Dealing with an Underperforming Employee

by Alan Hickey, Service and Operations Director, Peninsula Ireland

Simply put, poor employee performance can affect not only their immediate team but also the wider business. That’s because when colleagues see one employee slacking, their own motivation can decrease.

In some cases, an employee may be genuinely trying but is struggling to hit their targets or meet the business’s standards. On the other hand, an employee may be more than capable but not as bothered when it comes to hitting their targets.

How to manage a poor performing employee is a challenge in itself. Still, if you find yourself dealing with an underperforming employee in your business, our 10 tips will help.

Top tips

1) Know what you want from the employee: To identify that an employee is underperforming, you should be fully aware of what you want from them. It’s also necessary that the employee is aware of the required standards.

2) Informality: When you’re addressing a performance issue for the first time, approach it informally by having a conversation with the underperforming employee. This doesn’t mean that the issue goes unaddressed, it simply means that no formal sanctions will be given out at this stage. Approach this conversation with an open mind and empathise with the employee if their issue is a personal one.

3) Let the individual know that you have concerns: The first practical step is to let the employee know that you have concerns with regard to their performance. This should be done in a private conversation with the employee. This isn’t a formal hearing, so there’s no need to formally invite the employee with notice. Again, it’s best to approach this conversation in a personal, friendly manner.

4) Identify the problem: Enquiries should be made as to the reason for the employee’s underperformance. This is necessary to establish what subsequent action you need to take. If they have the capacity to perform better but simply choose not to, then they should be told that they must improve.

If it’s their ability to do the job (they’re trying hard but still can’t perform well) that’s the problem, then you should identify how you can help them, e.g., further training/supervision. If the reason is medical, it may be necessary to obtain an expert medical opinion. If they have a disability, reasonable adjustments should be made to their role so that their disability isn’t a barrier to their performance.

5) Notify of the consequences: Although you’re dealing with the issue informally, you should let the employee know that, should they show no signs of improvement, you may need to begin a formal procedure with them.

6) Monitoring: Keep tabs on the employee’s subsequent performance. Make daily checks if necessary, but do so during the monitoring period so interim measures can be taken if necessary.

7) Revisit: If the employee’s performance doesn’t improve, or there’s a temporary improvement followed by another dip, revisit the issue. Speak to the employee again, pointing out that your previous discussion, and/or any help provided, doesn’t appear to have had an effect. Again, ascertain what the reasons are.

8) Formal procedure: If no sufficient improvement or explanation is provided, you should consider implementing a formal disciplinary or capability procedure with the employee. This can follow the same process as the informal procedure. However, formal hearings should be held where the employee is permitted to respond to the concerns you have. Employees should be formally invited to these hearings, allowed the right to be accompanied, and formal sanctions e.g., warnings, may be given where appropriate.

9) Efficiency is key: In more general terms, you should deal with the process efficiently ─ don’t allow the issue to drag on. Where you’ve set timescales, stick to them.

10) Consistency: Act in accordance with previous cases of a similar nature to ensure a consistent approach in terms of assistance provided, where appropriate, and sanctions given.

In addition to these tips, you need to remember to communicate clearly with each employee. Ensure the employee is clear on the objectives they’ve been set and on the consequences of their underperformance.