If you’re in a management position for long enough, at some point, you are likely to encounter an employee whose performance isn’t up to par. While you may be tempted to ignore the problem and hope it goes away, it is more likely that the problem will only get worse. An underperforming employee can have a negative domino effect on the rest of the workplace, because other employees are forced to pick up the slack. This can lead to everything from feelings of resentment to burnout to high turnover.
Use the following tips to handle an underperforming employee.
Timing is everything. Try not to reprimand an employee in the heat of the moment, when you’re more likely to say something you’ll later regret. Once you’ve given yourself time to cool off, schedule a one-on-one meeting with the employee. Be ready to have a two-way conversation that allows for your employee to explain his or her side of the situation.
Focus on facts. Getting negative feedback is never easy, and the employee is likely to take it personally. To help prevent that from happening, focus on the facts, giving clear examples of times when the employee failed to meet the expectations of the job. Explain how these behaviors affect not just the rest of the team but the employee’s own future at the company - including promotional opportunities, recognition, bonuses and job security.
Get to the root of the problem. Never assume you know why an employee is performing poorly. Instead, take time to try to understand the underlying issue. Perhaps the employee is overwhelmed by his or her workload. Or maybe the employee doesn’t feel challenged enough. Perhaps your employee is simply unclear on his or her role and the expectations around it. Then again, the issue could also be personal. Only once you know what the real issue will you be able to find a solution and move forward.
Work on a solution together. Don’t simply say, “Here’s how we’re going to fix this,” and dictate a solution. Work with your employee to come up with a solution together. Giving your employee a chance to take ownership of the situation is empowering and provides extra motivation to improve. As you work on a solution, outline clear objectives and necessary actions to meet those objectives. See if the employee needs extra training or resources that would help him or her perform better.
Follow up. Once you’ve formulated a plan, create a schedule to follow up regularly (every couple of weeks) and assess the employee’s progress and address any challenges that have come up.
Recognize and reward improvement. If the employee is improving, let them know their hard work is not going unnoticed, whether it’s by giving a gift card to the employee’s favorite coffee shop or a handwritten note to say “job well done.” A personal and sincere gift that shows you see and appreciate your employee’s hard work will go a long way to motivate him or her to keep improving.
Unfortunately, not every underperforming employee is motivated to improve. If you’ve exhausted every effort to “save” your employee, it may be time to let the employee go. Holding onto an underachieving employees could have a toxic effect on the rest of the business.
Don’t let good employees get away. Check out 6 ways to stop employee turnover in its tracks.