How to Manage Underperformance In The Workplace

Mental Health

Employee underperforming at work and a manager confronting the problem.

Managing underperformance in the workplace can be a challenge for newer managers. As a manager, it’s natural to feel reluctant to confront the problem and it can be hard for the underperforming employee to receive your feedback.

Often under performance isn’t dealt with quickly enough. If left unchecked it can affect other workers, impacting on morale and hurting the performance of the business or department.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to make managing poor performance less stressful for everyone involved. Having a clear process to follow makes the task less daunting and improves the outcomes for everyone.

Performance management can be relatively painless and a positive experience - let’s look at how to make that happen step-by-step.

Causes of Underperformance in the Workplace

Underperformance could simply be a slack employee who isn’t contributing fairly to the team, but that’s not always the case. In many cases the staff member isn’t solely to blame for their lacklustre performance.

Some of the most common reasons for underperformance are:

●      Expectations are not clear to the employee

●      Not knowing they are underperforming because they haven’t been given clear feedback

●      Not the right person for the job

●      Poor orientation and training

●      Work environment isn’t suitable

●      Poor communication

●      The role lacks stimulation for the employee

●      Lack of incentive to work harder

●      Management structure isn’t suitable

●      The organisation’s culture doesn’t suit the worker

●      Work-related stress

●      Personal problems

Indicators of Underperformance

It’s important to spot poor performance before it becomes a major problem. Under-performing employees may display the following signs that they aren’t getting the job done:

●      Lack of motivation - disinterested in their work and other team members

●      Poor quality of work

●      Not meeting requirements of the role

●      Not embracing the organisation’s values

●      Not working well with colleagues

●      Disruptive and poor behaviour

6 Steps to Manage Underperforming Staff

Not many new managers are confident about handling an under performer in their team.

Using checklists and tools to recognise and handle poor performers can reduce the stress and make sure your actions are considered, not hasty or emotional reactions.  Remember to set the tone for any underperformance matters. Your role as a manager/supervisor is to problem solve to assist employees to reach an expected standard of performance. The tone should therefore be neutral (matter of fact) or positive. There is no place for blame or negativity in discussing performance as is not likely to effect a positive change and more likely to evoke conflict and discord.

Here is a simple checklist of steps you can use to recognise and manage the situation:

Step 1 - Recognise the problem

Consider how clear the role expectations of an employee are. Have targets, expected deadlines etc ever been formalised and communicated? Or, has it been an assumption that employees will know and understand what equates to expected performance? It’s not always obvious to a staff member that they are an underperformer. A manager should consider all factors (e.g. operational factors, business structure, workload and training factors and employee personal factors), to assist with understanding the main reasons for underperformance.

Step 2 – Assess the Seriousness of the Problem

A supervisor should review the employee’s work and decide how serious the problem is and how long it has been going on for.

Any level of underperformance should be communicated as it occurs to ensure that the employee does not develop an entrenched understanding that lower standards are acceptable. If there’s only a small gap between what’s expected and what’s actually being delivered, you could continue to informally review and monitor the situation with the employee. However, if there is a clear gap between expectations and performance then you need to arrange a meeting with the staff member.

Best practice dictates the employee be given notice of the meeting and told what they will discuss. As the manager you should give them the option of bringing a support person to the meeting.

Prepare the points you want to discuss with the employee and have specific examples that back up your comments and clearly demonstrate instances where they have not performed to an acceptable standard.

Step 3 – Hold the Meeting

At the meeting, outline your concerns about the employee’s performance. Explain why their performance falls short of expectations and how it impacts their team and the organisation. If the staff member’s performance has changed recently, explain whether you are happy with their previous work ethic or give an example of something they still do well so the employee doesn’t feel it’s all negative or like they are being ambushed. 

Ask if the employee has the same understanding about what the role entails and if they feel they have the knowledge and skills to complete the required tasks. 

The employee should have the opportunity to respond fully to the feedback while the manager listens. 

Step 4 – Develop an Action Plan

Depending on the employee’s feedback about your concerns, the next step is to find a mutually-agreeable solution.

Draw up an action plan to outline what’s expected of the employee, any training or help they should receive and the importance of performing the role. Give specific timeframes for any training and deadlines. 

Set a date for the next meeting to review the employee’s performance and the steps of the action plan - and make sure this review happens. A loss of momentum can negate any good work that you may have achieved so far.

Step 5 – Second Meeting to Review Performance

Even if their performance has improved and you have acknowledged it informally, a second meeting is important so you can give feedback and acknowledge if the problem has been properly resolved.

If performance hasn’t improved since creating the action plan, the second meeting could include any further help the employee needs, a formal warning and even potential termination of employment. 

Keep a written record of all meetings in case it’s needed in the future.

Step 6 – Ongoing Monitoring

Once the first five steps are complete, don’t just pretend it never happened. Give your employee regular informal feedback about their improved efforts and any areas they can continue to improve upon.

If you have any concerns about handling employee underperformance issues, contact PeopleSense by Altius on 1300 307 912 or (08) 9388 9000, or contact us online.

Category: Mental Health