Tips for Dealing with Underperforming Employees

When employees underperform, a business can’t operate efficiently, which often leads to serious issues such as profit loss and decreased team morale.

Neate & Pugh, a Midlands based employment law and HR firm who will be presenting at the Professional Accountancy Event on 18 September 2019, are on a mission to educate businesses about how to effectively deal with underperforming staff, following a dramatic rise in enquiries regarding the issue.

Here are the firm’s top tips:

  1. First things first, it’s important to thoroughly understand the causes of underperformance and ask yourself the question “what happened to cause the change and why?”. To really understand the reasons why your staff are underperforming you must first take a step back, listen, observe and collect data. That being said, there may be some clear issues that can be acted on swiftly to create some energy and improve performance from the off. Consider that your employee’s dip in performance may only be short-term or it could be a much larger problem. It could relate to a personal matter such as a house move or a new baby, or it could relate to work, such as a concern about a project or a colleague. Whatever the cause, it’s important to take the time to speak to them, in order to find out if there is something you can do to make their work life more manageable or improve their focus and motivation.
  2. Ensuring your employees have all the tools and knowledge they need in order to be able to do their job to the best of their ability, is paramount. If you’ve found, during the meeting with your employee, that they need more support, then offer them training. Try pairing your underperformer with a more senior member of your team, so that they may learn how a successful staff member completes tasks, and can lean on them as a mentor. Again, open communication is key – make sure you ask them directly if they’d like more support in certain areas of their role. Ask them if they feel they have the right knowledge and skills for the job? What’s holding them back?
  3. Make sure your staff see the big picture. Employees should clearly understand how their role fits in with that of the entire team, and the company as whole. You might have to go back to basics and talk to them about what it is that the company stands for and what the aspirations are for the business. It’s important to educate them about why their role is important and how their contribution makes a difference, but in a way that expresses the consequences of it not being done to the business’s standards.
  4. Make sure you are specific when discussing your employee’s underperformance - asking your staff member to ‘do better’ will demotivate them further and confuse them even more. It is crucial that you furnish your employee with examples of their underperformance and offer them advice about ways in which they can improve and any necessary support such as training. Provide specific and measurable targets for improvement and hep them to recognise their successes and developments.
  5. If an employee is underperforming because they feel that there are problems within the business that are inhibiting them from succeeding, then it is important that they feel able to raise these and that they are tackled in a timely manner. Not all changes can be made immediately, but if you keep communications open with your employees and they feel that you are taking action, any further underperformance will be on them.
  6. Make sure you keep on top of managing your underperformers. It’s not enough to understand the root cause of the problem with your member of staff, you must continue to meet with them regularly and assess their progress. If informal support is not working, it is time to move to a more formal process for managing performance where adherence to the contract of employment and the business’s own policies is critical.

Ann-Marie Pugh, director at Neate & Pugh said, “In our experience we’ve found that open communication is an essential component when it comes to managing an underperforming member of staff. Make sure that you keep written records of all meetings, praise the staff member when they’ve improved, but be equally ready for disciplinary action should their productivity continue to decline.”

Emma Neate, director at Neate & Pugh concluded, “It’s important that business owners and managers don’t avoid the issue of underperforming employees, but instead face it head on. Make sure that you do everything you can to help them become an outstanding performer once again, but if all efforts fail be willing to make the difficult decision. In the long run you, the business, and even the employee will be better off.”

Maintaining a content and motivated work force is the key to keeping a successful business running smoothly.


Posted on 22.07.19