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How to Manage an Underperforming Employee

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 05/23/2018

underperforming employees
There may be hope still for an underperforming employee. These management tactics could help turn around behavior or performance.

Table of Contents

Knowing how to manage an underperforming employee can make the difference between having a staff member with poor morale and low productivity, and one whose performance steadily improves to achieve success. The key is identifying the individual's areas of strengths and weaknesses, working collaboratively to devise solutions to obstacles, and encouraging them to continue moving forward.

How can you work together with a struggling employee to turn around their performance? Here are some considerations:

Make sure your expectations are clear. Sometimes, a new hire begins work with little understanding of what's expected of them. This can vary from the new hire's written job responsibilities, since a supervisor or manager may have additional expectations of what someone in a new position should be doing.

In such cases, it's imperative to provide a comprehensive outline of the employee's job functions and responsibilities. Communicating this as early as possible (ideally during the interviewing process) is also a best practice.

Draw up a roadmap to improvement. Employees who consistently underperform need help to determine how to do their job better. A detailed performance roadmap with clear, manageable goals might be the best way to get them on the path toward greater productivity.

With the employee's input, draw up a roadmap with clearly delineated small steps. As these are achieved, it's likely they will feel more engaged and ready to tackle any bigger work responsibilities remaining. 

Most importantly, emphasize the positive in these interactions, so the employee feels inspired, rather than discouraged or alienated.

Provide ongoing, constructive feedback. It's often impractical to wait for an annual or semi-annual performance review to offer feedback to an underperforming employee.

Instead, schedule ongoing meetings where the focus is on an objective assessment of the individual's progress toward improvement. Emphasize what the employee is doing right and then address shortcomings in a respectful manner, with a focus on solutions and/or changes in behavior that can lead to success.

Pay attention to your own management behavior. Give an employee every opportunity to ask clarifying questions, so they better understand your expectations and what the company needs from them. At the same time, monitor how you interact. A negative response or body language could discourage employees from seeking the help they need to get their work done successfully, thus perpetuating a cycle of underperformance.

Make sure employees have the tools they need to succeed. In some cases, underperformance could be linked to a lack of access to training, tools, or technology. Make sure to identify any resources that employees may be missing, and make it a priority to provide them as needed. You may also want to consider offering training on how to better leverage these tools to aid in their overall performance.

Barring any behavioral issues, even underperforming employees want to become better at their jobs. Approaching the issue in a positive, collaborative way can keep the overall work atmosphere upbeat and encouraging, and it is far more likely to produce the desired results.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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