How to manage an employee who is not performing

'Managing an employee's underperformance is possibly one of the most difficult scenarios you have to deal with'

How to manage an employee who is not performing

It is always a boon for an organisation to hire an intelligent employee. Not only does it give you confidence that the employee will perform, but a company will hope that they can add input into other parts of the organisation. But it doesn’t always work out and you may find that this particular employee has become disengaged with their role and the organisation in general and is only doing the bare minimum to survive.

You don’t necessarily want to lose this employee because you know that they can add value so the key here is to find out what has gone wrong and see if it can be fixed.

“Managing an employee’s underperformance is possibly one of the most difficult scenarios you have to deal with,” Margaret Goody, managing director at Akyra Strategy & Development, said. “It can be challenging for both you and your employee. 

“Before you decide how to approach your employee, take some time to understand what is causing the underperformance, what actions might fix it and your employee’s legal rights. In some cases, while it may be blatantly obvious to you, your employee may not even be aware there is an issue.”

Cultural problems

Therein lies a common problem. Senior C-suite managers are often unaware of cultural issues or problems around information flow. It is not uncommon for someone not to receive all the information that they need to fulfil their duties or in the case of an intelligent employee, be handed a task that they think is below them thereby causing a loss of motivation to finish that particular job.

“Understanding the core problem is crucial - if this is a problem with an employee’s attitude or if this is related to an inability to perform the duties required by their role,” Goody said. “Different problems will often have different solutions.  

“Once the problem has been identified, developing a plan of action is critical to managing underperformance. To create a higher chance of success, you and your employee should develop a jointly agreed solution; enabling the employee to take ownership. A performance improvement plan should reflect the agreed understanding and outcomes of role responsibilities, performance expectations, any training necessary, a progress timeframe and review meetings.”

Workplace stress

There is the common employee issue of stress in the workplace. This can come from a fellow colleague or uncertainty about using new software with limited or no training. There is often a general question asking someone if they have used software X without ever further investigating as to how much actual knowledge and practical experience they have with that software.

“For particularly anxious or stressed employees, it may be worth offering them referrals to courses, programs or other resources such as employee assistance programs to give them strategies in dealing with their difficulties,” Goody added.

When mutually established performance improvement plans fail to produce the necessary outcomes, employers may consider terminating an employee. In these situations, it is essential to provide clear reasons for the dismissal such as a failure to meet performance improvement outcomes. You must also ensure compliance with relevant legislation and company policies and procedures.”

Address the issue promptly

Whatever the issue with the employee it is important to act quickly and not let the matter fester, as this will only complicate issues and may bring other parties into the mix.

“Intelligent or not employee’s underperformance needs to be addressed promptly and ideally in the moment,” Mark Smith – group managing director - people2people recruitment, said. “An added pressure in today’s virtual, work from home environment is the measurement of outcomes so that underperformance can be clearly defined.

“In my experience it is imperative that employees have a clear understanding of why they are undertaking tasks. The first step is to actually have a plan and to explain it clearly to your employee. The details of any plan will be unique to the circumstances but my tips for improving performance in the virtual and WFH environment we live in now is to define the outcomes required for remote employees; explain the consequences of successful outcomes and the bigger picture they contribute to and communicate and measure performance often.”

Human resources will have a key role to play in whether they can help get the best out of an employee and work within the job description, legal boundaries and employer needs.

But in some instances it may be best to let the employee leave of their own accord or even encourage them to find opportunities elsewhere.

“In today’s talent short market the costs of replacing an employee are significantly magnified,” Smith said. “The length of time to hire and the availability of specific hard to find skills alongside significant salary pressures to attract new talent. So, letting someone go has a much higher price.

“Of course, if the outcomes are not being delivered even in light of good management than yes underperformance should not be rewarded with long term employment. Ask yourself, however, is the employee in the right job, can you play to their strengths and not be trying to fix their weaknesses. It’s a complicated decision made all the harder in a tight labour market.”

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