How to Properly Manage Underperforming Employees?

Keith Coppersmith is a business and marketing expert who has experienced both the rise and fall of many businesses. He enjoys writing and providing insight of the marketing industry based on both practice and theory.

Did you know that over 50% of the U.S. workforce feel disengaged? This further leads to serious workplace underperformance that can hurt businesses on multiple levels.

First, underperforming employees can bring down the overall workplace satisfaction and productivity.

Second, employee dissatisfaction further affects customer experiences and directly impacts your industry reputation.

Third, underperforming employees will soon leave you. Gallup says that 73% of disengaged workers are looking for new job opportunities, opposed to 37% of their engaged colleagues.

Given these facts, it’s not surprising at all that underperforming staff is costing businesses between $450 and $550 billion annually.

So, instead of ignoring underperformance problems and sweeping them under the carpet, take immediate steps to resolve them fast.

Here are a few ways to do so.

Ensure your Employees Know what their Roles Are

If you notice that one of your top candidates is underperforming, your goal is to have a nice, long talk to them. One of the first steps to take is to ensure an employee understands what their roles and missions at your company are. Talk to them about their specific roles and the importance of their jobs. Be clear about the goals and missions of your company. Most importantly, explain how they, as individuals, fit in your holistic corporate vision.

Provide Regular Feedback

Not talking to an underperforming employee just because you don’t want to upset them is not the solution. How can you expect someone to change their behaviors when they don’t even know that they’re doing something wrong?

To improve their workplace engagement, each staff member should know where they are, compared to your expectations. First, when setting performance goals, include your employees. Ask them how they would like to improve, what skills they would like to learn, and what they would like to change.

After setting clear performance goals, follow up with your employees. Track their performance regularly and create performance reports. Now, employers usually choose to provide feedback monthly or quarterly. However, for some teams, this is not enough. Research proves that highly engaged workers get feedback from their managers weekly.

When creating an employee productivity report, make sure it’s clear, unbiased, and to-the-point. Its purpose is to let your employees know about their major performance problems and help them minimize them. Most importantly, give them the opportunity to talk to you about their performance and ask you for advice in-person.

Ask for Feedback

Don’t wait and expect your underperforming employee to go to your office and start talking. Whether they’re facing professional or personal problems, they would not be comfortable talking to you about them. That’s why you should encourage them to talk to you regularly and ask them for feedback.

For starters, foster an open-door culture. Your employees should know that they can talk to you whenever they face a problem. Encourage them to tell you what their main challenges are and ask them whether they have any ideas on how to address them.

Ask them openly about their opinions of your management tactics. Many top employees decide to leave their workplace because of poor management. If your employees are not comfortable talking about this issue in-person, you can always throw a pulse survey, ensuring the utmost anonymity.

Incentivize Hard Work and Improvement

Rewarding workplace productivity and dedication is one of the most powerful employee engagement and retention tactics. Sure, you first need to know what types of rewards work for your workers and focus on them. Here are a few ideas to consider.

  • Show personal appreciation. Knowing that you care about them as individuals will encourage employees to keep impressing you. Help them celebrate personal milestones. Provide them with flexible working time. Sometimes, even simple “thank you” can go a long way.
  • Choose rewards that motivate. One of the most mainstream ways to incentivize your employees for exceptional performance is to give them a bonus or a raise. In addition to these traditional rewarding methods, you can make this process more personalized. Buy a gift card at their favorite bookstores or coffee shops. Instead of money, go with a universal gift card employees can use at multiple stores and locations. If an employee has a sweet tooth, why not gift them a box of chocolates with a personalized thank-you note?
  • Praise them publicly. Instead of monotonous “employee of the month” tactics that only grow unhealthy competition among your staff members, why not schedule a meeting just to emphasize an employee’s notable improvement and contribution to the team. You could even publish photos of your top-performing employees on your Instagram or Facebook profiles to spread the word about their success and make them feel appreciated.

Take Advantage of a Buddy System

A buddy system is all about helping your staff members fit in better, make friends, learn from each other, and work more efficiently. A buddy should be one of your seasoned employees. Choose someone who can make a good mentor – someone with lots of patience and experience. You could use the buddy system during the onboarding process, helping your new employees understand their roles better. This could also be a good solution for managing underperforming employees, as they trust their coworkers more than managers. Talking to an experienced colleague they appreciate would help them relax and, at the same time, motivate them to work harder.

Give Them Advancement Opportunities

Talk to your underperforming employees to find out what motivates them. Give them the opportunity to explain how they envision the growth of their career over time. Most importantly, show them that their goals matter by supporting their career advancement.

For starters, provide them with the proper mentorship and educational training opportunities. Statistics say that 30% of Millennials would stay with their current employers if they give them advancement opportunities.

Next, give them more challenging and creative tasks and that will engage them. Put them in charge of your major project, introduce them to your key clients, and ask them to sit on a panel on your company’s behalf.

Identify External Causes of Employee Underperformance

If one of the most hard-working people in your team starts underperforming, you need to understand the source of their poor productivity and satisfaction. Then, ask them openly whether there is any temporary personal problem that may impact their behaviors. This could be anything, from divorce to mental problems or their general health. Be empathetic, encourage them to open up, and offer help. Still, remember that you’re a boss, not a friend – make sure that this line never gets blurred.

Eliminate Distractions

Think about your overall working conditions and ask yourself whether there is anything you should change.

For example, the 2017 survey shows that employees spend more than 5 hours on personal activities. So, what’s the solution to this problem? If they’re taking selfies or using social networks, should you ban the use of personal phones? Of course not. Give them some me-time and let them relax, but make sure you set clear boundaries.

Ask yourself whether the lack of performance is caused by the lack of tools they need to get their work done. For example, one of the most common workplace distractions is email. Believe it or not, each week, employees spend 11.7 hours at work and 5.3 hours at home reading and sending emails. So, why not automate and centralize your workflow using project management tools? With these tools, employees will receive only those emails relevant to the projects they’re working on.

Finally, are there any motivation killers you should pay attention to? These could be too small office spaces, the lack of natural light, ineffective employee collaboration, poor management, lots of time-wasting meetings – anything that may hurt your employees’ morale.

Over to You

All companies, irrespective of their size or popularity face the problem of underperformance. And, the way they address it determines your future success. Nurture the open-door policy. Ask employees about their needs, preferences, and personal problems that may affect their performance. Most importantly, provide feedback regularly, show you’re listening to them actively and provide actionable solutions to their problems.

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