how to deal with an underperforming employee

How to Deal With an Underperforming Employee

Underperforming employees are typically not completing their work to the required level and/or failing to perform the duties of their role. As an employer, the last thing you want to do when an employee is underperforming is publicly humiliate them. Even if you’re frustrated by them and have had words with them before about their attitude to work, there are better ways to deal with this situation – and they start by taking a deep breath.

You might be surprised by how much stress and anxiety an underperforming employee can cause themselves and others who work closely with them. But with patience and understanding on your part, it’s possible to help them get back on track without having to let them go. Here are some tips on how to best deal with an underperforming employee:

Talk It Out

It’s important to understand the underlying problems that may lead an employee down the road of underperformance. Is the employee happy with their job and work load? If not, how can it be made more enjoyable?

Are they feeling under any undue pressure from their boss, colleagues, or other managers in the company? According to the Recruitment Bar, around 14.9% of UK workers are unhappy in their jobs due to not liking their boss and 5% are unhappy due to not liking their colleagues. If this is the case for your underperforming employee, what can be done differently by your company to improve these relationships and make things better for everyone involved?

These are all important questions that need to be addressed before any steps are taken to help your underperforming employee effectively. However, to make sure you’re fully aware of the issues that your employee is facing, you need to talk to them.

  • Arrange a one-on-one meeting at a convenient time with your employee
  • Make sure you’re in a place where you can’t be interrupted, so your employee feels listened to
  • Be sure the employee knows the meeting is informal and they should feel free to speak their mind without fear of recourse
  • Ask the employee to be honest about their working environment, and what (if anything) they’d like to change
  • Thank them for their time and honesty and follow up any agreed steps with them in writing

Find Out About Other Underlying Problems

The first step to solving a problem is understanding what that problem is. The more you can figure out about the underlying root cause of an employee’s underperformance, the better chance you have at fixing it.

If your employee has been performing poorly for a while, there may be some underlying issues preventing them from performing well. These issues could be as simple as not understanding what they’re supposed to be doing or feeling overwhelmed by their workload. It could also be something more complicated like depression or anxiety.

Studies show that 72% of employees in the UK feel as if their workplace has negatively affected their physical and/or mental wellbeing; a worrying statistic.  If you have an underperforming employee struggling with any of these problems, it’s important that you address those issues before trying anything else.

Have a Professional Talk to Your Underperforming Employee

Once you’ve tried talking with the employee yourself, it might be time to call in a professional. Professional performance coaches or occupational psychologists can help you understand what is causing the performance issues, what the employee is capable of doing, and what they want to do. By employing a professional to spend time with your employee, it may even relieve some of their worries knowing that their employer cares about why they’re struggling. 

Effectively, this conversation will help you understand what’s going on and how best to proceed if there’s any chance of salvaging your relationship. It will also give your employees some clarity about where they stand with the company.

In order for this process to work well for both parties, it’s important that everyone involved is honest about their commitment levels, so that both sides know where they stand from day one.

Give Your Underperforming Employee Clear Goals and Expectations

Does your underperforming employee have clear goals and expectations? Do they know what’s actually expected of them?

The goal is to achieve a specific result, while the expectation is what you want them to do in order to achieve that result. For example: “Your goal is to train new employees on how to use our software. My expectation of you is that you will complete this training by Friday.”

Depending on how your company operates, compensation or consequences should also be determined whilst setting goas and expectations. Otherwise, it can lead to confusion and conflict if there’s no communication between parties about where your expectations lie.

Check to See What Other Responsibilities They Have

An underperforming employee may be doing other things that are taking up their time, or they might need more training, supervision, authority and/or resources. One in four employees feel they haven’t been given adequate training to do their job well. So maybe they’ve been given tasks that are too challenging for them at this point in their career.

Maybe they just need more time to learn how to do the job well. Your employee may also have responsibilities in their personal life, such as caring for sick or elderly family members, which is in turn negatively impacting their work life. So, it’s important to approach them with empathy and support.

Create a Motivational Plan

When you’ve identified an underperforming employee and the reason behind their underperformance, it’s time to create a plan and set clear goals for them.

This should include:

  • A clear plan of action. Employees need to know what they need to do in order to perform at a higher level. This can be as simple as “you need to work more efficiently by prioritising your workload,” or more specific, like, “make sure your paperwork is organised by department and date.” Make sure the expectations are realistic for this employee by taking into account their experience and past performance history.
  • Feedback on how they’re doing. Giving feedback helps employees understand where they stand in relation to their goals. This will help them feel supported in their efforts to improve—and will also help you identify areas where there may be problems that require additional training or coaching sessions.
  • Incentives to do well. You may also want consider giving them some sort of incentive if they meet certain milestones along the way, such as completing 80% of all assignments on time.

Help Them Set a Schedule

Although some employees may rebel against it, others absolutely thrive on working to a set schedule. Helping an underperforming employee set a schedule will help them to better organise their day.

However, you need to make sure that the schedule is realistic and achievable, so you’re not expecting your employee to work non-stop for days on end without a break. It should also be flexible enough to accommodate changes in their workload or unexpected problems that may arise during the course of a day’s work – such as an emergency request from another department. Remember that no one is going to perform well if they are working 24/7 or they’re worried about how their work-life balance is affecting their day-to-day life. Everyone needs a break!

Consider Lightening Their Load

Has your underperforming employee just got too much to do? Are they spreading themselves too thin and therefore not doing anything particularly well? Is there someone else in the company that can take on some of their workload?

Make sure your employee has everything they need to do their job. This includes having the right tools, people, and time available to them. If a task requires a specialised tool or skill set that is not available in-house, consider hiring someone who can fill this role or outsourcing the work to someone qualified.

Praise Them for a Job Well Done

Everyone needs to feel like they’ve done a good job. It’s easy to focus on the things that are going wrong and ignore the things that are going right. But if you can give your underperforming employee positive feedback, they’ll be more receptive to what you say in future conversations.

Praise is easy to give and can be done during your one-on-one meetings or in front of the entire team. Praise them for something specific: “I really appreciate how hard you worked on this project,” or “I like how much time and effort went into this presentation.” At the same time, make sure that everyone is aware of their contribution.

Individual awards and incentives to employees who are performing well and exceeding targets are also a great way to give praise and show your appreciation for their hard work.

Show Kindness and Understanding

While it’s important to be firm with an underperforming employee, it’s also important to remember that you’re dealing with a human being. The best way to get through to an employee who isn’t fulfilling their job requirements, (or anyone for that matter), is to be kind and understanding. Generally, employees are much more likely to take on constructive criticism and change their actions accordingly, if you’ve approached the situation with kindness.

In conclusion, there are many ways to help an employee who is not performing well. It’s important to remember that they’re human beings with feelings and emotions, just like you. You should always be respectful when addressing their shortcomings. It’s also important to understand that although we spend most of our lives working, we do have personal lives and issues that can affect us in the workplace, which need to be approached with consideration.