Handling Poor Employee Performance

Poor performance

Performance management is undoubtedly a significant part of every manager’s role. A manager’s primary objective is to deliver high productivity by utilising their team to reach its full potential, but what happens when an employee starts under-performing? Dealing with such situations can be challenging, uncomfortable and potentially even awkward. Addressing poor performance is likely one of the most impactful and sensitive conversations a manager can have with their staff, so today we’re going to attempt to explain how you can handle this situation, and it turns out, some simple planning and a little empathy can go a long way

What is Poor Employee Performance?

It’s difficult to explain exactly what a poorly performing employee is as it can differ across businesses, sectors and individuals. However at its core, it refers to a staff member who simply isn’t pulling their weight as part of a team and the wider business. Perhaps they aren’t meeting their targets; they could be missing deadlines; maybe they keep turning up late for work – whatever it is, they aren’t delivering on what is expected of them in their role.

Why is an Employee Performing Poorly?

What’s important to remember is there isn’t a single answer to this question. If you’re thinking ‘perhaps they’re just lazy’, you could be correct, but this is rarely the answer. There’s a whole host of reasons why a staff member isn’t pulling up their socks – whatever the cause, it won’t take long for these individuals to pop up on your radar.

The two most likely causes are lack of ability (bear in mind this could be down to them not having the resources they need to deliver on what’s expected of them) and lack of motivation – perhaps they aren’t receiving the recognition they need for their work; maybe their role isn’t engaging enough for them; or it could be due to burn out after a particularly stressful period. Ask yourself when was the last time you discussed this person’s performance and goals – perhaps you’ve set them unrealistic targets or have put too much work on their shoulders. Maybe you haven’t set a clear outline of what’s expected of them; poor employee performance isn’t always a reflection on the individual.

It’s also worth considering personal matters as a cause; although it takes up a lot of our time, work is only one part of our lives. Whilst some employees are able to leave life’s hardships at home and others opt to share their personal matters (such as relationship troubles or financial difficulties) with their colleagues, many people choose not to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

How to Handle Poor Employee Performance

Once upon a time, poor work performance was typically dealt with during the dreaded, all-encompassing annual performance review – you know the one – but today, it’s not productive or kind to address employees and deal with difficult situations in that manner. Office Vibe – a company who sells products to improve the modern day workplace – reports that more and more of the world’s leading businesses are trading this method in for a more friendly approach.

  • Step One – control your emotions: How to appropriately react to poor performance is one of a manager’s biggest challenges; although their first response may be irritation or frustration, these feelings are likely to work against them in the end. The most successful managers tend to be those who are seen as warm and approachable. Managers need to take a step back and aim to have a clear head before they attempt to solve an issue.
  • Step Two – be specific: When you address the employee about their performance, it’s important to just state the facts. If they’ve been repeatedly late for work, specify the accurate details on the frequency and intensity of their absenteeism – do not exaggerate your statements or use harsh words – just be precise and direct.
  • Step Three – put yourself in their shoes: Poor performance isn’t always the result of an employee’s carelessness; there could be genuine reasons for their lack of performance. Whilst addressing the member of staff, ask them if there’s anything troubling them – you need to be interested and willing to listen to their response. It could be that an employee is dealing with a sick parent and may be struggling to keep up with both home and work’s demands. In situations such as this one, it’s helpful for a manager to relate a similar experience they’ve had to the employees as this will help them connect better with that person.
  • Step Four – understand what they need: Once you’ve identified the cause of the problem, ask yourself what they need from you as a manager. It could be something as straightforward as working from home one day a week so they can spend more time with their loved one and re-gain control over their responsibilities.


Rather than punishing an employee for poor performance, working with them to find a solution to their problem could end up being the turning point in your relationship. Compassion translates to trust, which goes a heck of a long way. In contrast, responding to a situation with anger could lose you an employee’s loyalty forever.

Monthly one-on-ones are a great way for managers and employees to stay connected and keep on top of what’s expected of them in both roles. Or even better, provide your employees with weekly feedback. When a new member of staff joins a company, both parties should come together and set realistic goals for the employee which can be amended if necessary during monthly/weekly one-on-ones.

Are you determined to run your own successful business one day with the help from hard-working happy employees? A Business HND could be the first step on a journey to making that dream a reality. Contact HND Insider today to set the wheels in motion.


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