Tall Poppy Syndrome and the Detriment it is having on the Upstander Generation
Put simply, a tall poppy is that which stands higher than the rest. Thus, should be cut down to size so as to not create an imbalance in the field or to attract unfair attention compared to others. Of course, we are not talking about actual poppies, but people.
Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a commonly known term used to masquerade our immature and unfair responses to jealousy, most commonly in the workplace. Employees often feel the need to not only shine in front of their employer, but also to reflect an element of teamwork. These often contradict each other, causing stress and unrest between colleagues.
As I have said in previous articles, the office should be a place for workers to thrive and find their place to make changes and improvements. My look at the upstander generation suggests that colleagues and leaders should, in fact, encourage one another to grow like tall poppies. However, the case is that whilst this is encouraged, many people feel it is necessary to retract and prevent this growth as it threatens their own.
With Australia’s value of teamwork and mateship being placed so highly, it seems both fitting and contradictory that this ‘syndrome’ is so prominent in our workplaces. On the one hand, we should uplift one another and allow each other to grow. But on the other, does one of us shining brightly outline the others as lesser or lazy?
This is the common thought process and thus, the idea we need to combat. One person’s success does not define another person’s failure. We achieve different successes and overcome different failures at different times in our careers.
I myself have noticed, having worked in both in the UK and Australia, that Australians take a far more relaxed view on work and thus the notion of the tall poppy seems even more prominent. Simply working ‘too hard’ can be seen as showing off, and your work and efforts can be insulted and degraded.
A study by Dr. Rumeet Billan and Todd Humber, in partnership with Thomson Reuters and Women of Influence, found that out of the 1501 participants, 87.3% felt that their successes had been discounted and undermined by fellow employees and leaders. It also found that 81% of workers felt they had received a certain sense of ‘hostility or were penalised because of their success’.
There is common acceptance of toxicity in workplaces because of this poppy cutting behaviour. Thus, it deters people from reaching for their career goal for fear of being put down or hated. Moreover, notions of trust, enthusiasm and productivity all go out the door.
So how can the upstander generation, being so highly focused on innovation and improvement in the workplace, avoid and grow beyond the toxic nature of TPS?
1. Actively celebrate other’s successes and encourage growth within your team. Whether you’re the employer or employee, you have the chance to lift others up and celebrate their opportunities with them. Supporting others and uplifting others to success is how a team thrives and, being part of that team, you will also find yourself thriving.
2. Understand that another’s success doesn’t define your failure. The absence of success and opportunity does not equate to failure and dead ends. Our careers do not exponentially travel upwards and we reach different goals at different stages. The comparison of success only harms us and our confidence in our abilities. Moreover, it creates an overly competitive environment focused on singular gain as opposed to the organisation’s goals.
3. Lead your team towards a common goal and work cohesively. The goal is not who can achieve our plan the quickest. Rather, it is how can we, as a team, reach our goals efficiently and enthusiastically, whilst bettering each of us in the process. Though very few workplaces have this mentality, it is a mentality that is becoming more common and one that will pave the way to more healthy and happy workplaces.
My article on the Upstander Movement goes into further details on how you can improve your workplace to encourage growth equally among employees.