Women discuss underperforming employees

How to help underperforming employees in your business

We share useful strategies to reengage your staff member and get them back on track.

As a manager, having underperforming employees on your team can be frustrating and challenging. Not only can it negatively impact productivity and the overall success of the business, but it can also lead to decreased job satisfaction and motivation for the employee and their colleagues.

Here we’ll look at how it presents in the workplace, why great employees have periods of underperformance and useful strategies to reengage your staff member and get them back on track.

What is underperformance?

Employee underperformance is when an employee is no longer meeting the expectations or standards set by their employer. This could be in terms of job performance, productivity, or output.

Underperformance can manifest in a variety of ways:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Poor quality work
  • Lack of initiative or motivation
  • Frequent absenteeism
  • Failure to meet performance goals.

Underperforming employees can have negative consequences for both the individual and the business.

For the employee, it can result in lower job satisfaction (See: ‘Resenteeism’: The next trend in the workplace), lack of career advancement opportunities, and potential disciplinary action or termination.

For the business, underperformance can lead to decreased productivity, lower quality of work, decreased customer satisfaction, and potential loss of business or revenue.

Manager plans a course of action for underperforming employees

Why do great employees underperform?

It’s important to remember that underperformance is not always a result of a lack of effort or ability.

There are many potential reasons why even great employees may sometimes underperform, including:

  1. Lack of clarity

If an employee is not clear about their job responsibilities or the expectations for their role, they may struggle to meet performance standards. It is important that managers provide clear and detailed job descriptions, goals, and expectations.

  1. Insufficient training

Even the best employees need to be properly trained and supported to perform at their best. If an employee lacks the necessary skills or knowledge to perform their job duties, they may underperform.

  1. Personal issues

Sometimes personal issues or challenges can affect an employee’s performance at work. These could include health problems, family issues, financial stress, or other personal concerns that may impact their ability to focus and perform at their best.

  1. Burnout

High-performing employees may be more prone to burnout if they are consistently working long hours, taking on too much responsibility, or experiencing a high level of stress in their job.

  1. Lack of motivation

Even the most dedicated employees may experience periods of low motivation or engagement. This could be due to a lack of recognition or appreciation, feeling unchallenged in their role, or not seeing a clear path for career advancement.

Planning for underperforming employees

6 tips to manage underperforming employees

  1. Identify the root cause/s

Its essential employers identify and address employee underperformance as soon as it is noticed. Talk to your employee to find out what’s going on at home or if they are having issues in the office or with their work. The employee may not be aware they aren’t meeting expectations, or instead, they might recognise right away what the cause of their issue is. Once you have identified the root cause, it will be easier to address the issue.

  1. Provide constructive feedback

It’s crucial that after you have identified the cause, you work through any crucial constructive feedback that could assist the employee to better complete their work. This feedback should be regular, specific, measurable, and actionable. You should also provide feedback on the employee’s strengths and areas for improvement. This will help them understand where they need to improve and how they can do it.

  1. Set clear expectations

This includes setting goals, defining their roles and responsibilities, and providing them with the necessary resources to perform their job effectively. Setting clear expectations will help employees understand what is expected of them, which will motivate them to perform better.

  1. Provide training and development

Providing training and development opportunities is essential to improve employee performance. It will help employees acquire new skills, improve their existing skills, and enhance their knowledge. Training and development also demonstrate your commitment to your employee’s growth and development, which will increase their engagement (See: Six ways to boost employee engagement) and motivation.

  1. Offer support

Underperforming employees may need additional support and guidance to improve their performance. This could include one-on-one coaching, mentoring, or counselling (EAP). You should also provide them with the necessary resources and support to overcome any personal or professional challenges that may be affecting their performance.

  1. Create a performance improvement plan

If an employee’s performance does not improve after providing feedback, training, and support, you may need to create a performance improvement plan. This plan should outline specific goals, timelines, and measurable outcomes. It should also include consequences if the employee fails to meet the goals outlined in the plan.


Managing underperforming employees requires patience, empathy, and effective


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