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Have an Underperforming Employee? These 10 Things Can Help Spike Performance

In this article, you will learn to spot an underperforming employee and ways to motivate them with new energy and renewed gusto to restore peak performance.

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In this article, you will learn to spot an underperforming employee and ways to motivate them with new energy and renewed gusto to restore peak performance.

Photo credit: Armin Rimoldi

A host of things can contribute to the cratering performance of an employee, from a fraught relationship with your parrot, career stagnation, and loss of morale to bad blood between you and your boss and perhaps your colleagues. Sometimes, employees are just jaded due to the workload, and no one’s giving them a breather or long loose leash.

Or oftentimes the diligent employee, somewhat paradoxically, is precisely a candidate for more debilitating tasks and managers simply don’t realize when to soft-pedal. Even the economy isn’t helping in certain situations.

Not least the big bully of West Europe (Russia) picking on the little fella (Ukraine) and their counter-attacks somehow, however, finding a way to impact the global economy. I hate bullies. Anyways, whatever is the case with our stultified employee, a good manager must be able to identify underperforming employees–ascertain the cause of their arrears and proffer possible solutions to check their underperformance and get ‘em upbeat and right back to their optimal physical and mental state.


Steps to follow to motivate an underperforming employee

1. Take action as soon as you notice underperformance

One of the key components to help an underperforming employee is to act as soon as you start noticing signs of underperformance. For example, if an employee begins turning in reports late, missing meetings, or doing less work than usual, you should acknowledge those changes and make a plan of action. If your company doesn’t have a program beyond annual reviews, you can implement a performance management system for your team.

2. Send out a training survey

If you see underperformance in more than one of your employees, it could be a sign that the team might need additional training. Send out an employee survey to identify areas where they lack confidence.

Gauge your employees' perceptions of management’s ' leadership style. If multiple responses mention that they want more daily direction, for example, then that is where you should focus to improve performance standards. Consider holding a morning meeting, checking on team members throughout the day, and providing feedback more often.

3. Meet with the underperforming employee 

Upon noticing changes in their work behavior, schedule time for a one-on-one meeting. Ask how they are doing with their current workload and address the areas of their job where they are underperforming. This can help them understand their current position while also demonstrating that you care about their success. Remind your employee of your expectations for them and constructively point out where they could improve.

4. Establish the cause of underperformance

By establishing the cause of their underperformance, you can create a plan to help them succeed in the future. Maybe they get caught up in small details, or perhaps they need additional training in a particular aspect of their job.

Sometimes work-related circumstances are not the cause of underperformance. Instead, employee underperformance could be because of private life upheavals. In this case, try to be understanding and establish a time frame in which you expect them to regain their former performance level.

5. Establish long-term goals

Sometimes an employee may lose focus on their career goals. Meet with them to discuss their purpose on the job. This could offer a fresh perspective on their long-term goals and reinvigorate their commitment.

If you see a pattern of underperformance in your employee, it could be because they need to remember the importance of their role within your organization. Discuss their relevance in the organization and the purpose of each of their daily duties. Explain to them what can occur when they do not complete their tasks effectively and the impact of their underperformance on the general well-being of the organization.

6. Schedule regular meetings to provide feedback

Set up daily, weekly or monthly meetings to help monitor the progress of your employees. Use this time to listen to their reflections and discuss what they still find challenging and what they feel more comfortable with. You can alter their performance goals accordingly or provide training when necessary.

Feedback can be a powerful motivator for your employees. Provide them with critiques of their work so they can identify what they still need to work on. However, if they hit their daily quota, or turn in a report on time, make sure you also take the time to praise them for what they have achieved.

7. Encourage continuous learning 

If your employee mentioned a specific skill they want to improve that currently affects their job performance, suggest an online course or a seminar to develop that skill. You could even enroll the entire department in the course so everyone can learn or augment their knowledge of a particular subject.

Another source of invaluable information, a mentor, also can provide years of industry knowledge and encouragement to an underperforming employee.

8. Support a healthy work-life balance

If an employee shares that their underperformance has to do with their personal life, you can suggest taking time off to focus on their current situation. They could benefit by using accrued leave time to attend to personal events. And return to work when they are able to focus on their professional responsibilities.

Sometimes employees get so invested in their jobs that they end up working too much, causing them to feel strained and drained. You can help prevent overwork and its resulting underperformance by promoting a healthy work-life balance for your employees. And encouraging them to take time off when they need to.

9. Allow them to retrain or take on a new project

If an employee is underperforming, they might need more on-the-job training. For example, if a member of your sales team has continuously missed their sales targets for the week, you can schedule a training session to revisit your sales strategies.

If training doesn’t resolve the issue, it might be time for a new task that can challenge the underperforming employee in other ways. A change can offer a fresh start and give them a break from other tasks that have become mundane or less challenging.

10. Reward improvement

If you notice a significant positive change in your employee's productivity, acknowledge and reward it with a note of praise for their excellent work or any other gesture that denotes a job well done. This will encourage your employee to continue making improvements.

If you notice widespread underperformance, it might be helpful to create an incentive program based on achieving department goals. For example, if the sales team meets their monthly quotas, they can earn a Friday off or a gift card.

In closing

Employees are human too and are prone to errors due to deficits in knowledge,— fatigue, and emotional setbacks. Managers can assist challenged employees by learning their sources of difficulty and creating a plan of action to help them overcome their troubles.


You'll also like: When and why you should take a mental health break from work

Written by

Tobey C. Okafor

Internet Entrepreneur and Content Writer based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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