30 Actionable Tips for Managing Underperforming Employees

How To Handle Underperforming Employees?

Underperforming employees are a common problem of any workplace, but that doesn’t mean it makes it any less dangerous for the company’s growth. 

It is evident to never let underperformance fester your organization as it grows gradually and eats up the productivity and progress of the company. 

The earlier you notice and set out to fix it, the better chances you have to rectify it. 

So you might have noticed employees becoming more unreliable, slow, lazy, checked out, inconsistent, performing poorly, responsive, or any other problem. 

Well, here are ways to deal with underperforming employees, and also step-by-step ways to motivate them. 

Also, a few tips on how you can prevent festering underperformance in the first place or find ways to optimize it. 


How to Motivate an Underperforming Employee?

Underperforming Employees

Head-on Approach Towards Addressing The Problem 

If it is evident that an employee is going down with their performance, it is not recommended to wait for him or her to talk or come forward. 

It is rare that you get the underperforming employees to take a proactive approach and reach out to management about it. 

So it is necessary to face the problem and address it right away. Performance problems are usually never dealt with directly. 

Instead of taking necessary action, the manager will just transfer the employee to someone where or tell him to stay put. 

It is only the crisis or some major fall that it takes to recognize the underperforming human resource festering in an organization. 

By that time, it might leave management with very less and more irritating solutions but not without the damage that has already been caused. 

Investigating The Root Cause 

Once you address the problem, the first most thing to do is investigate the bottom of the situation and find its root cause. 

Whether your employee is not fit for the job or lacks the required skills, it is on you being in management or human resource. 

Such issues can actually be fixed with proper training. 

So you see, when you know the root cause of underperforming employees, you may have a proposed solution at hand.

There can be other causes of the underperformance such as your heightened expectation or misunderstood unexpectedness. 

That too required a different approach as a solution. For example, in this case, you have to see the previous performance record of the person. 

If it wasn’t much of a fluctuation and almost consistent as of today, you might be the problem or the miscommunication in-between. 

Then you need a proper streamlined procedure to hire with set expectations of work and that to be acknowledged on both sides. 

Be Objective 

One of the key things you need to look for with motivating underperforming employees is your own objectivity towards it.

Make sure you approach the issue with utter objectivity and not with bias.  

A lot of times, and more than companies or management would like to agree, their perception of a particular employee underperforming often comes from their biased experiences with them. 

Sometimes, it is often that employees’ mistakes frustrate the manager or the person in a higher position that cloud their judgment. 

What happens is all they can see is their mistakes and not all work they are putting. 

Sometimes it is also because of the lack of communication or miscommunication between the employee and management. 

Initiating A Conversation

This certainly can be the first thing you go ahead to do with the underperforming employee. 

Once you have unbiased information, it is the best time to start a conversation with the person. 

You have to share about the observations done on the person, how their actions are affecting the team and the organization as well. 

Try not to be very accusation with your tone and more concerned. Tell them that you’re there to help them. 

You also tell them that they can do better and even allow them to participate. Ask them to provide ideas on how this can be improved. 

Also, it is better not to expect or pressure them to get all the answers at the moment but rather give them few days to come up with a plan. 

Coaching The Employee 

First, you need to see how much the employee or whether he or she is interested to be coached. 

And if they are, you can go ahead but trying to coach someone who doesn’t want to be, won’t do any good. 

But if they are willing to change and grow, you would need a plan in order to move forward.

The best you can do is collaborate and decide on very specific improvements and goals to achieve. 

Put it down on the paper and start working towards it. Put small tasks and changes they need to make and track their progress. 

Do not allow the employee to exhaust himself or herself with unrealistic goals. Give them time. 

Understand that with investing time, hard work, and guidance, they will change and acquire new skills or improve in their work. 

Laying Out A Plan 

A plan you need is not just to start coaching the employee with some initial nano steps of improvement but also a long-term multi-level framework. 

It is to create a dotted-line framework for yourself or whosoever coaching and the employee from one end to another. 

This will reduce the hard work, decision fatigue, and time, spend to run this coaching or mentoring process. 

It will include all the possible scenarios and strategies to cope with it. 

For example, considering the kind of problem the employee has, there might be an issue of them not cooperating or even feel upto. 

So, for such a condition, one way to deal with it is to have a counselor talk to the employee regarding his mental state and feelings. 

Maybe a clarity of thoughts under a few sessions or removing some basic confusion will help to speed up the coaching process. 

Monitor Progress 

Monitoring Progress from the very start of the coaching process is critical to this journey. 

In fact, without monitoring progress, you wouldn’t know what strategic and accurate steps to take that will help to get better and faster results. 

Monitoring must be something that should not bother the employee too much, especially his core work at the office. 

Even if, they get completely on the training grounds, it should be mutually be choreographed with their work. 

Monitoring progress is about documenting whether the employee is doing better in the set areas or not. 

So there can be different metrics for the progress of different employees and particular goals. 

Regular Follow-Ups 

Follow-up is the crucial part of coaching an underperforming employee. You need to take consistent follow up with them. 

It can be on a set schedule so the employee would expect you to share updates. 

Monitoring their progress over this whole time is a step you cannot miss. It will help you to move in the right direction with the employee. 

You would know what things to put more focus on or come up with a different strategy when you assess the progress. 

Make sure this relationship and interaction must be confidential. It is important to make this comfortable for the employee. 

Follow-up should also be about picking the mind of the employee. Ask how they feel about the progress they are making. 

In which parts, are they having more difficulty adapting or changing and what more resources can help them. 

Give Rewards For Changes

You are coaching the employee with regular follow-up and consistent tracking of their progress. 

And then you see them actually progressing, improving, and even if that is a very short level, you need to reward them. 

Don’t make them feel that they have a gun on their head. Make sure they feel appreciated when they move forward. 

It will help them take a more positive approach and put in more effort. It also improves the relationship between the employee and the management. 

They are more likely to start caring about their work and the company as well. 

Take Action Only If Needed 

After you go all through this work, and you still see no improvement. It is certainly time to change your approach to this problem. 

There can be a case where the employee might start to take advantage of your kind approach to this issue. 

They begin to use it as their leverage, you need to get into the consequences speech leaving all the coaching and mentoring behind. 

Make sure you open this door only when you are entirely sure that there’s no other choice and no scope or willingness from the employee to change. 

However, don’t allow your ego to get into all of this. Neither be emotional or too sentimental about it as well. 

Take the necessary action that you left with all rationality and consideration for the betterment of the organization. 


30 Effective Ways To Deal With Underperforming Employees

Ways To Deal With Motivate Underperforming Employees

Be Prepared 

You need to assure that you are prepared to confront the underperforming employee. 

The preparation involves gathering as much as evidence required to state the facts and present your case to the employee. 

It is important that you are ready with all details like reports, materials, even witness records or people’s views if required. 

The idea is to not be able to make your case that leaves plenty of room for confusion and unnecessary conflict. 

Also, you would not want to make the condition hostile for the employee, rather more cooperative and understanding. 

Avoid Emotional Confrontation 

You might have just noticed the huge backlog of underperformance metrics from an employee. 

And the first reaction might be anger, frustation, disappointment, and other tons of negative emotions. 

So if you decide to confront the employee at the moment with the current state of mind, you are more likely to lash out or make it worse. 

No one will be going to benefit from accusatory behavior or threatening or any rant about how disappointed you are or how badly it affects the company. 

You certainly will get the chance to communicate your disappointment as you do owe an explanation being at a leader or manager spot. 

But it has to be more thoughtful without creating a hostile situation for the employee. 

Be Specific With Issue 

You can go round and round with the issue while communicating with the employee regarding their performance. 

But it will just give vague space where miscommunication can fester and take the best of you both. 

So better talk in the specific pointers where you see things went wrong and point it out to the employee. 

Have detailed documentation, records, and even notes to show how bad these problems are and what it means for the company. 

Make sure you have data to back your statements. If it is about not meeting the target, have the worksheet, if it is about exploiting the policy, have the company policy at hand. 

Talking in just broad terms will take this discussion to leave the room for misinterpretation. 

Deal It With High Priority Base

Underperforming does not always tend to get the attention of the manager. When you don’t deal with it, employees are encouraged to do and get away with it. 

It is not just about one employee but impacts the working culture and spirit of the company including other hard-working employees. 

The longer you take to deal with it, the worse it will become to acclimatize back in the place. 

When you can see an employee underperforming in one way or another, you need to take the step right away. 

Having a meeting right away where you do more listening rather than talking is a better approach. 

You need to assure that employees feel valued and accounted for. They should get the point that even if they have made a mistake, they still get a chance to correct it. 

Understanding The External Factors 

You cannot be one-dimensional with any problem, especially where people are involved. 

Performance issues or inefficiencies can be due to different reasons and it can be something suddenly seen after a certain point or maybe slowly increased over time. 

The point is, you need to examine all kinds of external factors that play out in the employees’ personal and professional life. 

It might be just a temporary situation where he or she is going through some personal problems, a new child, relationship troubles, health issues, etc. 

Or it can be something that happened after which he or she is unable to do his or her best. 

Look for their previous records in other offices or just start assessing their time in the organization since the beginning. 

Maybe you will find out they have been the same since the very beginning or maybe after a point when something bad happened in the office only. 


How to Motivate an Underperforming Employee

Asking Yourself 

Employees need to have a basic understanding of what is expected of them. It is the responsibility of the management to set this expectation. 

It is important for employees to have a benchmark of performance on different factors such as quality, time, efficiency that employees are aware of. 

If it is not clear, even they won’t be able to know that they are underperforming. Especially when the factors or differences are too subtle. 

Also, this extra flexibility in the first place creates the vagueness of the required performance level that employees are more likely to never notice. 

So make sure you clearly tell what you expect from them. It should be specified, detailed, and very clear. 

And if you haven’t set it yet and now you are facing underperforming employees, then, to begin with, it is important to set a benchmark or expectations. 

Providing Required Training 

You have to ensure that all of your employees or team members are receiving the required training. 

Apart from that, when you notice an employee underperforming, it is a fair response to bring them again for the training. 

It depends upon the reason for being underperforming. If they lack the required skills or proper training, they need to go through that. 

There can also be a specialized training program that you can offer your underperforming employee. 

It will be customized in order to revamp the efficiency and sharpen the skills of that particular employee. 

And then, make sure you also monitor their progress in the training program and see what more can be done to improve the case. 

Finding Out What Motivates Your Employees 

General practice can be always done to reduce the chances of getting an underperforming employee in the first place. 

It is to understand the motivations of the employees towards the work needed to be done to meet the company goals. 

When you truly recognize the factors as what drives them, you can optimize it to even improve their performance. 

It can be also done through surveys or one-to-one interactions asking relevant and important questions such as  

  • What would they expect from their work culture? 
  • Where will they see themselves in the next 1 year?
  • What more can be done to improve their efficiency? 

And so much more. 

Also, when you do find an underperforming employee or just anyone who seems to be fluctuating from their usual efficiency levels, you can redo these questions with them. 

Maybe ask them more about what’s going on currently, or what changed. The central idea is to know your employees. 

Showing Them How They Fit In The Company Mission

Whether you want to prevent the underperformance in your employees or motivate an underperforming employee, showing them the big picture helps a lot. 

It works because people want to associate with a bigger mission and when you show them how and where they fit in the company mission, they will be more dedicated. 

Now, they will have an identity to stick with. Also, it brings so much clarity in terms of what and how specific tasks play a bigger role in a company’s growth. 

They will actually gain self-confidence and pride from the fact that their usual daily work is helping the company to grow. 

Give them a more holistic understanding of the company and you will see higher employee engagement as well as improvement in performance as well. 

Include Them In Creating Process Of Performance Goals 

Underperformance employees or any such case often feel outside of the whole equation. 

Lack of participation and control also makes them reluctant and disinterested in the tasks. 

Also, when they do not understand the performance goals, what it means, and how it impacts the company and their own growth as well, they aren’t motivated enough to achieve it either. 

The best way to tackle this is to include them in the process of creating performance goals for them. 

Ask them how they would want to grow in the workplace.  What new skills will be able to help them to do their job better? 

You need to collaborate with them to set SMART ( Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed) performance goals to improve. 

Make sure you keep this discussion all about improving performance and not anything else like criticism or complaints. 


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