What Do You Do When You Have an Underperforming Employee?

Addressing employee underperformance can go one of two ways:

  • Either the employee is receptive to the feedback and works to fix the areas of weakness; or,
  • They become extremely defensive and slowly disengage themselves from the company.

Regardless of the way you go with this, underperformance needs to be addressed as soon as there is an issue.

How to address underperformance

While every company culture is different and no two processes will be exactly the same, here are five (5) tips to help address underperformance:

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  1. Acknowledge the uneasiness. Having meetings outside of the routine put on the calendar with their boss can leave any employee anxious. Address the reason for the meeting right away and have empathy — talk them through their nerves. The unknown is among the biggest fears.
  2. Rip the Band-Aid off. Don’t waste time sugarcoating, and just get right to the point. This is not a performance review, but a meeting specifically to address underperformance.
  3. Bring examples. Managers should be prepared to discuss specific instances of when the employee failed, whether it was deadlines they’ve missed, coming in late repeatedly, etc. Employees can get defensive if accused of something they don’t agree with. Also, don’t just stop here. Create a plan together of how to improve on the weaknesses.
  4. Ask the hard questions. Help the employee dig to the root of the problem, by asking directly why they think they’re failing to meet deadlines, what is making them come in late, etc. While the answers may be personal issues, they could also be that the manager isn’t giving the employee what they need to succeed. Maybe it’s just that the employee needs more one-on-one time or further training and development to meet deadlines. It’s not enough to say they are failing to meet deadlines, and stop the conversation there. A solution needs to be drawn in order to improve.
  5. Follow up. This is arguably the most important part of the meeting. In order to ensure everything addressed was actually heard, managers should draft a recap of the meeting including the next steps for them to improve. Also, managers should sandwich feedback and start by recognizing that they are in this together, then go into what needs to be improved, and wrap up with positive encouragement that by working together, they can overcome this.

If there are countless meetings about this, and even repeats of previous issues, then a separate conversation should take place on whether or not the employee is right for the role.