assume this contributes to her positive attitude. ;) But one thing I haven’t seen mentioned here is that Norberta’s senior position is encouraging to *me*, a more typically performing member of the team. It sends the message that if I can improve to Norberta’s level of production and expertise, I too could be rewarded with nice salary increase without having to take on supervisory duties or look elsewhere. Everyone wins!

    1. Ess*

      Oh gosh, I hadn’t considered this! Maybe part of why Norbert’s colleagues are taking more time to do less is because they’ve seen what happens to Norbert when they take on more – more work, and that’s it.

  56. I'm Done*

    I’ve been Norbert and I can tell you that nothing will get me out of the door faster than being punished with more work and no appreciation for being a fast and efficient worker. And another thing, if your business is so overloaded with work that you have a huge backlog, then maybe your leadership needs to hire more people and not dump all the extra work on one person.

  57. soontoberetired*

    it is interesting to see how many places have managers who do the same bad thing – over work the best performer. I work at the best company in my area and this is what almost made me leave a few times. Luckily for me, the manager I had who was at the worse for this was actually fired, and the person who took over was way better at recognizing the issues. But what happens is there are always a bunch of high priority things that come along, and they want us Norbots to handle them all because bad managers handle stress by putting it on their employees.

    Don’t burn out your workers!

    1. Carbovore*

      I used to always get “It’s easier for you” because I was a high performer. Which is such an asinine assumption.

      Frankly reminds me of my childhood when my sister got D’s on her report cards and a big pat on the back–meanwhile, I was coming home with straight A’s and nary a glance. “School’s easier for you.” (Which is very, “who cares? Big deal?”)

      People go all in with positive reinforcement for under-performers and then totally ignore their rockstars. Big mistake. Leads to a lot of resentment! It also can kill the spark of your rockstar. I’ve seen a lot of high performers say to themselves, why am I killing myself? Can’t beat ’em, join ’em…. Then suddenly in comes the performance improvement plans because they’re giving the same output as everyone else but less than their known best.

      1. Chria*

        Well I do think that for children it’s more important to celebrate effort rather than accomplishments, but it’s unfortunate that your effort wasn’t recognized. At the very least you had the diligence and discipline to complete your work, even if it was less of a struggle.

        But yes, employers should calibrate their expectations to the *role* rather than the person, because there will always be outliers. If there are a lot of outliers then the expectations likely need to be reevaluated. If there’s only one person but they’re extremely under or over performing, you need to reevaluate their suitability for the role. It could mean redesigning their role to better match their skills, a developmental/improvement plan or yes, just flat out more money.

  58. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I haven’t seen anyone else mention that Norbert’s 200% throughput also means he has 100% more opportunities to make a mistake that could come back to haunt him, so I’ll suggest offering Norbert a single Mulligan for his productivity if you can’t offer him more income, more flexibility, or a senior title.

  59. EV*

    My old position had to hire 2 people to cover my responsibilities when I left, and they continued to call/text me with questions even as I was starting my new job. I would’ve stayed if they’d given me a decent raise and higher title… but nope, it made more sense to hire 2 new people, I guess.. /s

  60. Carbovore*

    I’m heartened to see that the answer was “pay Norbert more.” I’ve been Norbert many times (I work in higher ed) and a common line is, “you’re salary, you work until the work is done,” all while ignoring that I am doing the job of three people….

    (My last position, I got promoted to take on new duties entirely. The person they absorbed from another unit to take over my old admin duties was terrible and would legit goof off on the internet all day. Their solution? Telling me I had to do my old job + new job because that person “just wasn’t as good as [me] and we couldn’t expect it of them.”)

    Given how much they roughed me up on the salary for my promotion, I knew it wasn’t going to get better. Lasted 2 very long years putting up with it and finally left that unit.

    They’ll definitely lose Norbert if they don’t address it.

  61. Shieldmaiden*

    Adding on to what others have said, it sounds like this company needs an efficiency expert to look at the auditing process and make recommendations for improving it, then provide training. That expert is not Norbert because that’s not his role and he’s resisted taking it, rightfully so.

    It also sounds like there’s a need for expanded headcount, at least for the short term while this audit backlog is worked through. If there’s resistance from above for hiring a contractor to do this work, then that’s a larger issue.

  62. Suz*

    This is so similar to my team under my last boss. The high performers were “rewarded” with more work. The low performers were given less in an effort to help them improve. Then some of the folks decided to become slackers because why should they take on all that extra work for nothing.

  63. Alex*

    You need to have approximately the same expectations for everyone at the same level/pay grade. Otherwise, it breeds resentment.


    1. Emily*

      Alex, I 100% agree. I too have been Norbert before. Norbert is suffering from the “curse of competence”. OP, you need to seriously recalibrate your thinking and start compensating Norbert fairly for the extra work he is doing or you are going to lose your highest performing employee. I also agree with other commentators that you are passing the buck by expecting Norbert to train his co-workers to be as fast as him. If you want him to take on a training role then you need to talk with him to find out if that is something he is even interested in doing and if so, then he likely needs a title change and pay increase to reflect that new role.

  64. Umpire*

    This is a fantastic way to lose your best employee. I hope Norbert moves on. He deserves better support than he’s getting from you and your company.

    You say you’re at a loss and don’t know how not to overload him, but what will you do if he’s not there tomorrow? You’ll find a way, won’t you? (That way is not to overwork your remaining staff, by the way. It’s to hire more).

    By the way, when you ask someone to train others and it’s not the job you hired them for, you need to pay them for it. It’s audacious that your response to Norbert being overworked is to punish him further.

    Also think hard about why you assigned “jerk” to someone because they asked not to be taken for granted.

  65. Up and Away*

    Is there a way to reward quantity (assuming the quality is at an acceptable level)? I’m having trouble coming up with the right descriptor for this situation, but kind of like a piecework reward? You’d have to figure out a way to quantify what they’re doing that makes sense though, since the time for each project varies.

  66. Governmint Condition*

    This sounds like a situation that comes up a lot in government jobs. Unfortunately, you can’t reward Norbert with money in that situation – salaries are fixed because of union contracts.

    1. Aggresuko*

      Yup, that’s what I suspect may happen here. Same issue with my job. I also wasn’t allowed to change status because “we’re all the same” and the union objected to making any changes.

  67. healthcare admin*

    So, I’m also a Norbert who works with a bottomless pit of things to do, and I’m honestly kinda baffled by the response here? My job isn’t to do x amount of things in a day, it’s to work on things in the bottomless pit during the entirety of my shift. When I finish something in the bottomless pit, I grab the next thing in the bottomless pit. When a slower coworker finishes something in the bottomless pit, they also grab the next thing in the bottomless pit. All the things in the pit have variable sizes so they all take different times regardless of who’s doing them.

    It’d be really weird to say coworker who did 10 tiny things was doing the same amount of work as someone who did 5 large things. Even controlling for thing size, I wouldn’t say I was doing more work if I got through more things than another coworker, because I spent the same amount of time and effort as they did, it just so happened I have a better eye for some things and can go through them quicker. If anything, I’m working *less* hard than everyone else, even if I’m doing more work.

    Maybe instituting a queue system with priority might help with reframing, if you do just need people to work on the bottomless pit continually? We have different workbaskets for different priorities, and shuffle people around as needed. If a workbasket somehow empties (very very rare), they just move to a different workbasket.

    1. Beth*

      I wonder if maybe you’re not actually a Norbert? Not to say that you don’t work at a high level of productivity–but Norbert exists at an intersection of consistently and measurably out-performing the rest of their team, AND feeling underappreciated and overloaded by their manager. It sounds like the second of those isn’t true for you.

      I suspect part of it is that it doesn’t sound like Norbert is grabbing from a bottomless pit at his own pace–it sounds like his manager has a bottomless pit of tasks to distribute, and is actively assigning more and more of them to him. He’s getting it done, but he’s also signaling that working at this pace for this level of compensation isn’t sustainable for him; he’s in crunch mode, not sustainable-long-term-work mode. His manager has been ignoring those signals. I’m betting if Norbert was working in your model, where he would have more control over his pace, he’d likely still be more productive than his teammates but would be going a little slower than he is right now.

      1. healthcare admin*

        That still doesn’t quite track for me. He’s not on our exact model, true, but the reason he’s getting assigned more work is because, by virtue of being faster in general at completing audits, he consistently has *less* on his plate most of the time when new audits need to be assigned. We take things from the bottomless pit in stacks, and it makes perfect sense that, if something very urgent comes up, it goes to whoever has the least on their stack at that time. This is to *keep* people from getting too overwhelmed with their pile of work.

        If the reason Norbert gets his work done so quickly is because he’s in crunch mode, that’s obviously not sustainable, but it’s a totally separate conversation than “assigning too much work”. In bottomless pit work, there will always be work. The work never ends. Crunching isn’t going to make the pile smaller, you’re not fixing anything with it. So, if that’s the case, the conversation OP needs to have is more making sure Norbert knows he’s allowed to moderate his pace to a sustainable level instead of rushing through tasks. Because my job also encourages us to moderate, to take short breaks even beyond the legal requirement (hi, I’m on AAM right now!), because that’s what’s sustainable.

        1. Chria*

          I agree that it kind of sounds like we need to start from the premise that there will always be more audits. OP talks about the backlog taking “months or years” to clear, but that implies that there’s an end date, or at least a point where the amount of work perfectly matches the number of people available to complete it. If that is never the case, OP needs to shift their perspective. That means making sure that everyone is working the same amount of hours and intensity.

          Also, OP says they’ve “hinted” that Norbert should train his coworkers to be as fast as him. Why are you hinting! Regularly training coworkers (as opposed to a 1-time thing) sounds like a team lead position. At the very least OP needs to start allocating less work to him to give him more time to actively mentor his coworkers. Right now OP is saying “help your coworkers”. That’s not the same thing as “teach your coworkers”. In one case Norbert is just doing the same work and coworkers don’t learn anything. In the other case Norbert may not be working directly on the audit, but is overseeing the coworker’s activities and giving advice.

          One final thought for OP is: what would happen if Norbert left? Would other coworkers be forced to work more hours to pick up the slack, or would the backlog just get cleared more slowly? If you can’t pay an objectively more productive employee more money, sometimes letting them walk away is a legitimate option. It could be Norbert has outgrown this role, and while you could try to give him some non-monetary perks to keep him (e.g. letting him take more time off or have a flexible schedule), it might be better for both of you to just let him go.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I’m so glad I’m not the only Norbert who feels this way. My job, when I was an individual contributor, was to work on widgets for 40 hours a week. I am a friggin excellent widget worker and routinely pulled 200+% of the expected high-quality widget productivity, with my record being 480%, but the idea that I shouldn’t do my best work, just because my best work is 200% better by the metrics than expected so I could get away with less, is just silly to me. (Because, in addition to feeling awesome about it, it gives me accomplishments with specific metrics to put on my resume. :P )

  68. Almost Empty Nester*

    Seems like what’s needed is a combo of promote Norbert to a Senior auditor/Team Lead, and hire a new auditor to replace him. Clearly he has skills that need to be used to elevate the productivity of the rest of the team, and he has no incentive to share those skills without a promotion/raise and the time cleared on his schedule to be able to mentor the others. Of course, this also depends on how critical this team’s work is to the company as to whether they will be on board with prioritizing them. But as with most things, it will all come down to money…Norbert needs more, the team needs to hire another auditor which will cost more. A tale as old as time.

  69. Irish Teacher*

    I’m wondering how much appreciation Norbert gets. Lots of people have suggested that Norbert should be paid more and definitely if that is a possibility, but appreciation is also important (not as a substitute for pay rises but in addition to). I see some indications here that Norbert may be taken for granted, with his exceptional work being put down to his previous experience or his contacts rather than his own ability and hard work. Does Norbert have more autonomy than his less efficient colleagues? Is his work regularly praised? Do you acknowledge how valuable he is to the company?

    Could Norbert just let you know when he is ready to take on new audits? Could you say something to him like “I know you always finish efficiently. I don’t want to overload you, but we do need to get through things as quickly as possible so just let me know how much you can take on.”

  70. Dax*

    How about doing a time study and assigning the audits based on the average expected hours to complete? And if someone is performing well below the average time, maybe they need an improvement plan. Another option would be to give Norbert a bump in pay and add some training responsibilities so he can share his best practices with the other auditors. It sounds like the goal should be to get the others on the team closer to Norbert’s level of performance, not making Norbert pick up the slack.

  71. Elizabeth West*

    This is exactly why people only do what is required of them and nothing more. Why do that when it only results in an increased workload? Especially since employers won’t even pay enough to keep up with the cost of living, let alone any kind of recognition for doing the job well?

    If you have more work than the team can complete in a reasonable amount of time, then you obviously need to hire more people. Making Norbert pick up his coworkers’ slack is untenable. He will absolutely go someplace where the pay is higher and there’s less stress. The fact that he’s complaining means you’re already walking that line.

  72. BBB*

    have you talked to Norbert about what he wants or what he’d consider more fair and equitable? the simple fact is if you ‘can’t’ find a way to adequately compensate Norbert now, you’ll have to magical find the funds to hire 2-3 new people when Norbert inevitably leaves.

  73. bamcheeks*

    What does Norbert want? Does he want less work, more pay, to be recognised as a specialist? Or something else?

    Like, you might not be able to give him these things, but as a first point, I would find out what is going to be motivating for him, because this clearly isn’t.

    I have tried tasking Norbert with assisting his colleagues with their audits — my way of saying, “Teach them how to be as fast as you, then!” but the complaints remain

    “My way of saying”– a better way of saying something is just to actually say it! But again, it would make sense to find out first whether that actually motivating for Norbert.

  74. A Simple Narwhal*

    To quote Office Space:

    “It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation?…My only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

    OP, wouldn’t you be annoyed if you were getting paid the same amount as a colleague who did half the work you did? If you think things are hard right now, think of how hard will it be when Norbert quits. And he will – he’s already told you he’s unhappy, you need to act now before he leaves.

  75. Not Today Josephine*

    I was like Norbert. I was told frequently by management that I was the most productive member of my team, but that does not buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So I learned to work slower. Took time for breaks, read AAM, etc.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I’m a reformed Norbert. It did not take me long to realize that my Norbertness was not good for me, but it did take me a long time to shake off the tendencies. I still have some but I’ve learned to either temper them so I’m not grossly outperforming, or realizing that when that happens it’s probably time to move on to something more challenging.

  76. I edit everything*

    I wonder what would happen if they established a reward system using productivity and, maybe, extra time off? I used to work at a place where if you got so much done in a month, you got a free day off the following month. Could they work out a reasonable number of audits completed per employee per month, and set a number one or two higher than that (as incentive for the others to speed up) to earn the day off? You’d have to allow for the ones that take longer, since that would severely impact your total. But Norbert would be getting extra time regularly as a reward for his high performance, and maybe some of the others would pick up speed.

    1. higeredadmin*

      The manager could also try to do this informally if it is not something that is formally allowed. So casually letting Norbert leave early on Fridays in recognition that he’s done. It’s interesting because there are definitely the Norberts of the world who can just cane through work faster than everyone else – I think (as a non-Norbert) that they just have better focus and concentration and stay on task. If you are lucky enough to have a Norbert you have hit the management jackpot and need to do whatever you can to keep them.

    2. Nervous Nellie*

      I don’t see how they could “work out a reasonable number of audits completed per employee per month,” since some audits could take as long as five months. It wasn’t clear to me if the LW knew ahead of time how long a particular audit would take.

  77. Toodie*

    I doubt it’s possible, but wouldn’t it be great if the level that the other team mates were working at would be the base-pay level, and then workers who could accomplish more were paid for the work they did over that level? Then Norbert could get more compensation for the work he completes, and the other employees might be more interested in improving their own performance.

      1. BigHairNoHeart*

        Sure, but given the fact that this is a made up scenario for the sake of anonymity, it’s possible that auditing isn’t even the core job function that Norbert and Co. actually do.

        1. BigHairNoHeart*

          Oh wait, I was interpreting sarcasm in your tone (as in, “what could possibly be the issue with paying people more to complete audits quickly instead of carefully!?”). Now I’m reading it again and guessing I misinterpreted! If so, sorry!

  78. I edit everything*

    Also, is there truly no way to know in advance which audits will take the longest?

  79. CommanderBanana*

    So, you’re asking that your best and fastest employee who is being “rewarded” with completing more work is being a jerk?

    Wow. OP, I’m curious, are you trying to get your best and fastest employee to quit? Because that’s generally how you get your best and fastest employee to quit.

  80. Whatever*

    I work in software, where we use methods like Scrum and Kanban to get organize our work.

    Reading this, I wondered why work is being assigned to people, instead of having a queue of audits that people draw from as they have capacity?

    How about some periodic retrospectives where the team talks about how things are going, and identifies how to improve processes?

    And, yes, pay Norbert more.

  81. librarianmom*

    I think you have to be careful about Norbert burning out. It’s not just about money, it’s also about having a sustainable amount of workload. Norbert may be trying to tell you not only is the unevenness unfair, but it can’t be maintained, especially with an unending workflow.

  82. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

    I have worked in a position with a never-ending backlog. It is demoralizing to have a mountain and no priority or plan or schedule for how to whittle it away.
    Set milestones for everybody not just Norbert– and do something to mark it when you hit Milestone X, Milestone Y, Etc. Don’t just give everybody a new workload that point, do something. You know your workload and your budget. Can you swing a paid 2 hour lunch?? A day off? A training class of their choice? If that is beyond your budget, how about a $5 gift card to the company cafeteria? Something. Anything. Reward their work.
    And that’s for everybody, don’t forget Norbert is making more progress towards those milestones.

  83. Heffalump*

    “Norbert, has previous experience auditing office supplies and good connections in the company ….”

    That sounds like something on which the other people on the team would be able to get up to speed over time. Even then, it may be that Norbert is naturally gifted at doing audits, and 80 or 90% of Norbert’s productivity is the best they’ll be able to do.

  84. Sunflower*

    I worked at a place where we had to a minimum of “thing” per hour. We get a bonus per month if we do more than the minimum. 3 of us were fast and 3 others did the minimum (or even below).

    They raised the minimum for the 3 fast workers because “that’s your average so your average should be higher than their average.” Zero or less bonus but we still had to work harder than the other 3. Guess which 3 workers they lost?

    OP, give Norbert a title; a team lead at least. Give him a raise to reflect his work. Read all the stories here of how companies lost their best workers. Otherwise, prepare for Norbert to join our ranks.

  85. Sunflower*

    Oh, and physically give each employee the 10 files at the beginning of each month and expect them to finish by the end. Don’t just tell them you expect them to do 10 files willy nilly.

  86. Florida Fan 15*

    This letter sounds a lot like problems my office has had, and I can tell you from experience that expecting Norbert to do more is not the solution. All that will do is create resentment and eventually drive him out.

    You’ve got a couple of other options that I’d recommend you consider:

    1. Assign the work round-robin with a cap, regardless of output (example: each person gets 5 cases per month; doing a round robin but ignoring output will still overload the Norberts). Yes, it may bury some people, and they’ll either step up the pace or they’ll drown. Right now, you’re keeping them from being buried by burying Norbert instead. Sacrificing him to save them is wrong.

    You can (and should) mitigate this by spending some time examining WHY the others are slower and addressing those issues. In our case, we found that people didn’t feel empowered to make decisions, weren’t comfortable enforcing boundaries and saying no when necessary, or weren’t good at managing their time, especially when no one was calling them on it. We starting focusing on the people who had issues and stopped just shifting the responsibility to those that didn’t. Most lower producers improved, the resentment of the higher producers went way down, and we made a sizable dent in our backlog.

    Also, as part of this, assisting your staff with their work and getting stuff done quicker is YOUR JOB, not Norbert’s. It’s bad enough to expect him to do his colleague’s work; please don’t expect him to do your’s as well.

    2. Hire more people. If everyone is working at their peak and you’re still not catching up, you need more bodies.

    3. If you can’t or won’t hire more, accept that the work will keep coming no matter what and stop fighting it. I’ve worked in my office for 20 years, both as a line worker and a manager, and we’ve never, not once, caught up completely (I’m government; I can’t hire more and I can’t pay more. Sometimes you have to accept the reality that you have). The amount of our backlog has decreased tremendously by dealing with the issues under #1, but it’s never going away completely. To keep fighting that is equivalent to expecting the tide to stop coming in every day.

    1. six some sigma*

      #3: I’m in government, too, and we have all that, too, along with the occasional congressional hearing on why we’re still backlogged. But we still can’t hire more or pay more.

  87. not neurotypical*

    I’m curious for responses, from Allison and the commentariat, to these two thought experiments (both based in real workplace experiences I have had):
    pj, JP, and JJ all work at a bank using NCR machines to key in the amounts on checks and deposit slips. The checks and slips slide past them, and they type in the amounts.

    pj and JP are equally conscientious workers. They show up on time and work steadily through their shifts, expending the same amount of effort. However, because pj has the physical gift of exceptionally fast reflexes, her output is twice that of JP. JJ is an exceptionally conscientious worker, going all out during every second of the shift. However, because of a cognitive disability, all out is quite slow, and JJ completes only half as much as JP.

    What would pay equity look like in this situation?

    Kevin and Rachel both do manual labor at a nursery. Kevin is an exceptionally fit man in his 20s who trains for martial arts in his spare time. Rachel is a moderately fit woman in her late 30s. They both have to do things like carrying sacks of fertilizer/seed/etc and shoveling loose compost/topsoil/etc into containers.

    Kevin is kind of a slacker but, because he is easily able to lift and carry twice as much as Rachel, he gets much more done in any given shift. Kevin complains that, because he gets more done, he should be paid more.

    What would pay equity look like in this situation?

    1. Beth*

      When we talk about pay equity, it’s pretty widely accepted that output is a genuine reason to compensate one employee more highly than another. Equality becomes an issue when two people working in the same role and performing at the same level are being compensated differently; we don’t want, say, a woman being paid less than her male peer even though they have the same skills and performance level. But it’s very, very normal for someone with more experience, training, or general ability in a role to get higher raises, faster promotions, more flexibility with PTO, or other perks. It’s not only about the results of their work–it also aims to retain highly productive employees, because if you won’t pay them more, someone else will.

      1. not neurotypical*

        Yes, but in the 2nd example — not quite perfect because I had to change the setting to hide identities — this was a real situation in which a physically gifted male slacker wanted to be paid more than a more conscientious female worker simply because his physique allowed him to easily do things that she had to expend much more energy to do. He could arrive late, take long breaks, and still do more without breaking a sweat. I’m genuinely flummoxed by the ethics of it.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Rachel should be rewarded by being given more delicate work (surely there’s something she’s better at than Kevin?) and Kevin should then have to get all the heavy lifting done.

        2. Beth*

          I mean…that does happen sometimes. In that example, Kevin does have a level of skill with lifting and physical strength that Rachel doesn’t. He might have built it with his hobby in mind rather than work, but it is still a skill and does make him exceptionally capable at the physical-labor aspects of his job. It’s not unreasonable for him to expect to be paid well for that.

          If his attitude and work ethic are bad enough, that might cancel the value of that skill out. Being reliable is generally important for retail work, for example–if Kevin is consistently late, that might well be a big performance issue no matter how many bags of fertilizer he shifts once he gets in. But it’s up to his manager to decide whether that’s really a problem or not. Plenty of managers are fine with giving their high performers extra flexibility, if it’s possible within their business model and the employee continues to meet or exceed expectations for output.

    2. JSPA*

      I get what you’re asking, but it’s a purely hypothetical question, in that the sorts of social systems that assign people to jobs that they can’t leave, don’t tend to give pay, or sweat pay equity.

      In our world, once the job is defined, you meet or exceed, or else you eventually have to find another job, regardless of how conscientious and caring you are. If it’s a bad fit, it’s a bad fit. The consciencious and caring aspect does pay off, in that it encourages your manager to help you in your quest to find a better job, and lets them say, “great worker, great person, bad fit.”

      Conversely, if you are better than what the job needs, and want more than what the job pays, you likely do ask for higher official goals and pay, or you use the same skills to do some other job that pays better.

      Separately: it’s not called slacking, when your muscles are recovering. (Yes, a larger, stronger person CAN lift more, but the laws of physics don’t change; muscle fiber isn’t infinitely trainable; tendons can take a beating from repetition even if you’re solidly muscled.) But really, Rachel (and Kevin) should be using wheelbarrows (a great equalizer). And garden stores (and their suppliers) should realize that their customer base has at least as many Rachel-bods as Kevin-bods, and sell a lot more 5, 10 and 20 lb sacks, and a lot fewer 50, 60 and 80 lb sacks.

      But as far as pay, if Rachel isn’t meeting the standards, such that Kevin is doing her lifting, he has a legitimate beef, not against her, but against the company for making him do a job-and-a-half. If Kevin is exceeding standards, he can probably get paid more to do really heavy lifting with more training, and he’s free to look for such jobs.

      1. not neurotypical*

        It wasn’t hypothetical, it was a real situation, with just the details (not particularly precisely) changed. By slacker I meant coming in late, taking long breaks, and working at an extremely relaxed pace. He certainly did not do “a job and a half,” just was able to get more done while working at a relaxed pace than a coworker giving her all. In contrast, the less physically gifted coworker arrived on time, took normal breaks, and worked at as fast a pace as she could. The difference in output was due entirely to physique. If the two of them had played sports, they would not be expected to compete against each other.

        Here, and in the previous example — also based on real life — I am concerned about the ethics of paying people extra due to physical gifts and/or paying people less due to disabilities. In all of the cases, the lowest performer was meeting expectations. It’s just a question of whether, when considering paying more for increased production, we should consider output alone or whether relative effort should be an equally valid factor. In Allison’s case it wasn’t clear: Was the high performer going all out? Or just so gifted that working at a relaxed pace led to higher performance than peers? If the latter, should we give more gifts to the gifted?

    3. kiki*

      I completely misread #2, thinking it was about a nursery for children. I pictured Kevin carrying 6 infants around at once and wondered if that’s really a good idea

      1. Excel-sior*

        Me too. Took me a while to figure out they weren’t growing children in pots, Baby Groot style

    4. not neurotypical*

      Perhaps I should add that, in #1 — from my deep past — I was the high performer with the exceptionally fast reflexes. I took pride in getting more done than anyone, but I don’t think I should have been paid more due to the genetic quirk of fast reflexes.

  88. Herber*

    I am the fast consistent worker who consistently is given more work but no additional pay. I do things to set people up to do their work. I don’t actually do that particular work but because I am reliable I set it up so everyone else can do that portion of their work. This year my raise was the exact same of every other person. Everyone gets the same small raise. There is zero incentive to do more/better. There are a few that do more/better because that’s who they are. There are some that pass off and do the least amount possible…same raise.

  89. Ladycrim*

    I was a Norbert. No amount of asking for workloads to be reassigned helped for long. I ended up quitting for a job where I wouldn’t be the one who got all the work piled on me. Work with Norbert, or you’re going to risk losing him.

  90. I edit everything*

    Good, fast, and cheap. You can only have two of those at once, and Norbert has figured out that you’re trying to get all three.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      As a fellow editor, I feel it’s time to retire this expression. I’m good, and while I can be fast, I don’t let on to clients, or they’d want to pay me less. The thing is that I can be fast because I have years of experience. I don’t get paid more than those with less experience, so being able to get it done faster is the only way I can compensate for that.
      And no way am I charging a cheap rate. If it’s worth it, I’ll do it for free. Otherwise, I get paid a decent amount.
      So, good is in a category of its own. You can get something fast and cheap though.

  91. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Two ways companies dealt with me going at speeds a lot faster than my coworkers (it’s not a trainable skill, it’s how my brain works when it comes to computers):

    Company One: Gave me a much larger queue of work to get through on the grounds that I did it faster. Gave me all the tickets my coworkers said they couldn’t do in time. Marked me down when I said I couldn’t train others to do this. Refused a pay rise (‘while you do good work compared to others it’s normal for you so we cannot say you’re exceeding expectations’). I left the firm and really didn’t care how much in the lurch that left them.

    Company Two: After showingI can blitz through things with higher accuracy they gave me a role as ‘senior technician’, a good pay rise, access to benefits (only time in my life I’ve had private medical insurance) and I got to cherry pick the jobs first. I stayed there for years, only left when the firm relocated 100 miles away and left behind a whole document folder on handover.

    If you take your high performers for granted, they’ll leave. It’s been why I’ve left at least 3 jobs in my career.

  92. Beth*

    I suspect a lot of people who read this blog have been Norbert at some point or another. So we know how this goes. It’s one of three options:
    1) OP recognizes Norbert’s contributions and compensates him properly.
    2) Norbert finds another employer who recognizes his ability and will compensate him properly for it.
    3) Norbert isn’t able to make this situation sustainable. Maybe he gets frustrated with not being compensated properly for the work he’s doing; maybe he starts burning out or gets sick; maybe other life stuff takes precedence and he no longer has the mental and emotional space to devote this much effort to work. He decides it’s not worth it to work on that level, so he slows down to a more normal output and takes a more relaxed approach to work.

    OP, your high performers aren’t robots who magically do more work than everyone else without trying. It sounds like you think Norbert’s productivity is a stroke of luck or something–you’re thinking he just happens to naturally be faster than everyone else, so even if he’s doing 20 tasks a week when everyone else is doing 10, as long as everyone is working the same hours, that’s still equal. But when someone is performing above and beyond your standard expectation, that doesn’t come from nowhere! Maybe they’re working more, maybe they’re more focused while they’re at work, maybe they’ve done a better job training and skill-building–whatever the root of their productivity is, it exists because they’re putting extra effort in somewhere. They’re not going to keep doing that forever if you don’t acknowledge and reward it.

  93. Fluffy Fish*

    My niece just started a new job that’s manual labor. She is very very good at it and can finish her work at a high quality in less time than her coworkers. So her boss does things to address it. For example if a job typically take 2 hours for everyone else, and she can get it done in an hour – she gets paid for two hours of work.

    You either need to compensate your high-performing employees or you need to reduce your expectation of output requested from your high-performers. Otherwise you are effectively punishing your high performers – and that makes people leave.

    Ask yourself this – if Norbert leaves for a job where his work is appreciated is that going to fix your backlog of audits? Are you going to have to hire two employees to replace the output of one?

  94. JSPA*

    If OP can’t make money happen, but has the ability to sign off on time sheet flexibility, an official half day off per week (and make it a good one! Friday afternoon, or some people prefer a Thursday morning mini break) could mean a lot.

    I mean, it could be too little, too late, and he’ll use it to look for other jobs. But keeping him so busy that he’s too swamped to even look, isn’t fair anyway. Better to hope that he appreciates the flexibility.

    1. Aggresuko*

      Really, is there ANY way to do something nice and extra for Norbert that’s allowed in the job? (I suspect time sheet flexibility may not be an option either, but that’d be nice.) I mean, besides “free snacks if you have to go into the office” stuff.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Yup, I can definitely see this helping. My sorta-direct boss (anyway, he makes out my timetable) asked me last Friday about what times I would prefer to have off next year. It’s not extra time, in secondary teaching we do 22 hours teaching a week; school is in progress for 28, so everybody has a certain number of free classes. He just wanted to know when I’d prefer him to schedule them, where there is a possibility for flexibility. I really appreciated that, because he doesn’t have to do it and it IS nice to have the first class of the day off, so I don’t have to be in until nearly 10am, rather than having to be in for the first class and then having the second and third off. So yeah, even small things, if they are meant genuinely and not a “oh, we can’t give you healthcare/a raise but we’ll let you wear jeans on Friday” sort of way, can go a long way to making people feel appreciated.

  95. Lead Balloon*

    I was a Norbert, except I informally took on training new team members in the time I’d otherwise have been twiddling my thumbs as I wasn’t given a much higher workload than other team members (but still effectively got paid less since I didn’t need to do any overtime).

    I was able to get a promotion a few months after that to do what I was doing informally. It was fortunate a position was available though – the company I work doesn’t really just give out promotions and pay rises, and I was fairly new in a role that usually takes a few years to learn to do the way I could.

    If I wasn’t acknowledged as a star performer I’d have felt very undervalued and no doubt Norbert feels the same way.

  96. Anonymous Koala*

    I feel like “hours put in” has become the new “butts in seats” mentality. OP, perhaps you can assign Norbert a robust amount of work – not twice what the others do, but like 1.2X, and in return go above and beyond to give Norbert as much flexibility and time off as possible. I’m Norbert, and my boss has unofficially allowed me to work from anywhere and manage my time whatever way I like as long as I get my work done and respond to messages in a reasonable timeframe. It would also be a good idea to have a conversation with Norbert where you acknowledge the pattern, propose some solutions, see what he thinks will work for him, and also ask him frankly what he wants out of his future at the company. Because if he’s as good as you say he is, he’ll leave sooner rather than later if you don’t address his concerns. Then you’ll have no Norbert.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I had something similar when I was a Norbert. I was willing to do 50% more but I was leaving when I finished even if that was at 2 pm (everyone else left around 4:30-5).

  97. Trawna*

    Two recent letters where the high performer is the person the manager is complaining about. Ouch.

  98. yet another Norbert*

    I was a Norbert in my old department. For the most part my internal motivation was enough to keep me going. But then in summer 2020, my spouse fell at home and got a concussion. I spent a terrifying few hours driving him to places I wasn’t allowed to accompany him and worrying, and when I finally got home, I dutifully logged back in to discover my supervisor had reassigned not a single iota of my work. Because of course it was easier to make me do it than ask someone else to pitch in. I was so hurt and angry.

    Luckily I got promoted to a certain department shortly thereafter, but I know the pattern continued with other Norberts until they too found better places to go. Now that supervisor is moving to a non-supervisory position in a lower pay band and I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason for that is because exclusively leaning on your high performers because it’s the path of least resistance isn’t a sustainable management strategy.

  99. Heidi*

    I am often like Norbert. I once had a co-worker ask if I could work slower because I was making him look bad.

    1. ShortT*

      I hope you said, “You think I’m aiding and abbeting you in your appearance of incompetence?”

      I have said this to a former coworker. Her whining stopped.

  100. six some sigma*

    Putting on my old process management hat here, but: “We have a huge backlog of audits to complete, so the work will just keep coming for years and years, literally”

    This is bad. Your backlog will never be finished, you will always be behind, you will always be rushing to catch up ,and you will never get there. You need to cut down your backlog. Hire more people, see about part-timers, see if all the audits are actually necessary (have some been in the backlog so long that they’re no longer relevant/been overridden by something new? in your metaphors, you were supposed to inspect the pencils but they pencils have all been used up by now), etc. But your system is broken even before you start talking about your workers.

  101. Apple Townes*

    At my part-time job, there are two Norberts; my colleague G and me. Our boss’s mentality is to let people “focus on what they’re good at” and not worry about who does what/how much everyone contributes as long as the business is functioning. G and I are more efficient, organized, professional, communicative, and productive than the rest of the team. My performance review was postponed for 2 years bc of the pandemic. When it finally happened, I pointed out how much I do in a given shift relative to the other employees, and my boss acknowledged my contributions…but also remarked on how self-confident I was, and gave me 1/4 of the raise I asked for.

    I gave my two weeks notice last week, and I feel really bad for G.

  102. Varda*

    Before commenting, I am a bit of a Norbert and that will influence my response. The most important thing is to make them feel valued- my worst work periods have been when no one acknowledged all I was doing and it just made me feel awful and that I should quit.

    As a manager you should be able to understand if he’s doing more eg cracking out more difficult audits faster than anyone else and its not just that he’s getting the easy ones. It’s hard to tell that from your letter but it does seem he still over performs – you need to acknowledge that in some way.

  103. Chria*

    I think there are a few options here:

    1) Norbert is a senior level employee compared to your other junior level employees and needs to be recognized as such through pay (and possibly title).

    2) Norbert is approaching his work in a way your other employees aren’t, and you should do an internal “efficiency audit”. If this is a 1-time thing then consider temporarily taking him off his case load to train others. If this is an ongoing thing then he likely needs to be promoted to a coach/team lead position, which would mean he does more training and less hands-on auditing.

    3) Norbert is more senior level than his coworkers or needs to be a team lead, but you don’t have the money to compensate him. If he can do more work in less time than his coworkers, maybe let him move to a 3 or 4 day week for the same pay.

    4) the work is a bottomless pit. It’s always going to be there and while it’s nice that Norbert is faster than his coworkers, it’s not really necessary for the position at hand. In that case talk to Norbert about how he’s outgrown the role and give him your blessing to find a new job by serving as a positive reference.

  104. t4cie*

    Based on the info in the letter, Norbert’s rection to completing more work than the other employees is unreasonable, so either OP needs to prepare for a protest slowdown, or there is info that the OP does not have that makes his reaction make sense.
    Example: I am one of the oldest workers at the store I work at, I am faster an prepping a new shipment to go out or cleaning a display case than other, newer workers because I’ve had more practice. I have not worked harder than New Guy if I’ve tagged and taped more items in the last hour than he did, he’s working harder than me at something that practice has made easy for me.
    Theory that explains Norberts reaction to getting more work: His high output is because he’s going beyond the bounds of reasonable to get the task done; not taking breaks, working unrecorded overtime, spending his own money on something to complete the task, because he feels that finishing task is the most important thing. OP needs to talk to him to understand what’s going on here.

  105. Idea*

    Do you have the power to give a bonus based on how many audits are completed? Top completer gets X amount and second top .5 X.

  106. ShortT*

    OP, how, other than with a larger personal workload and having him “help” his colleagues, have you acknowledged Norbert’s superstar performance? Because, if you haven’t, it’s a problem.

    I’ve been in Norbert’s metaphorical shoes, where my only reward for work well done was more work. I would face a challenge, e.g., a language barrier, and learn the language in question. A colleague would face that same challenge; the work would be passed onto me.

    Shadow your subordinates to see how they do things. And, for the love of all that’s holy and the patience to not go ape**** dealing with what’s not, don’t place the burden of teaching the rest of your subordinates on Norbert. Expecting him to be more productive AND to teach other would be grossly unfair.

    Also, examine why you would think of considering Norbert a jerk. That’s just nasty.

  107. OP*

    OP here. I need to mention that Norbert is a team lead and does get a higher salary than others on the team, so he is compensated appropriately for the work he is doing.

  108. OP again*

    OP again here. I am reading the comments and taking them to heart. I need to clarify a few things that I didn’t think of before.
    1. Norbert is a team lead. He is compensated appropriately and is the highest paid member on the team, by quite a bit.
    2. Norbert will frequently tell me his plate isn’t full by any means and ask for more work. But not audits, I guess? He is by no means swamped and drowning in work. It’s my opinion/understanding that he just wants the rest of the team to keep up with him.
    3. While the employees I do have are paid well and fairly, we are in a line of work hit hard by the pandemic and suffering from budget cuts. No one is being laid off, but we definitely don’t have the ability to hire more people to help with the backlog.
    4. The “jerk” comments came from a place of frustration. He is a very nice person. I was mainly referring to understand why, as a team lead, he felt like his workload of audits should mirror his coworkers. It was not a good choice of words.
    5. My team is all fully remote. Flexibility, even pre-pandemic, was always the name of the game and he along with the rest of the team are free to make their own schedules and come and go as they need to. I have denied a couple of his half day PTO requests on the basis that he just go ahead and take the time off without using PTO. I’m unsure how to make things easier than that for him.

    1. allathian*

      Thanks for the update. I’m glad Norbert is being compensated for his efficiency.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I think you need to have a deeper conversation with Norbert about what he ACTUALLY wants then! Sit down, bring up these conversations and ask what his solutions are.

      – Does he just want to have a bit of a moan and you can grin and say, “tough luck, get on with it”?
      – Does he want to develop the rest of the team, but doesn’t actually have the skills to teach what he does? Is there any training or development that could help him do that?
      – Is he unaware of the bigger picture? Does he know that there isn’t money to hire more people, that the backlog isn’t going anywhere, and where your team fits into the wider organisation’s principles?
      – Does he want a greater say in how the work is distributed, and is that something you can delegate to him?

      He already has seniority, so bring him into this conversation and ask him seriously how he wants to develop personally and how he sees the team developing, and get him to supply some solutions too!

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        OP, thanks for the updates. I agree with bamcheeks–you need to have an in-depth conversation about what Norbert desires. If he is complaining about workload while asking others to give him work (!), there is something else going on here. I also agree about the second point. Is he capable of training people? I started my career in sales and saw that top salespeople are often poor trainers. The skillsets for the two roles are wildly different.

        Good luck, and please don’t let the frustration get to you. Even if Norbert is unclear about what he wants, don’t personalize it.

      2. tamarak & fireweed*

        I agree with bamcheeks. Initially my mental image was someone only marginally better compensated than his less productive team mates. I was also wondering if the work is basically serial (ie, every team member works on one “audit” at a time, and it’s just that Norbert is faster at completing them with the same level of effort and stress), or whether as is often the case, more projects assigned to him means more projects in parallel, that is, more stakeholders to deal with in a given day, a higher chance of having to stay late b/c something goes wrong, etc. etc. .

        Now that the OP has clarified that Norbert is a team lead, and therefore on a leadership track, it becomes clear that Norbert is likely not to be clear where his career is going. One obvious point is to get him to pass on his skills! If the main reason he’s more faster is that he has better connections within the company, that’s something he can pass on. In the long run you all benefit by the whole team being pulled up a little bit.

        And to be sure, Norbert may not actually all that good at those new tasks. That’s fine – he has reserves (he’ll still be faster at the auditing than the rest of the team), and he, like everyone else, should get to work on something he’s not good at (yet), which may be leadership skills, mentoring, documentation, process design…

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      > I have denied a couple of his half day PTO requests on the basis that he just go ahead and take the time off without using PTO.

      And — DID he take the time off without using PTO? It’s not clear from what you wrote.

    4. Beth*

      This puts a different spin on things! Norbert is actually already getting a lot of the things I thought were missing, based on your letter.

      Based on this, I think there are two things you need to understand to move forward:
      1) What does Norbert actually want here? It sounds like it’s not title, salary, or flexibility–he’s got those. Is it a different kind of work? More of a sense of teamwork/we’re-in-this-together? Is he struggling with the endlessness of the audits?
      2) If, as your gut feel says, he actually wants everyone else to be working on his level and keeping up with him: why does he think people in a more junior role should be working as quickly and efficiently as he is? That’s not a reasonable standard to set–what can you do to reset his expectations for his team to a more realistic level?

  109. OP again*

    One more thing – as part of his team lead roles, he is tasked with training/coaching his coworkers to find efficiencies. As a result, I’ve kept his number of audits down – he has about 5-10 at a time while his coworkers have 20-30. This is just work I’ve assigned though – in the course of his talking with other departments, he ends up adding more to his own plate.

  110. Workfromhome*

    How do you reward your top performers? We give them more and more work until they become our worst performers.

  111. Workerbee*

    Unfortunately, OP, it is stances like this that made me finally realize how very often hard work is not rewarded. That my skills, knowledge, and experience matter only for what can be squeezed out of me, but magically, the people who are good at talking and schmoozing get the breaks. In my experience, it’s also always been my direct manager who does the squeezing and the withholding.

    Since your first paragraph states that there is more work than your team can ever hope to accomplish, and your second paragraph states how the work of the others of the team isn’t bad, your treatment of and view of Norbert comes across as punitive. And you have the audacity to call HIM the jerk in the situation. This tells me you need people-management training and until then, being a product or content manager would be more in your wheelhouse.

    1. Workerbee*

      Hmm, I commented before reading your update. It seems a bit different from your post. Perhaps it had been written from a place of frustration; it did not come across well.

  112. Newsgal*

    I could be Norbert.

    My efficiency rewards me with more work. I have tried to work slower and I still am often faster than other people in my position. I have this innate work ethic that precludes me from what I see as slacking, and it’s incredibly frustrating to not see people working at the same level. My energy often prompts people to tell me to “slow down.” I know this sounds like humble bragging, but it can be frustrating.

    Here’s what you do – you give Norbert more rewarding work. You find projects that go beyond the day-to-day. I live for projects because I can immerse myself in something that takes longer than a minute. You expand their responsibilities – with their input, not unilaterally. You train the employees how to be more efficient with their tasks and know that you can’t depend on Norbert indefinitely, because he will leave at some point. You adjust workflows. And then you hire more people like Norbert when the people who aren’t as quick end up leaving from the sheer volume of rote work that it seems their positions entail.

  113. Morgan*

    I’ve definitely quit a job over this issue. Think about what you’d do with zero Norberts, because soon that’s what you’ll have.

  114. Alphabet*

    I am the Norbert on my team. A typical load for my team is 4 projects per person. I’m currently carrying 10. I know for a fact that several of my coworkers are a higher grade level than I am and are getting paid more. I’m actively looking for another job.

  115. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I sympathise with Norbert.
    At the agency, I was the most productive worker. I did double the amount of work that my colleague did, despite working fewer hours. I didn’t get a pay rise or even a miserable bonus for my efforts. When I sent in my weekly report and I’d broken my personal record, I’d point it out in the email, and got zero response from either of the bosses.
    In fact, the boss called me to inform me that the management software showed that I wasn’t at all productive, even though I was sending in my weekly reports that proved the contrary.
    Turned out the project managers were “forgetting” to log my work properly, and it didn’t matter because I was on a salary rather than billing for each job. So then it looked like the project managers had achieved a much higher margin, because my work wasn’t credited.

    So I left. I’m now earning more and working less, as a freelancer. Pay heed, OP.

    NB I didn’t want to be a freelancer, because I knew I would miss my colleagues. I didn’t want to be responsible for billing either. I didn’t want to work from home either, because I loved my commute riding along the river past Notre Dame. But being paid a pittance, without a pay rise since before the turn of the century, producing twice as much work as my colleagues yet being paid the same, sorry, that’s not fair.
    The last few months I was working there, I did the bare minimum, then goofed off listening to music and doing whatever volunteer work I could get done online.

  116. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Why can’t Norbert be promoted? He’s obviously a quick, sharp-witted worker.

  117. Olivia*

    Man, I was really hoping that there was going to be another named person in this story and that they were going to be called Dagbert.

    Also yeah, LW is plainly exploiting Norbert’s labor. He acknowledges that Norbert is delivering a lot more than everyone else, but it seems like he is not acknowledging that in any way that is sufficient (like with more pay, title change, more perks)–if he was, I assume he would have mentioned to buttress his argument that Norbert is being a “jerk” (expecting fair compensation doesn’t make one a jerk). This seems like a situation where trying to imaging how you would feel if it were happening to you would go a long way towards seeing the problem clearly. I wouldn’t want to work for someone who was this clueless about the proper way to treat his subordinates or how they might reasonably be feeling.

  118. SleepyKitten*

    Whenever someone says “this is my way of saying X” they almost always need to be saying X in as many words. For example

    “Since you complete work at twice the rate of the rest of the team, could you share your techniques so we can get everyone closer to your level and share the work more equally”

    That said, sometimes people are just faster for reasons that are non-transferable – they just really click with the work or they have autism in one of the fields where it’s a bonus. In that case, your only option is recognition and compensation.

  119. WitsEnd*

    This isn’t good. I’m currently the Norbert at my office. Over the past few months, we’ve lost a couple of really good employees, and their responsibilities have fallen on me. When I asked for a raise, I was told I might get what amounts to an extra 90 cents an hour. For the work of 3 people. I hope they have a plan in place, because I’m searching for new employment.

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