Tall Poppy Syndrome: How to confront the issue head on

The worrying trend actually dates back to Ancient Greece

Tall Poppy Syndrome: How to confront the issue head on

Have you ever felt belittled at work? Like you’ve just been reaching for the sky when someone decides you’re ‘too big for your boots’ and takes a swing in your direction?

Well then, you may be a victim of Tall Poppy Syndrome.

A worrying trend, it was originally designed to keep people humble but is now being deployed in a more sinister way.

As HR leaders, it’s incumbent on you to take a stand against any practices which hamper or harm employee morale and mindset.

Dr Rumeet Billan conducted an intensive study into the problem, examining the impact Tall Poppy Syndrome has on both individuals and employers.

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The report found that 70% of employees have been penalized verbally and non-verbally, with 81% having had their individual achievements downplayed by colleagues.

However, it’s nothing new.                               

Tall Poppy Syndrome was first recounted in Livy’s Ab Urde Condita Lirbi of 9BC. In it, the tyrannical King Lucius Tarquinus is sent a message from his son, who recently quashed a rebellion is now ruling himself in a near by province.

The son asks his father what he should do now, since he has quelled the rebels. Instead of answering, the King goes into his garden and cuts the heads off of all his poppies.

The messenger returns and tells the son what he had seen – the son immediately understands. His father wishes him to kill all of the powerful people in the rebel kingdom to cement his own leadership.

A pretty gruesome anecdote but one still seemingly prevalent today – though perhaps not as literally.

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So, as an HR professional, if you feel as if you or one of your employees are experiencing Tall Poppy Syndrome, what should you do?

Reva Ramsden, associate dean at the School of Manufacturing, Automation and Transportation, told Dr Billan one way to handle it is to confront the issue head on.

“It’s just the courage to have the conversation and the courage to confront someone because, I think, nine times out of 10, they don’t even realize (what they’re doing) because it is so ingrained in our culture or it is such a part of the culture where they work,” said Ramsden in the report.

“And sometimes I think they’re worried about their own expertise being questioned, so a lot of it stems from ego and pride. But if you’re just brave enough to have a conversation, we’re all pretty reasonable individuals at the end of the day.”

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