How to Deal With an Underperforming Employee

If you’re an employer or manager, one of the most challenging aspects of your job is dealing with underperforming employees. It’s a problem that can be frustrating for everyone involved. If left unchecked, employee underperformance can hurt the overall productivity of your team.

Let’s explore ways to handle underperformance, starting with creating clear job expectations during the hiring process. We’ll also look at signs of underperformance, questions to ask underperforming employees, and ways to motivate them to improve their performance.

If all else fails, and the employee isn’t able or willing to improve, the last resort is to fire them. We’ll discuss how to do that in a classy way that minimizes harm and risks to your firm.

Expectations and Job-Employee Matching

One of the best ways on how to manage underperformance is by having a clear outline of what the job entails. For example, during the hiring process, the issue of underperformance can be resolved by creating job requirements that are as clear as possible, to avoid confusion.

Exact job specifications don’t only assist in the hiring process by thoroughly screening the candidates and evaluating their skills, but they also allow the interviewer to document the expectations of the company. This would avoid any confusion in the long run, and have the guarantee that the applicant, turned employee, would have a full knowledge of what the job entails.

Signs of an Underperforming Employee

Businessman at desk viewing large printouts

Here are some signs that an employee may be underperforming.

  1. Missed deadlines or incomplete assignments
  2. A decline in the quality of work
  3. Lack of enthusiasm or motivation towards work
  4. Consistently arriving late or leaving early
  5. Low productivity or output compared to peers
  6. Negative or uncooperative behavior towards colleagues
  7. Receiving frequent complaints from customers or clients
  8. Poor attendance or an excessive number of sick days
  9. Failing to meet key performance indicators or targets
  10. Inability to adapt to new processes or technologies.

If you notice any of these signs, take action! Start by having a conversation with the employee to understand their challenges and identify any potential solutions. Provide constructive feedback, set clear expectations, and offer additional training or resources can also help. Ideally, you’ll support the person and help get them back on track.

Questions to Ask the Underperformer

If you’ve got an underperforming employee, try to handle the situation with care and respect. You’re going to have to have a conversation with them that could get uncomfortable. But showing respect will help each of you handle it well.

Here are some questions you could ask to help get to the root of the problem.

  1. Can you walk me through your current workload and responsibilities?
  2. Are there any challenges or obstacles you’re facing that are preventing you from meeting expectations?
  3. Have you received enough training and resources to complete your tasks effectively?
  4. What specific goals do you have for your role, and how do you think you can improve your performance to achieve them?
  5. Is there anything that we as a company can do to better support you in your role?
  6. Have you received feedback on your performance from your supervisor or colleagues, and if so, what areas were highlighted for improvement?
  7. How can we work together to create a plan for improvement and ensure that you have the necessary support and resources to succeed?

Remember to approach such conversations with an open mind. You should be willing to work collaboratively to find a solution. With the right approach and support, your underperforming employee may turn things around and potentially become a valued member of the team.

How to Motivate an Underperforming Employee

Smiling woman interviewing man in her office

The success of a business relies on employee performance of its employees. Ideally, underperformance can be stopped before it becomes a bigger issue. Here are some proven strategies that can help you motivate underperforming employees to do better and become productive team members.

1. Performance Reviews

More often than not, underperforming employees aren’t even aware that they fail to meet the expectations of the manager. For that reason, performance reviews should be carried out on a regular, periodic basis. This is very helpful in determining if the employee is underperforming, allowing management to fix the problem right away.

However, this should not be treated as something similar to a “report card.” Instead, it’s more of a two-way dialogue and continuous process that could help an employee improve his performance.

The following questions should be asked:

  • In your opinion, what do you think the expectations of the company are?
  • Are you meeting these expectations? What are the areas that you fail to focus on?
  • Do you have any issues with the company that’s causing your underperformance? How can it be resolved?
  • Are there any parts of your job that you cannot handle? What are they.
  • Are you having problems with your co-workers? Does it hinder your performance?

As these problem areas are discussed, as much as possible, stay away from being vague or using generalizations that could be taken personally by the employee. It’s important to talk about the specific problems and necessary actions that can be done in order to correct them.

For underperforming employees, it’s ideal to document the exact performance by determining what should be done in order to resolve the problem. Keep in mind, the ultimate goal is to motivate and empower the employees to become productive members of the company.

2. Offer the necessary training

Performance problems can be caused by employees coming to work not fully prepared. A number of factors can contribute to this, such as being hired even without the necessary skills, or it can also be that the job has evolved.

In situations like this, training is very important. The employer is tasked to budget this, provide additional funds when necessary, and specify the kind of training employees need.

3. Mentoring program

In a mentoring program, employees are matched with skilled professionals that can help the employee acquire more skill and learn the important attitudes needed for the job. Aside from that, a mentor could motivate the employee to strive harder, and grow together with the company.

In fact, a solid mentoring program has the ability of transforming underperformers into stars that could contribute to the company’s success. Mentoring develops aptitudes in multiple areas and enables you to quickly learn from someone else’s mistakes.

4. Promote a sense of ownership

In bad work environments, employees go to work just to earn a paycheck – nothing more. There’s no real excitement that they can look forward to. The company doesn’t have a vision nor opportunities that would make them aspire to become an integral part of the company.

Performance reviews, mentoring, and training are just some of the best ways to help an employee consider the job as something important and whatever he/she contributes to the company is valued. This gives a sense of ownership and the mindset that “we’re all in this together.”

Let Them Go if Necessary

For employers who don’t believe that their employee has the ability to work effectively within the company, even with full support, it might be the best to just terminate employment. A decision like this should be taken seriously, and clean communication about the performance problem should be done.

Terminating an employee is a serious decision. Make it thoughtfully and carefully. If you have an employee who is not performing and you’ve exhausted all remedial efforts, here are some steps you can take to terminate their employment.

  1. Document the employee’s performance issues. Before terminating an employee, you should have a record of their underperformance. This could include notes from meetings, emails, performance evaluations, or any other relevant documentation.
  2. Review the employment agreement or contract. Review the terms of the employment agreement or contract to ensure that you are following any legal or contractual requirements related to termination.
  3. Schedule a meeting. Schedule a private meeting with the employee to inform them that their employment is being terminated. This meeting should be conducted in a professional and respectful manner.
  4. Provide a clear explanation. Explain the termination, including specific examples of the employee’s underperformance and the steps that were taken to try to address the issues.
  5. Offer support. While the decision to terminate an employee is final, it’s important to offer support and compassion during the process. This could include providing a severance package or offering assistance with finding a new job.
  6. Protect your company. Take steps to protect your company during and after the termination process. This could include changing passwords, revoking access to company systems, and ensuring that the employee returns any company property.

Firing an employee is a serious decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Follow legal and ethical guidelines and ensure that you’re treating the person with dignity and respect.