I often talk about the 'symbolic' channel of communication and how ofetn it can lead to results that we wouldn't necessarily expect. One place where you think symbolism would do its intended job, however, is reward and recognition systems. After all recognising a brilliant employee should – in theory – be an inspiration to colleagues.
Unfortunately, due to the Tiger Woods Effect, this is not always the case. What is the Tiger Woods Effect I hear you ask? Put simply, it means that someone at the top of their game can not only put off everyone else but can actually lead them to put in less effort.
Chicago's Northwestern University analysed the performances of golfers from 1999 to 2010 while Woods was far and away the world number one.
When he was at the peak of his powers, other top players shot worse scores in tournaments in which he participated than they did in similar events if he was absent, as if his presence inhibited them.
And because of this, Woods earned around $6 million more from these contests than he would have done if his rivals had played their normal game, economists found.
This remarkable effect on golfers could apply just as much in a workplace. In particular, the Tiger factor could affect offices where one worker keeps winning ‘employee of the month’ or regular bonuses for making the most sales.
Instead of trying to compete, other staff – like Tiger’s opponents – simply stop trying as hard because they don’t think they are going to win.
You are probably thinking 'Nah, that would only affect the losers' but, in actual fact, when Woods played in a tournament, other players shot nearly a full stroke higher and the effect was strongest among the top-ranked players, who would be in direct competition with Woods for the highest payouts.
The results suggest business should be more careful when trying to get their employees to be more competitive with each other and is yet another example of just how complicated the symbolic channel in communication is.