How to deal with an underperforming employee

What Do I Do With An Underperforming Employee?

Rachel Cwang Sep 14, 2017 7:25:00 AM

Sometimes working in HR just isn’t fun. There are difficult situations that you’ll have to face, and I’m sure you’d rather do without them. One of those situations is when you have to deal with an underperforming employee. Getting all parties to acknowledge that something isn’t working can be awkward, and the process to address the issue is challenging on many fronts. Nevertheless, it happens, and we have to deal with it. To help you through these not-so-fun times, here are some tips:

Review the Situation from All Angles

There are infinite reasons for why an employee might be underperforming. They could be experiencing a difficult time outside of the office, they could have a negative relationship with someone inside the office, or it could be something else. In fact, Entrepreneur has a great article to help managers address management-related performance issues. Yes, sometimes it's management's fault too.

To uncover the root of the issue, you need to see it from each vantage point. What specific situations was their manager not pleased with, and why? How does the employee feel about their performance or the guidance that they’re receiving? Were there any other individuals affected, and what exactly was the impact? This analysis will help you determine whether someone has the ability to improve or not.

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Create a Plan Together

If it seems like the employee has the ability and motivation to improve, consider creating a performance improvement plan. In developing this plan, your goal is to provide as much support as possible to help them achieve their goal. This support can be in the form of coaching, training, or even a re-organization of tasks.

With a plan like this, the most important thing is that everyone is on the same page. Both the employee and their manager or coach need to know what is expected of them and agree with all of the requirements. You may want to come up with specific and measurable goals to help determine whether improvement has been achieved – if you do, make sure these goals are communicated clearly. The last thing you want is an employee working hard on one thing, when they’re actually being measured on something else. Worse yet is when one party is willing and able to do their part while the other doesn’t agree with the KPIs set out. It’s critical to get consensus before moving forward and monitoring the plan’s progress.

Document Everything

In any sensitive situation, it’s best to keep detailed records. Every conversation and agreement should be written down and compiled into a file. Dates, times, what was discussed or agreed to, who was present and witnesses. The reality is that sometimes these situations get tense, and by keeping records, you’ve got evidence that can back you up if anything comes into question.

Pro Tip: If you're noticing an uptick in turnover, it might be time to monitor your turnover and retention rates.

There’s a reason why our field is called Human Resources. People aren’t perfect, and nobody operates seamlessly all the time. Sometimes, this human aspect is what makes our jobs great; other times, it’s what makes our jobs difficult. If you've got an underperforming employee, approach the situation cautiously and strategically to resolve it as cleanly as possible. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll have a solid understanding of what may be required of their replacement, helping you to avoid another situation like this in the future. But if the strategy is effective, you might just be the catalyst for an outstanding employee experience within your organization.

Topics: Productivity, Turnover

Rachel Cwang

Written by Rachel Cwang

Client Success Manager