How To Help an Underperforming Employee

Employee underperformance might involve failing to meet an acceptable standard of work, not complying with work policies and procedures, or demonstrating behaviour that impacts others negatively (like gossiping, showing up late, or not letting others know if they can’t complete work on time).

Some employees may not be receiving the resources and clear feedback they need to develop and improve; others may be unable to recognize that they’re struggling; the reason why these employees’ actual output and their perceptions of success don’t match up is unclear. Whatever the reason, if managers don’t take action, the employee’s work won’t get better, and the company will lose the value of a team member who could thrive with the right support. A more subtle risk is that the boss will appear to approve of poor work, which could demotivate and disengage competent workers. However, if you can pinpoint the root cause of a performer’s lack of self-awareness, you can use these five strategies to either change the problematic behaviors or determine whether it is even possible to do so.

Be clear about expectations. A client nonprofit had a friendly workplace and a strong cultural commitment to understanding one another’s needs. The particular vice president’s lack of accomplishments infuriated the board chair, who thought she was succeeding because of her efforts. The VP’s manager was a senior executive, and the board chair reminded him that he was in charge of making sure results. The manager reiterated performance expectations with the vice president, but he didn’t explain the harm to the company or that her job was in danger because he didn’t want to put the blame on her or offend her. He continued to lose faith in the vice president and eventually scaled back her responsibilities as a covert way of acknowledging her lack of advancement. Later, the manager and the board chair both agreed that no one had been straightforward enough with her regarding her performance issues.

Provide employees with resources and support. Most workers require guidance, mentoring, and close supervision to advance, especially if they are assuming a role that is new to the business or are promoted to fill a position that needs to be filled. They might not even be aware of their deficiencies if their natural abilities are insufficient to fulfill the requirements of their role and responsibilities.

In order to fill the gap left by the abrupt departure of an executive two levels up, a client company promoted a director. Despite being suddenly in charge of numerous people doing various jobs, no one in the senior leadership assessed the new director’s development needs. The new director believed that because of the promotion, he was succeeding. The director, however, turned into a burned-out micromanager as a result of being unable to manage this more difficult job the way he could his previous one, leading to severe operating bottlenecks and employee dissatisfaction.

Determine whether you’re willing to continue investing in the individual. If not, lowering your expectations is a much more practical course of action. A CEO eventually transferred some of the riskier and sexier responsibilities of the VP’s position to another executive after growing increasingly frustrated with a VP who consistently talked a great game but whose results over several years were always just shy of their target. Despite being offended, the vice president stayed and, thanks to the narrower scope of his duties, was more successful.

Assess whether they’ll accept help. Maintaining an illusory success or status drains one’s emotional reserves. The Dunning-Krueger effect, a cognitive bias that prevents people from realizing how poorly they’re performing and that they need help, affects a lot more people than imposter syndrome does. A client organization’s mid-level administrator bristled at the suggestion that his abilities needed to be improved and disregarded the coaching that was provided to him. He started to set up his colleagues, undermine them, and misrepresent their contributions and concerns because he found fault with everyone who challenged him. When these actions were discovered, the company was forced to fire him.

Target praise carefully. It’s crucial to give an employee with an exaggerated sense of their own performance praise when they produce excellent work or handle a situation well. However, if the compliments are all they receive, they might begin to believe that everything they do is exceptional. Make sure to link your compliments to other issues you want them to address. For instance, you might say, “Now that you did such a great job with the ABC presentation, I’d like you to also [do the next thing they need to improve] for the next one.” Make sure you are clear on both the necessary new behavior and the reasons why it is necessary as part of satisfactory job performance. By doing this, you have a better chance of getting the necessary behaviors, even though they may still have an inflated view of themselves.

It takes a lot of attention and involvement to assist an unknowing underperformer in becoming more realistic about their work. Knowing what is causing their ignorance will either help you determine what support they need to improve or confirm your suspicion that they may not be able to perform the job’s requirements.

How to Handle an Underperforming Employee | Dodging Landmines

What causes employee underperformance?

There are a number of factors that fuel underperformance. A worker might not be confident in their role because they lack the necessary skill level. They may mismanage their time. Due to the team’s unclear goals, they might not fully understand what is expected of them. An employee might feel let down by the day-to-day realities of their job’s responsibilities. Lack of onboarding and training, as well as few opportunities for role development and career advancement, can all deplete an employee’s motivation.

12 ways to help an underperforming employee

Underperformance is a widespread issue at work that can affect any employee at any level. A consistent approach is key to maintaining morale and productivity. Here are 12 strategies you can use to influence change and increase productivity with a low-performing employee:

1. Take action as soon as you notice underperformance

2. Send out a training survey

It may indicate that the team needs more training if you notice underperformance in more than one of your employees. Send out a survey to the staff to find out where they lack confidence.

Gauge your employees perceptions of their managers leadership styles. You should concentrate on that to raise performance standards if, for instance, several responses mention that respondents would like more daily direction. Consider having a morning meeting, following up with team members all day, and giving feedback more frequently.

3. Meet with the underperforming employee

When you notice a change in their behavior at work, plan a one-on-one meeting. As well as addressing the areas of their job where they are performing poorly, inquire about how they are doing with their current workload. This can show them that you care about their success while also assisting them in understanding their current situation. Remind the employee of your expectations for them and offer constructive criticism for their shortcomings.

4. Establish the cause of underperformance

You can devise a strategy to assist them in succeeding in the future by identifying the reason for their underperformance. They might get bogged down in minutiae or require more training for a particular aspect of their job.

Sometimes work-related circumstances are not the cause of underperformance. Instead, employee underperformance could be because of personal life changes. Try to be understanding in this situation and set a deadline for when you expect them to perform at their previous level.

5. Establish long-term goals

Sometimes an employee may lose focus about their career goals. Meet with them to discuss their purpose on the job. This might provide a new perspective on their long-term objectives and inspire them to work harder.

If an employee consistently performs below expectations, they might need to be reminded of the significance of their position within the company. Discuss each employee’s daily responsibilities and how they fit into the organization. Tell them the potential consequences of not finishing their tasks correctly.

6. Schedule regular meetings to provide feedback

Set up regular meetings on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to check in on the development of your staff. During this time, pay attention to their reflections and ask them about their challenges and areas of comfort. When required, you can refocus their performance objectives or offer training.

Feedback can be a powerful motivator for your employees. Give them feedback on their work so they can see what they still need to improve on However, make sure you also take the time to recognize them for their accomplishments if they meet their daily quota, show up to every meeting that week, or submit a report on time.

7. Encourage continuous learning

If your employee mentioned a particular skill they want to develop that is currently affecting how well they do their jobs, recommend an online course or a seminar to help them do that. In order for everyone to improve their knowledge of a particular subject, you could even sign up the entire department for the course.

A mentor is another excellent resource who can offer years of experience in the field and motivation to a worker who needs it. Select a person who is higher up in the organization and does not work in the same department.

8. Support a healthy work-life balance

If a worker admits that their poor performance is related to their personal life, you can politely suggest that they take some time off to concentrate on their current situation. They might gain from using their accumulated vacation time to take care of personal matters before returning to work once they are able to concentrate on their work obligations.

Sometimes workers become so invested in their work that they work too much, which leaves them feeling drained and strained. By encouraging your staff to maintain a healthy work-life balance and to take time off when necessary, you can stop overwork and the underperformance it causes.

9. Allow them to retrain or take on a new project

An underperforming employee may require additional on-the-job training. For instance, if a member of your sales team consistently falls short of their weekly sales goals, you can arrange a training session to review your sales strategies.

It might be time for a new task that can challenge the underperforming employee in other ways if training doesn’t solve the problem. A change can provide a new beginning and a break from other tasks that have grown boring or easy.

10. Reward improvement

If you notice a noticeable improvement in your employees’ output, recognize and reward it with a gift like their preferred office snack or a note of gratitude for their superior work. Small yet heartfelt actions can motivate your staff member to keep getting better.

It might be beneficial to develop an incentive program based on achieving department goals if you notice widespread underperformance. For instance, the sales team may receive a Friday off or a gift card to their preferred restaurant if they meet their monthly quotas.

11. Practice confidentiality

Confidentiality within the department is another beneficial way to support and value an employee’s performance. Keep the employees failures between you and them. If the rest of the department found out, they might feel embarrassed, and it might help them maintain their confidence in front of their coworkers.

12. Take a step back to support responsibility

As soon as your employee starts to perform better, give them responsibility for their work while continuing to keep a close eye on the results. When you notice a clear pattern of progress, you want to eventually reduce the amount of coaching you provide.


What to do when employees are underperforming?

How to manage underperforming employees
  • Recognize that there is a problem. …
  • Hold a meeting and ask questions to determine the reason the employee is performing below expectations.
  • Reiterate job expectations. …
  • Manage employee expectations. …
  • Develop an action plan together. …
  • Ensure regular check-ins and follow-ups. …
  • Recognize progress.

What does employee underperformance mean?

Here are some unusual ways to deal with underperforming employees:
  1. Honesty and empathy. …
  2. Write the conversation down. …
  3. Give faster feedback. …
  4. Tackle underperformance right at recruitment. …
  5. Active listening. …
  6. Assign them a ‘silent’ mentor. …
  7. Give them more work. …
  8. Switch up their working space.

What are three common reasons for employee underperformance?

How to Manage an Underperforming Employee
  1. Make sure your expectations are clear. …
  2. Draw up a roadmap to improvement. …
  3. Provide ongoing, constructive feedback. …
  4. Pay attention to your own management behavior. …
  5. Make sure employees have the tools they need to succeed.

How do you let an employee know they are underperforming?

Your employee’s failure to fulfill the requirements of their role is the most common example of underperformance in the workplace. not performing their duties to the standard you expect of them

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