Your Career

How to Handle Underperforming Employees


If you’re a business owner or in a management position, having to deal with an employee whose performance falls below expectation can quickly become your worst nightmare. Even worse, you may have several underperforming employees.

Failing to properly manage an underperforming employee can have a ripple effect on the performance of other employees. Your customers also may be affected by poor performance as they may become frustrated with poor service delivery, and the revenue of your organization may begin to shrink.

An employee whose performance is below expectations can prevent your organization from achieving its goals and objectives. You might even begin to think that all the time and resources you invested in the recruitment process has come to nothing.

So how do you manage an underperforming employee in a way that is beneficial to all parties?

Ask yourself some important questions

Before you confront an underperforming employee, you first need to ask yourself some pertinent and honest questions. If your employees don’t have a clear knowledge of their job descriptions or the duties that are expected from them, they may not even be aware of their underperformance. Ask yourself questions like:

  •     Are you sure that your employees actually know and understand their job descriptions?
  •     Are they aware of the implications or consequences of performing below expectations?
  •     Have they been properly trained and retrained for the position that they occupy?
  •     Do they have too much workload to deal with?
  •     Do they have challenges in their personal life that is responsible for their underperformance?
  •     Are your employees properly motivated to perform their duties effectively?

You need to provide answers to these questions the best way you can before you move on to the next stage of managing underperforming employees.

Focus on facts

Sometimes, when an employee gets a negative appraisal, they might think that you have a personal issue with them or that they are victims of a subjective evaluation process

Bring out the facts, let the underperforming staff know instances in which they have performed below expectations, and how that underperformance has affected other team members, the company, or your customers. Be specific and address the issues at hand in a way that is clearly understood by both parties.

Know the reason(s) for underperformance

Find out the reason why your employee or a member of your team is not performing as expected. Do not just assume that you know the reason; take time to uncover the underlying issues. If that employee in question was performing well before, then what are the reasons for the sudden change? An employee who was once a top performer cannot just suddenly forget how to do their job. You need to get to the root of things. 

Agree on a solution

Have a meaningful conversation with the underperforming employee and agree on the best way forward. Hear their opinion on how they can improve on their performance. Do not just impose certain solutions you think would work for them, or dictate a quick fix. Let the employee also suggest solutions. Maybe they need to undergo additional training. Consider all possibilities.

Give words of encouragement

Try as much as possible to outline areas of their strength where the employee has performed well and encourage them. Let them understand that you hired them because you had faith in their abilities. 

Set time-based performance goals

Collaborate with underperforming employees and set performance targets for them. Let them be part of the target-setting process as well. Set a performance target that is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed). Let the employee be aware of the steps they need to take in order to improve their performance and meet their target. 

When possible, set the target in writing and not just verbally. For more clarity, if you work in a multicultural environment, set goals in the employee’s local language with the help of online translation services.

Monitor progress

Continue to check the performance of employees against set targets. Monitor and analyze how well they are reaching their target. If the employee is still underperforming in certain areas, then you have to bring it to their notice.

Reward improvement

Motivate employees when they show signs of improvement. Don’t forget to encourage or reward them when they are showing meaningful improvement. Just by saying “well done,” “good job,” or “thank you,” you could get them to put in more effort.

Let them go

When you have done all that is within your power to ensure that you get an employee to improve on their performance and there is still no sign of progress, then you have to let them go. Even though dismissal should be a last resort, it is a necessary decision that needs to be taken in the interest of your organization, other employees, and your customers.

As a manager, business owner, or human resource personnel, dealing with underperforming employees is part of your job description. The way you go about the process will say a lot about your professionalism and the overall culture of your organization. It is up to you as a leader in the organization to act promptly to remedy the situation in a professional way.

The earlier you address the issue of underperformance, the better it will be for your organization, your customers, and your bottom line.

Frank Hamilton

Frank Hamilton has been working as a translator at translation service TheWordPoint. He is a professional writing expert in such topics as blogging, digital marketing and self-education. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English. 

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