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How To Help an Underperforming Employee

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Feb 10, 2022
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how to help an underperforming employee

Picture this: you have an employee who is a wonderful individual – gets along with everyone, is pleasant to work with, and overall, their personality is exactly what you look for in your organization. However, when it comes to this employee’s performance at work, the picture is the complete opposite. The employee is slow to get work done, seems to be lacking motivation, and is largely unproductive. What do you do?

Underperforming employees, especially those who are nice, can be somewhat tricky to deal with—you don’t want to hurt their feelings, but you do have to address the elephant in the room. Be it a lack of motivation, a gap in their knowledge or skill set, or behaviors that aren’t conducive to productivity, the employee is costing the company money and time, and in this climate, you really can’t afford to lose either of these things.

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So, what can you as an employer and company leader do about the underperforming employee? How do you get them back on track? Can you get this employee back on track? Simply ignoring the situation and hoping that it will somehow work itself out is probably not your best course of action. Not to mention, allowing the situation to continue will eventually wear on the employee as they will inevitably grow frustrated with the fact that they are not moving forward.

It benefits all parties involved to find a way to help this underperforming employee. You should communicate openly and directly. Be clear about what you see as the problem and discuss potential solutions that you might work on together.

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Motivation: A Key Issue for the Underperforming Employee

For many workers, the question of motivation (or lack thereof) is one that impacts their overall job performance. This is one of the first issues (and usually the main issue) that you should address upon trying to evaluate why an employee is underperforming. Are they motivated? What goals are they working toward? Is there a sufficient reward in place for accomplishing certain objectives? A reward, in this case, could, for example, mean an opportunity for training and advancement; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a tangible reward.

The key here is to figure out if there is a lack of motivation tied to the underperformance. If there is, then this is a great place to start as you attempt to get your employee back on track.

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Five Steps for Improving Employee Performance

As every underperforming employee’s situation is different, there is no one set roadmap for addressing issues of non-productivity. However, there are certain steps you can take and strategies that you can adopt moving forward that can help both you and your employee potentially rectify problems they might be having at work.

  1. Communicate Your Concerns

    It could be that the underperforming employee really isn’t aware of any problems. In fact, often this is the case. As the team leader, you need to be proactive and communicate your concerns to that employee. Be direct in your communication while also using tact in your approach. Create a list of problem areas to help steer the conversation along, and then review the various points on your list. Make the employee aware of what is going on and what the issues are that need addressing.

    In addition, make sure the employee has the opportunity to communicate their concerns with you, as well. Communication is a two-way street, and maybe there is something that you’re not aware of that the employee needs to communicate to you that is a barrier to their productivity. Keeping dialogue as open as possible during this conversation will help you and the employee get the most out of the discussion as you find potential steps forward.

  2. Review Potential Obstacles that the Employee Faces

    Both on your own and in your conversation with the employee, examine some of the issues and obstacles that could be hindering that individual’s performance. For instance, is there something within the work environment that is throwing your employee “off”? This could be easily addressed. Or perhaps there is something going on at home or in their personal life that is making it difficult for them to perform up to expectations. Once those obstacles are uncovered, take the time to develop solutions to them as a team – with both you and the employee “teaming up” against the obstacle to find the best remedy that will lead to a productive path forward.

  3. Consider a Mentoring Approach

    Sometimes we all need a little help along the way. If one of your employees is underperforming, then it could be time to step in and offer some mentorship or coaching. There are a variety of ways in which you might do this. You could start by trying to understand their perspective and then from there, strive to figure out their “why”- Why are they doing this job? Why do they come into the office every day? Why are they passionate about what they do? Once you understand their “why”, this will give you the basics which may help provide a foundation from which to coach them more effectively, ultimately resolving their underperformance issues.
  4. Allow Them to Guide You to the Solution

    In other words, it often works best if you let the employee own their solution. Sure, it’s easy enough to say, “do things this way.” But are they really learning to correct inefficient behavior? When an underperforming employee actually understands the problem and then works through a solution, they are more likely to follow through and thereby rectify the issue at hand. Communication and understanding are key to solving underperformance issues for an employee.

  5. Look for an Alternate Role for the Employee

    It could ultimately be the case that an employee is just in the wrong role. This doesn’t mean that they are not a fit for the company, but what it does mean is that they may be better suited to another department or doing other types of tasks. If, for example, someone is underperforming when it comes to closing sales, then they might not be cut out for that job - whereas they may exhibit a proclivity for handling customer service issues. Considering alternate job/role possibilities could be a win-win answer in this situation. It is important to note that, before looking for an alternate role for the employee, be sure you navigate the situation by using steps 1 through 4 first – and also contacting your HR Consultant before moving said employee to a new role.

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Axcet HR Solutions is Here to Help

Sometimes it might be beneficial to bring in an HR professional to assist you when it comes to trickier employee management issues. We consult with Kansas City-based businesses often helping them work through complex employee problems that can on occasion arise. Contact us today to see how we might help you!

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