What To Do About Underperforming Employees

Published: Nov 05, 2018 By

Maybe an industrious employee has hit a slump, maybe a bad hire can’t grasp the basics, or maybe a lazy employee flies under the radar for ages without poor behavior being addressed. Whatever the case, every manager must eventually deal with an underperforming employee.

underperforming employees

Most companies have recommended policies on the books, but such procedures rarely bring about positive change. That’s because they were written with a one-size-fits-all mindset when, in fact, each underperformer will require an individualized approach.

That’s the bad news. The good news? There are prevailing principles you use to devise a promising game plan for you, your underperformer, and your office as a whole.

Don’t Ignore The Problem

Employees grow despondent when they see a peer receiving similar compensation while achieving at a lower level. Such resentment can diminish productivity, increase turnover, and lower morale. That’s why you must deal with the problem as soon as it’s recognized. Otherwise, resentment will fester and can potentially infect the entire office.

Analysis Before Action

Before approaching the employee, analyze the situation thoroughly. Is the underperformance recent or has the employee always had difficulties meeting expectations? Is there a disconnect between what management and the employee expect from the job? Your answers will help you locate the core of the problem.

Be as objective as possible. If you need help taking an emotional step back, ask others who are aware of the situation for their thoughts. Talking with others may also provide you information you were not aware of.

Talk With The Underperforming Employee

Don’t take any action before talking with the employee. Your research will determine your approach. If you feel the underperformance may stem from external factors—for example, a death in the family—you’ll want to approach the talk with empathy.

During this discussion, be specific and leave out opinions. Claiming the employee’s attitude is poor won’t help. Instead, point to specific instances and use data to illustrate the underperformance. After the conversation, give the employee some time to think how they’d like to approach change.

Create A Plan

After the employee has thought it through, schedule a one-on-one meeting to create a plan. The plan should focus on measurable steps. Vague goals, such as “improve tardiness,” won’t help. Use SMART goals.

Don’t dictate the plan. Instead, allow the employee to have input into its goals and strategies. This will give them a sense of ownership, making them more invested in success. It will also help you understand what motivates the employee so you can apply those motivations judiciously.

Finally, be sure the necessary time and training are provided. This may slow down progress, but it that progress is more likely to last.

Be Confidential

Underperformers impact the whole office, so fellow employees will want to know what’s happening. Tread carefully here. Simply let them know the situation is being handled. Do not delve into the details. This can embarrass the underperformer, undermining their confidence in you and the process.

Monitor And Follow-Up

Monitor your underperformer’s progress carefully and consistently. SMART goals help here, as they’ll either make the goals or they won’t.

Then follow up with appropriate feedback. If the employee improves, reward their success. As we all know, success breeds more success, and positive reinforcement will strengthen the underperformer’s resolve.

If habits don’t change, disciplinary action should be taken. The discipline should be documented and follow company standards. Hopefully, this will push the employee to reinvest in the action plan.

Know When To Stop

Sometimes, an employee is just a bad fit, and you need to end the business relationship. Don’t shuffle them around the company structure, making it someone else’s problem. Do what needs to be done. (A possible exception here is if the underperformer is returning to a former position they excelled in.)

Dealing with an underperforming employee isn’t easy, but in the end, doing so is better for everyone. Underperformers who rise up and meet the challenges can become important players. Those who don’t may be disappointed when let go, but ultimately, they will be better off finding a job where they can shine.

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