How To Deal With An Underperforming Employee

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The hiring process is a complicated one. And for good reason. You obviously want the best employees so that your business can succeed. This is why you check potential candidates’ references, take a thorough look at their CVs and interview them more than once. You want to be sure that you’re choosing the best person for the job and not just someone who can quickly fill a role. 


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Looking for a good employee can be a tough process and it may feel great when you eventually find the perfect candidate. However, the problem is that good employees don’t always remain good employees. They may start off brilliantly and work like a machine, but after a few months they simply don’t function as well as they used to. Their productivity levels drop or the quality of their work slips. They start making simple mistakes that, if they aren’t picked up, could cost your business a lot of money.

So, what do you do with an underperforming employee? How do you encourage them to be the person you hired in the first place? Do you spend time trying to motivate them? Or do you simply give them warning after warning until you’re forced to retrench them? It’s complicated.

However, there are certain ways to deal with underperforming employees without having to fire them. Here are a few suggestions that may help you out if you find yourself in this difficult position.

Spend some time pinpointing the problem
You can’t just go ahead and claim that the employee is underperforming if you can’t highlight exactly where they’re going wrong. Spend some time going through all their work and make a list of all the problems. This may help you better understand the cause of the problem. If they’re simply being less productive and producing less work, it may because they’re not sleeping or their health is in bad shape. But if they’re being careless and the quality of their work is slipping, they may simply be bored with their job or maybe they’ve gotten too comfortable in their position. 

Discuss the issue with them
You can always just go straight to the source and speak to them about the issues. Employees also deserve to know where they're making mistakes and how to improve on this. If their work is slipping for a personal reason, they may not even be aware that this is the case. However, as an employer, you also deserve to know this.

This also gives you the opportunity to judge how they react when you call them into your office for a meeting. Are they scared? This means they know they’ve done something wrong. Chances are strong that if someone has been underperforming, they’ll already be aware of it. You need to know whether they have a reason or if this is just how they plan to continue working for your business. This is why it is important for you to have a one-on-one chat with them.

Make sure that when you confront them, you don't come across as accusatory, aggressive or threatening. At least not until you’ve heard their side of the story. You may find that a loved one has passed away or that they’ve been through some kind of trauma. Of course, should this not be the case and they remain apathetic with regards to their unsatisfactory job performance, you may want to call in Human Resources.

Give them something new to do
If your employee is bored, it will show in their work. They will become lazy and make mistakes. And this may be the case with your underperforming employee. So, when you chat with them, ask them if they’re bored and if they say they are, try to do something about it. Don’t simply tell them to find a job somewhere else while you’re all worked up. Instead, let them know you’ll think about new tasks or responsibilities they can take on as long as their performance in their current position improves.

You may wonder why you would do this for an employee who clearly doesn’t care enough to do an adequate job. Well, the answer is twofold. Firstly, they were great when you hired them and they could get back to that if they’re motivated by new and exciting opportunities. Secondly, you don’t want to have to train a new employee. Think about it. You spent a lot of your time (which is worth a great deal of money) teaching them processes and the basics of how things work around your office. You don’t want to let all that go to waste and have to go through the frustrating process of trying to find a new person to fit the job.

Assess their work with them
There is a chance they don’t know where they’re going wrong. Or they may think that their tiny errors are being blown out of proportion. So spend some time going through a sample of their work with them and point out exactly what mistakes they’ve made or indicate when they’ve taken too long to complete a task. It would also be beneficial to give them tips on how to improve on these mistakes to avoid possible recurrences. Explain to them how their underperformance has or could negatively impact the business. Once they understand, they may hear the message more clearly and make the necessary improvements. 

Lastly, tell them where the problem lies and give them a deadline
This should be your last resort but it’s something many bosses have had to do in the past. Tell your employee what mistakes they are making, how they need to fix them and then give them a deadline. If they don’t complete their tasks to your standards by that time, they need to be let go. This may give them realisation that they need to make some changes, or they could be without a job in the foreseeable future. 

Of course, you should consult your HR manager – unless you’ve taken human resources and legal courses yourself – on how to go about this. You obviously need to give the employee a written warning and make it clear how you will deal with them if their underperformance continues.

Suggested Article:

The scales of justice.

Angry employers too often fire employees on the spot for having broken workplace rules, or for doing poor work. This is understandable in circumstances where the employee has seriously messed up a business deal, damaged equipment, lost crucial information, committed a dishonest act, refused to obey an instruction or caused other serious damage. 


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