Managing Underperforming Employees

No matter what field they may be in, countless managers often find themselves face-to-face with the challenge of handling underperforming employees. Whether these employees are unmotivated, unfocused or simply lack the skills needed to complete the job, when employees are unable to perform to their manager’s standards, it can be frustrating for all parties involved.

Underperforming employees can harm the business’s performance, dampen workplace morale and place unnecessary stress and pressure on other team members. While handing under-performing employees is an unfortunately common part of many managerial positions, there are ways to motivate and handle these individuals and prevent them from wreaking havoc on the organization as a whole and to help these struggling employees become re-engaged in the workplace.

Providing Ample Feedback

Employee reviews are an extremely important part of leading all employees, particularly ones that struggle with their performance. Employee reviews should be a consistent and routine part of any management strategy, but this isn’t the only type of feedback that under-performing individuals need.

Consistent, ongoing and clear feedback is much more beneficial than reprimanding an employee for their lack of performance. This includes speaking immediately and directly to any employee once their work quality has taken a turn for the worst. The faster feedback is given the better off the employee will be. Many times, individuals just need a little nudge and need to be pointed in the right direction right when they begin to underperform, in order to turn things around. Many times, this is a much more effective manner of facilitating change than letting the issue go for a while and letting in turn into a much bigger problem.

Facilitating Open Communication

Feedback is important, but managers who really want to improve struggling employee performance need to remember that communication involves talking and listening from both sides. An effective manager will listen to an employee’s points of contention. They will look for and listen to reasons why performance may have changed and work to getting towards the root of the problem. Many times, there is a logical explanation for why an employee is suddenly failing to live up to their normal performance metrics.

The feedback that managers get from their employees can not only help them improve the performance of that individual, but it can help unearth larger concerns that may be impacting the organization as a whole. Many times, if an individual employee is not performing up to standards because of a workplace issue, there are other team members who echo their sentiments. This is why sitting down and really talking to and listening to employee concerns and insights is so important.

Setting New Performance Milestones

Goal-setting is an important part of motivating any struggling employee to make improvements. When it comes to encouraging and facilitating change among struggling employees, it is important that both parties come together to set new performance goals and milestones. There should be a mutually agreed upon target that not only includes what the manager wants to see from their employee, but what the employee wants to see from themselves.

Keeping the employee involved with goal setting and meeting smaller milestones along the way, will only increase employee engagement and motivate them to work harder as they attempt to meet these goals.

Setting these goals is only half of the battle. In order to ensure that employees are staying on track towards these new goals, there needs to be some sort of follow up. A great leader will always follow up with their employees and monitor their progress along the way. This means holding people accountable for what they say they are going to do. Newly minted structure such as this can really motivate any employee to improve their performance and encourage them to overcome a slump.

Recognizing Improvement

The goal of working with a struggling employee is of course to hopefully see improvement in their actions and their performance. Once a precedent has been set for new expectations, it is important to recognize and reward improvements that have been made. Setting goals and asking employees to improve is only half of the battle, it is important that when they do live up to these new goals that they are rewarded for their efforts.

Failing to reward progress once an employee has put the necessary effort in, will not facilitate long term change, and in most situations will only cause them to become more disengaged. In addition to continuous feedback and routine performance reviews, managers need to be willing to give credit where it is due and to reward employees for improved behavior. Depending on the situation, actual financial incentives or even more responsibilities can be rewarded to those employees who rise to the occasion and start succeeding expectations.

Knowing When It’s Time to Move On

In many situations, a diligent effort from an understanding manager can really motivate any struggling employee to improve their performance and to start meting their professional expectations. However, this isn’t always the outcome. In situations where an employee continually fails to perform as they should, their manager needs to take formal action. This will let the employee know their manager is serious while keeping the entire team morale boosted. This not only shows the employee that their manager is serious about reinforcing new behaviors, but it shows the rest of the team that repercussions will be administered to those who slack off.

Appropriate punishments and demerits are important for those who fail to perform as they should. However, when this poor behavior continues, managers need to know when it is time to move on and cut ties with the individual. While the process of replacing a seasoned employee can be difficult and at times overwhelming, in the end, removing negativity such as this from the workplace will only better the entire organization. The key for managers is to know when it is time to let go and make the difficult decision to remove the underperformers from their company.

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Key Points

  • Managers often find themselves face-to-face with the challenge of handling underperforming employees.
  • Consistent, ongoing and clear feedback is much more beneficial than reprimanding an employee for their lack of performance.
  • Managers who really want to improve poor employee performance need to remember that communication involves both talking and listening.
  • If an individual employee is underperforming because of a workplace issue, there are often other team members who feel the same way.
  • Goal-setting is an important part of motivating any struggling employee to make improvements but there also needs to be monitoring and support.
  • In addition to continuous feedback and routine performance reviews, managers need to be willing to give credit where it is due and to reward employees for improved behavior.

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