Performance Punishment

Dr Stuart Woolley
Published in
5 min readJan 23, 2023


Losing the good, ignoring the average, and leaving the poor to rot.

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels

Recently I wrote about cognitive dissonance in the Grand Game of Software Engineering and, no word of a lie, it’s caused me a number of sleepless nights.

Naturally that’s not because I’ve had magazines calling me for more startling exposé articles or publishers lining up for book deals about the surreal world of modern day software engineering¹, as if, but because every time I think of anything in Grand Game there’s always some kind dissonance associated with it.

Let’s take another interesting use case, to coin a phrase.

Punishing Performance

I introduce yet another modern day phrase that neatly rolls off the tongue, “Performance Punishment” — the practice of loading up high performing employees with even more work as some kind of ‘reward’ instead of actually giving them something they deserve like more paid time off or, who’d have though it, a pay increase.

Why should it be that the harder you work, the more you get loaded up with further demanding tasks and additional responsibility?

If you’re doing a great job then surely the best option for a company is for you to continue operating at this excellent capacity and for them not to overload your boat with so much more cargo that you inevitably sink.

In fact, even better, if you’re chugging away on your boat and doing the Great Work then how about a slap on the back² reinforced with some proper cash notes stuffed in your back pocket and the promise of more paid holiday time?

Yeah, right.
Like a company would break out the carrots before reaching for the stick.

Corporate Landfill

Most obviously a company would rather ‘recognise’ you by laminating some laser printed ‘employee of the month’ certificate or engraving a cheap plastic piece of desktop plastic with your name and having you be photographed with it for their LinkedIn feed.

Add to that, they’ll happily offer you a promotion into the minefield that is management for ex-software engineers promising you can ‘stay technical’ but as fast as you can say “agile methodology” you’ll be knee…



Dr Stuart Woolley

Worries about the future. Way too involved with software. Likes coffee, maths, and . Would prefer to be in academia. SpaceX, Twitter, and Overwatch fan.