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Pursuing Peak Performance

The Stop Sign is a job-search column offering serious career advice with a touch of humor to help you stand out among the crowd that follows the same-old, same-old advice you find all over the internet. Feel free to send us any questions you’d like answered in these posts. We’ll tell you what not to do and where to go—not!

Recently, Mr. Stop Sign spotted a number of articles preaching “peak performance.” You’ve probably seen a few of these:

· Four tips to create peak performance in the workplace

· How to motivate your employees to peak performance

· Peak performance: 9 Tips for employees.

· 4 reasons talented employees don’t reach their potential

If you google “peak performance employees,” you can find dozens more just like these.

I venture some of you make it a point to read these articles when they are posted by well-meaning job or career-experts.

Stop doing that.

First, none of these articles are going to help anyone to achieve peak performance. They are brief and contain vague advice on being focused, healthy, and liking your job.

And if you are a manager, these two-minute reads aren’t going to have any lasting effect on how you treat your staff.

More importantly, however, striving for continual peak performance isn’t a good idea.

These articles use the term peak performance when they should be describing excellent performance.

Peak performance, as the term implies, is the pinnacle of performance. The best you can do. Once you’ve achieved that, there is no doing any better.

For most people, this takes effort. A lot of effort. It means going beyond the usual performance level.

Most things that are peak—by definition—cannot be sustained for long.

Now, I hope your usual performance level is very good. Mr. Stop Sign and employers don’t want slackers. But, we must all remember how we are human. We can be distracted; we can be having a poor day for any of a hundred reasons. We tire. We need breaks. We need—as the recent pandemic reminded us—to socialize.

Without these mental breaks, our performance deteriorates.

And quite often that break helps us solve a problem. For example, Mr. Stop Sign and his hi-tech colleagues often hung out at the company kitchen or break room and discussed a work problem. That change of scenery and collaboration often resulted in a break-through.

But companies generally these days don’t tolerate mistakes and they don’t want interruptions in continued peak performance.

As an example, consider how Amazon times bathroom breaks and any other work interruptions. According to several articles, just about everything at Amazon is timed and subject to computer algorithm. If you can’t keep up, you can be fired—by computer no less.

Amazon has modified the old piece rate system. Workers aren’t paid by the piece, but for the activity completed. According to several articles, many Amazon workers are given apps or devices that display their piece rate and alert them when they are falling behind. Many workers have been fired by computer for not keeping up with the required pace. No human interaction required.

And what’s the result? According to a New York Times investigation, Amazon’s employee turnover rate is about 150% per year.

Now, you may be thinking—“But Mr. Stop Sign, I don’t work for Amazon; I’m not in retail. That doesn’t apply to me.”

Well, piece rate may not apply to you, but peak performance just might. Mr. Stop Sign has seen many ads that contain language such as “must be able to function at peak performance in a fast-paced environment.”

Indeed, the concept of continual peak performance has crept into multiple industries.

Companies run lean and mean these days. Employees are expected to multi-task and be available via phone or computer at almost any hour of the day. Workers are rarely off the clock--Have you ever taken work with you while you were on vacation? (I have!)

(We should all stop doing that.)

The reality, however, is that no one can sustain peak performance 24X7 or for even multiple hours several days a week. That’s a recipe for burnout.

I hope you’re wondering by now what you should be doing instead of pursuing peak performance.

So, here’s the answer: Do your job well.

That’s it.

If you are having a great day and are in the zone, you will probably get more done without even consciously trying.

If you are having a bad day or are feeling under the weather, recognize and accept you won’t be anywhere near peak performance. There’s always tomorrow.

And if it’s an ordinary day and the boss pops his head in the door and says, “I need you” and hands you a big pile of work with a tight deadline---now, it’s time for peak performance.

If you bosses don’t accept these three scenarios and demand continual peak performance, Mr. Stop Sign suggests you consider a change of scenery. It’s probably going to happen sooner or later. I suggest it be your choice and not theirs.

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