Managing Underperformance in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers

  • Performance & Appraisals
Managing Underperformance in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers
Kiljon Shukullari

Kiljon Shukullari, HR Advisory Manager

(Last updated )

A poorly-performing employee can have a major impact on a small business. If employees aren’t doing their part to help the business, your company’s level of service can decline, impacting both your revenue and reputation.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to act on poor performance as soon as you become aware of it. By acting swiftly, you can prevent your operations from being disrupted. Here’s everything you need to know about managing poor performance in the workplace.

What is an underperforming employee?

An underperforming employee is typically a member of your workforce that produces below-standard work over a period of time. When an employee is underperforming, they are not usually meeting work expectations which may affect your business operation or other employees.

It is important that you address underperforming employees as soon as practicable to avoid loss in business. Underperforming employees can have a serious impact on teamwork and collaborative efforts. This can lower workplace morale and create a poor workplace culture, especially if you are complacent about dealing with them.

How do I identify an underperforming employee?

To ascertain whether your employees are underperforming or not meeting work expectations, you should be aware of the indicators. Some examples of underperforming employees include: missing deadlines, submitting below-standard work, making mistakes, arriving late to work, failing to comply with company policies or procedures, and disrupting conduct.

What are some of the causes of employee underperformance?

There are many leading factors that can contribute to poor employee performance. Some causes of poor performance may include:

Stressful work environment

A work environment that is extremely stressful and lacks support may impact work performance

Lack of skills

An employee who is placed into a work environment without any preparation may not feel confident to do the work. Especially in situations when they are assigned tasks that they do not have the skill or knowledge for

Poor onboarding

Employees who are not properly onboarded may not have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and the work they are supposed to complete

Inadequate training

It is important to properly train employees to develop the skills they need to do the job. You should continuously provide training for employees looking to develop new skills to help advance their career within your company

Personal matters

Often, deeply personal matters may affect an employee’s performance and productivity at work. As an employer, you can be supportive in times of crisis, but it is important to remember to remain objective

How to deal with an underperforming employee

Have a policy in place

To ensure that underperforming employees are dealt with as professionally as possible, it’s a good idea to include your policy for managing an underperforming employee in your employee handbook. You don’t have to do this, but it’s better to include it than not. Make sure that all staff have a copy of this handbook. Email it to them on their first day or make it available on the company’s computer hard drive/cloud storage. Additionally, whenever you update a policy, let staff know.

Recognize it

You or your managers should regularly monitor employee performance and be aware of identifiers to address the problem as soon as possible.

Determine the problem

Before managing underperforming employees, it is important that you determine the problem first. What is causing the problem? The underperformance may be caused by a multitude of factors, and it is especially important if the problem is related to a protected ground under human rights legislation.

Have a discussion

Whether it be a formal or informal meeting, you should meet with the employee to discuss the underperformance. You should talk about the roles and responsibilities they have and whether the underperformance is related to the employee struggling with workload management.

You or your managers should speak to underperforming employees and find the root cause of the decreased productivity. Speaking to them may lead to identifying resolutions to return productivity to an acceptable level.

When speaking to an underperforming employee, it is all about timing and knowing how certain employees communicate. It may be appropriate to pull an employee into your office in the middle of the day but may not be for others.

You may need to schedule a meeting or speak to them early in the morning. It is important to create and maintain a good working relationship with all your employees, especially ones who you observe to be underperforming.

Nobody wants to address underperforming employees, but it is something that you need to do. When speaking to employees about performance, you should focus on how you can help resolve the issue rather than punishing them. Tackling underperformance is a team effort, meaning both you and the employee have an important role to play.

To address an underperforming employee, start with an informal chat. A casual reminder with your underperforming employee might be all it takes to get them back on track. Try to be sensitive and see the situation from their perspective during the discussion.

Try beginning the chat with a soft opening, such as this: “I’m a little concerned about you. You don’t seem to have been working at your usual high level of performance recently. Is something bothering you?”

If you have separate teams in your business, you might consider including your employee’s line manager in this chat. Your employee and the line manager are likely to have a deeper relationship because they work within the same team. End this chat with a note for improvement and remind your employee to raise any issues they have with their workload or any tasks they have concerns about.

When to escalate the situation to a formal meeting

If there’s still no improvement, then it’s time to escalate this to a formal meeting to discuss your employee’s performance. In writing, invite your employee to a meeting to discuss their performance. Your employee has the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative at this meeting—and all other meetings in which you might take formal action.

In the meeting, be professional but also avoid a confrontational tone, as you want to get the best out of your employee, and that means you need to support them.

Make sure that, by the end of this meeting, your employee is aware of:

  • What you expect from them in their role
  • Your feedback on their recent performance
  • The gap between their current levels and the performance you expect from them

Next, agree on an action plan (and confirm it in writing) to outline what improvements you require. Clarify a deadline—on the date of this deadline, you’ll sit down together and review their performance. Their deadline should be fair—give your employee a reasonable amount of time to amend their performance.

If you’re going to provide any further training or support to your employee to help them reach their potential, you should make it known in the action plan.

Be clear with your employee, by confirming in writing what the next steps are if their performance levels don’t improve. If they will likely face a disciplinary warning, then let them know.

Terminating an underperforming employee

Every employer should be cautious about terminating an employee for underperformance. Firing an underperforming employee without following the correct procedure may lead to legal repercussions. This could be lawsuits for wrongful termination and in some cases, discrimination claims.

Although it should be the goal to work collaboratively with the employee to resolve their performance issues, you must take the proper corrective and/or disciplinary action.

The most common form of disciplinary action for underperforming employees is progressive discipline. This can be best described as a system of discipline where the penalties increase upon repeat occurrences. Additionally, many employers use performance improvement plans, also referred to as PIPs. A PIP can improve an employee’s performance by monitoring, training, and establishing attainable goals.

Before taking any disciplinary action or implementing a PIP, you should have proof by way of documentation to show your employee’s poor performance.

Need more advice on underperforming employees?

Dealing with underperforming employees is often time-consuming. However, most employees embrace a collaborative effort that helps them succeed and develop the skills needed to complete the job.

As an employer, you should understand what causes underperformance and come up with an action plan to address it.  If you need assistance with underperforming employees in your workplace, our experts at Peninsula can allow you to receive quality advice on any employment issues you may have.  Call us today on 1 (833) 247-3652

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