Managing underperforming employees: 11 actionable tips

Managing underperforming employees

Have you ever put a lot of effort into building a dream team, but then realized that they were not performing well?

Yeah, we’ve all been there. You hire the best, train them up, and watch them blossom… until some just… don’t.

It’s frustrating, right?

Especially when it’s someone you saw so much potential in. I’ve felt frustrated and disappointed, always torn between hope and reality. 

By trying different methods, I found easy ways to make everyone enjoy this challenge.

In this article, I’ll share the 11 best ways to handle employees who aren’t doing well. 

We’ll look for signs, find causes, and avoid pitfalls as we explore. By the end, you’ll know how to turn failure into success with the right tools and knowledge.

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What is underperformance?

Underperformance refers to an employee not working to their full potential. This term is subjective, as this value is dependent on past comparisons. To calculate this, compare your employee performance data against a predecided value. 

Underperformance is not only limited to the performance of an individual. This also includes signs such as:

  • Spreading negativity
  • Inappropriate behavior in teamwork
  • Significant friction with team members
  • Intentionally violating rules and regulations

Further to put underperformance into perspective, let me share a few statistics. These stats show the hindrance caused by underperforming employees. 

Underperforming employees make a 25% lower contribution to the organization. Furthermore, they have only a 14% chance of staying with the organization.

This clearly depicts the need for identifying underperformance early. So, you can solve the issue before they become a major hurdle. 

What are the signs of underperformance in the workplace?

There is a fine line that separates improvement tips from micromanagement. Therefore, let’s first look for signs that indicate underperformance:

  1. Coming in late for work 
  2. Calling in sick frequently
  3. Anxiety / visible uncertainty
  4. Lacking energy and enthusiasm
  5. Failing to demonstrate teamwork
  6. Creating conflicts with co-workers
  7. Violence / Rude behavior with peers
  8. Struggling to achieve their milestone
  9. Laziness / Negligence towards tasks
  10. Making the same mistakes repeatedly
  11. Frequent and uninformed absenteeism

These above signs will help you identify underperforming employees. In the next section, we will discuss how to deal with underperforming employees. 

11 tips to manage underperforming employees

The following 11 tips will help you manage underperforming team members efficiently. 

1. Setting clear expectations

When managing the performance of your employees, setting clear expectations is essential. When you convey clear expectations to your employees, they work with improved efficiency. 

Clear expectations also serve the purpose of job security. Employees tend to underperform if they are under the impression that their job is at stake. 

Further, while setting expectations, ensure that they are realistic and achievable. Understand and examine the potential of your employees. 

There are chances that your employees have not understood their job description. So, it all comes down to setting realistic and clear expectations. This is the best method of dealing with your underperforming employee. 

2. Continuous feedback mechanism

Feedback sessions provide you with the opportunity to understand issues from both sides. When you are aware of the perspective of your employees, you can guide them with ease. 

A continuous feedback mechanism helps in building an environment of trust. Your employees must know that their opinions are being listened to. They will get the added motivation to complete tasks on time. 

Two-way feedback helps you to understand the reasons why your employees are underperforming. This will assist you in root cause analysis. You can solve the issue once and for all. 

Positive feedback and recognition can motivate your employees. This helps in improving the productivity of your employees. 

3. Creating a responsive environment 

Underperformance starts when your work environment becomes redundant. And in no time, a redundant workplace becomes a toxic workplace. Employees do useless things when they are not occupied to their full potential. 

Toxicity in a workplace is like poison. It affects team members in different departments. If you are late to take corrective measures, it will hinder the productivity of your company. 

A responsive environment builds a culture of togetherness with a strong team bond. This plays a key role in keeping your team members on the same page. 

A responsive work environment provides an advantage in identifying problems early. You can easily spot declining productivity and lower morale. 

4. Build a collaborative action plan

Develop a positive rapport with your underperforming employees. Keep them together when making key decisions. This will increase accountability and motivate them to improve.

The essence of working out an action plan together is to find suitable opportunities. You can look at options such as job redesign, or retraining. This will encourage employees to fix goals for their improvement. 

Involve your employees while creating an action plan. This will help you identify issues related to their personal life. In such cases, you can prevent company resources from going down the drain. You can make corrective decisions with ease. 

Additionally, you can provide time off for your employees in case of any personal issues. However, it all depends on the nature and experience of the employee. 

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5. Training and development sessions

The old wise saying – “Practise makes a man perfect.” 

Provide underperforming employees with adequate training. Ensure that they have a complete understanding of the prevalent work ethics.

Supervisors play a crucial role in understanding the shortcomings of the employees. This helps you to plan and devise training schedules. With an efficient training mechanism, you improve the performance of the employees. Additionally, you can save revenue in the process.  

You might face an extra challenge with remote workers. Your observation is narrow. Remote workforce management requires you to conduct additional research. This is necessary to understand their mindset. Efficient OKR (Objectives and Key Results) helps you manage remote workers with ease. 

6. Timely follow-ups and check-ins

Follow-up meetings provide you a clear picture of the training and development. You can understand the growth of your employees.

Further, you can design an effective schedule and roadmap with this information. With follow-up and check-ins, you can establish a clear cause for underperformance. This will help you to sabotage the root causes of underperformance completely. 

You can build a culture of trust in your work environment with consistent support. This will help your employees to deliver the expected results. 

7. Define clear targets

When dealing with an underperforming employee, do not ‘water down’ the reality. Establish clear expectations and convey them to your employees in a positive manner. Provide them with an effective timeframe, before which you want to see changes. 

When you water down your response to a situation, employees tend to make that their habit. They continue making more mistakes before they boil up the entire workplace. 

Another reason is that employees want to take in what they are comfortable listening to. This is because of their self-esteem. And in situations where targets are not clear, employees tend to make assumptions. 

The work breakdown structure in the statement of work will come in handy. You can create timesheets with that data. This will serve as a disclaimer for your employees. The documented process will warn them of failing to achieve the target. 

8. Identify individual strengths

In some cases, employees end up in the wrong positions. Your leadership skills come to the fore when you identify such issues. This will help you in efficient employment planning. 

Although this is a matter of subjectivity, different employees have different strengths. And is some cases, employees themselves do not apprehend their own strengths. 

You can create an effective strategy for individual employees. This will streamline the improvement process. 

9. Encourage a healthy work-life balance 

A healthy work-life balance is a secret hack! Employees with a healthy lifestyle perform better at the workplace. 

66% of employees claim they would perform better at work if they slept a little longer! – Glassdoor survey

Surprising, isn’t it? 

Working in a stressful work environment leads to fatigue. This leads to a loss of motivation and results in underperformance. 

Encourage your employees to have a positive lifestyle. When your employees spend too much time at the work desk, they go through enormous stress. 

Provide employees with time off. Additionally, you can also provide them with wellness training. This will lower the stress, strain, and workload pressure. Such employees work with enhanced concentration.  

10. Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

This is a step that you should resort to at the last. Provide more than one opportunity for underperforming employees to rectify the issue. Never use PIP as the first method to solve underperformance in your team members. 

PIP is a roadmap that serves the function of a legal document when terminating an employee. This depicts that the employee is not improving their performance after repeated attempts. 

Human resources professionals play a key role in implementing PIP. This will provide you with a clear result. Either you will see an improvement in the performance of your employees or a training gap.  

Note: Rectify the training gap with efficient planning and implementation. In other cases, a gap can also show an employee who is unwilling to improve and is a ‘bad hire’. 

11. Make a collective decision 

In some cases, employees do not learn and repeat mistakes over and over again. Then it is not an underperforming employee. That is a ‘bad hire’. 

Bidding goodbye or terminating an employee may feel sad. Certain endings are necessary for fresh beginnings.

You need to accept that things always do not work out the way you want them to. In such cases, it is better to end your efforts and look for a different employee. 

Let me conclude with a phrase from the Journal of Society for Human Resource Management. “Immediate termination may be appropriate for egregious misconduct.” 

After all, the basic accountability lies with your employees. You cannot expect them to change overnight because you want them to. 

Note: Document every step of your effort in the improvement process as evidence. Ensure that you terminate the agreement as per the local rules and regulations.  

What causes underperformance at work?

Underperformance is a serious issue that hinders the performance of an individual employee. In the long run, this affects the productivity of your team. 

The primary reasons that cause underperformance are  

1. Lack of motivation

Employees lack motivation when they are not provided with effective feedback. Such employees go into a defensive mode and give up putting in the effort to complete work. Continuously appreciate your employees for the work they put in. This will keep them motivated. 

Also, employees are active when they are in the probation period. Employees feel redundant when working in the same environment for a long time. They lose their motivation and morale. 

Failure to provide employees with timely incentives and at-par salary lowers their morale. Lack of motivation results in a monotonous workstyle. Employees stop taking risks and do not come up with innovative ideas. 

2. Peer conflicts

In one of my previous articles, I talked about organizational conflict. Such conflicts hamper the productivity of the company. Such conflicts result in the underperformance of employees. 

Solving conflicts and disagreements is essential for employees to work together. Failure to solve issues at a small level builds up unease and tension in the workplace. 

Without team bonding, employees start underperforming. They fail to deliver the expected results. 

3. Suitability issues 

There are chances that an employee is suitable for the role on paper. But, they are not suited for the designation and the environment. In such a case they lose interest and start underperforming. 

This happens when the person comes from a different work culture. Such employees take time to adapt and must be open to mold. Provide the necessary information to new joiners at the time of onboarding. This will prepare them mentally for the work environment. 

The best method to solve this issue is by providing adequate training. Such situations are troublesome. The only way to solve this issue is by letting the person go. 

4. Excessive overloading 

Employees lose focus and get stressed out when they have a heavy workload. Such employees lose out on deadline management and are behind schedule. 

Also, there are cases where employees get promotions or have a change in their field of work. This sudden change in workload leads to an impact on their mental health. 

You must start using digital tools that assist you in even distribution of workload. This will ensure that you assign work to your team members as per their potential. 

Mistakes to avoid when you managing underperformance

To efficiently handle underperforming employees you should slow down and hold back your intrusive instincts. Strategic management helps you prepare a roadmap. This will help you manage employees with ease.

I have seen managers going hard on underperforming employees. This may backfire and result in wrongful termination. Frequent mistakes in handling employee underperformance include 

1. Co-relating sickness to underperformance 

One of the most common mistakes in identifying underperformance is sickness. When an employee returns from prolonged sick leave, their performance is not high. This is not an underperforming employee. 

Employees take some time to get back to routine. The process of “phased return to work” comes in handy in such a situation. 

2. Shortcomings in the onboarding process

There are cases when the employee is new to the company and has not adapted to the work environment. This happens when the workplace is overwhelming. In some cases, it could be because the employee was not provided with an effective induction. 

The onboarding process plays a key role in molding and adapting an employee. This lays the foundation for employees to understand their expectations. 

3. Overemphasis on the result 

While working with an underperforming employee, the improvement process is continuous. You need to prepare a roadmap with a steady development plan. 

Celebrating small wins and recognition plays a crucial in the improvement process. Focussing on the end result will lead to enormous stress on the employee. This will spoil the entire process. 

4. Using the one-size-fits-all approach

Different employees have different mindsets. You cannot expect your employees to respond to changes in the same way. Organize the resources in your workplace. This will help your employees to be productive. They will also be able to overcome their differences and work together. 

Employees face difficulty when they are not given space. They lose morale and fall to the verge of giving up. 

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Underperformance is a key issue that hinders productivity and the scheduled workflow. Look for symptoms early. This helps you to take corrective measures on time. 

Effective managers understand their employees better and bring out the best in them. It is not necessary to deal with underperformance with an iron hand. Instead, an effective roadmap will help you in the process.

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What should managers do first when faced with poor performance?

The first step when noticing poor performance is initiating a constructive feedback session. After identifying the root cause of the problem, create a roadmap for improvement. Follow up the discussion with check-in meetings. This will ensure that the employee is improving and on the road toward progress.

How do managers evaluate employee performance?

Managers evaluate employee performance with regular assessments and timely feedback sessions. You can also take help from Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Continuous monitoring plays a key role in identifying employee performance. This will help you to take corrective action on time.

What is HR's role in handling performance issues?

HR plays the role of a bridge. They organize conversations between the employees and the management. They keep track of the employee performance over time. This ensures a fair and consistent work process. They focus on the all-round improvement of the individuals.

How do you motivate an underperforming employee?

The primary step in motivating an underperforming employee is to provide constructive feedback. You can create a roadmap for their improvement. Further, provide training and skill development sessions to underperforming employees. This will help to build motivation and improve the performance of the employees.

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