Tall Poppy Syndrome in the Workplace

Tall Poppy Syndrome in the Workplace

Tall poppy syndrome in the workplace

Has tall poppy syndrome taken root in your company? Ever notice that water-cooler conversations seem to be about Jimmy since his promotion? Or that employees have something to say about Suzy after she was assigned to lead that big project? If there’s a tendency to cut ambitious high achieving employees “down to size,” the answer is likely yes.  In most cases criticism is an unwelcome by-product of success. Let’s talk about tall poppy syndrome in the workplace and how to ‘cut it down’ to size.


Tall poppy syndrome takes its name from the idea that gardeners, to maintain a uniform look, often trim back the tallest flowers to the height of the rest. That might be good practice for landscaping, but in the workplace it can lead to low employee morale.  This may also lead to workplace toxicity and higher turnover among your top talent.

Workplace High Achievers

Focused workplace high achievers often stand apart from other employees. Those types of employees want to be noticed for their hard work, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Tall poppies take their goals seriously and work hard to achieve them.


Problems arise when co-workers or even leaders feel threatened by the high achiever’s strong performance. It’s human nature to be competitive. And to not want others to outshine us, but the impulse to ‘trim down’ or hold back peak performers can be damaging to employees and to the organization.

Organizational Culture

The best way to avoid tall poppy syndrome is to build an organizational culture that outlines pathways for growth. This will allow your employees to know what career paths are open to them and what your peak performers can expect. By giving employees a clear vision of where they can grow in your company, you can help them develop realistic expectations.  Moreover, they can find the support they need to reach their goals.

Open Communication Retains Talent

Conversations about goals can help you understand what all of your employees want to do within your organization, including tall poppies and what their long-term career goals are. That information is crucial to understanding whether there are opportunities within the organization. And whether you can create future opportunities for them within your company.

When you communicate career path options clearly, you create a positive culture that nurtures all your employees especially tall poppies, to thrive, succeed and grow.

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