Get expert advice on every topic you need as a small business owner, from the ideation stage to your eventual exit. Our articles, quick tips, infographics and how-to guides can offer entrepreneurs the most up-to-date information they need to flourish.

Subscribe to our blog

What can you do to address an underperforming employee?

Posted by Celene Robert

January 19, 2022

It is never easy having to deal with underperforming workers, but left unattended, their presence can have a damaging effect on employee morale and company culture, as well as set a bad example for others in the organization. 

Decreased employee productivity, diminished quality of work or repeatedly missing deadlines often demonstrate underperformance at work, although the severity of these situations may vary. 

That said, by putting the right steps in place, leaders can manage their employees with greater confidence and deal with underperformance productively and tactfully. 

Let’s first look at eight reasons why employees underperform:

1. Lack of skills

– Every role demands a specific skill set, and if employees lack those skills, they are likely to lose confidence and perform poorly. Also, employees who have technical abilities but lack time management skills are less productive.

2. Lack of motivation

– Employees who lack the motivation to perform their duties or bring out the best in them usually underperform. 

3. Unrealistic expectations

– If the job responsibilities are not what the employees anticipated or were not properly mentioned in the job description, they may feel disappointed, dissatisfied or lack the enthusiasm to perform better. 

4. Lack of recognition

– If staff members are not appreciated for their performance, their productivity and zeal to work may decrease significantly. 

5. Workplace stress

– Stress due to a poor working environment and burnout can also reduce employee morale and productivity. 

6. Inadequate training and growth opportunities

– Due to lack of on-the-job resources and opportunities to learn new skills or career advancement within the company, employees may feel stagnant and are likely to underperform.

7. Lack of variety

– When their jobs become monotonous, employees may lose interest in their work and deliver low-quality results. 

8. Personal issues

– Challenging circumstances in employees’ personal lives can seriously affect their ability to concentrate or perform day-to-day tasks, thus decreasing their productivity.

7 steps to improve employee performance

Sometimes, even the most dedicated employee’s work performance decreases due to personal issues or job dissatisfaction, among other reasons. However, you can handle these situations with a consistent approach and by following these seven basic steps.

Step 1: Recognize signs of underperformance

Look for signs that imply underperformance and document specific examples of how an employee’s work has suffered. Next, find out the contributing factors to their underperformance.

Step 2: Conduct one-on-one meetings with employees 

To find out the actual reasons for an employee’s underperformance, you must ask them the right questions, in the right tone. Schedule a one-on-one meeting to ask the underperformer the reasons behind their lack of motivation and reduced productivity. 

You need to listen actively to the employee’s responses to better understand their perspective. To ensure that they understand the job expectations and areas that require improvement, ask them how clear they are regarding their goals and tasks. 

Step 3: Develop an action plan together 

Once you identify the reasons behind a worker’s underperformance, devise an action plan to improve productivity. Ask the employee if there are areas where they may need training and then jointly establish a time frame for when you would like to see an improvement in their performance. If they have personal issues, you can propose taking time off.

Step 4: Schedule regular follow-ups to discuss progress

Give your underperforming employee enough time to reflect on the improvement areas. Set up daily, weekly or monthly meetings to monitor their progress on the action plan. Use this time to discuss challenges as well as find and fix roadblocks. You can also use these meetings to identify whether the staff member needs any training or support from your end.

Step 5: Give constructive feedback

Providing proper and timely feedback to an employee and striving to improve their performance is essential to their growth. Explain to your underperforming employee where they are lacking and appreciate their efforts. This way you can help them see their progress and identify specific areas that require more attention. 

Step 6: Recognize progress

As the underperforming employee starts showing improvement, appreciate their efforts, referring to what they have accomplished and its positive impact. This recognition increases employee confidence and will inspire them to achieve the ideal performance level. 

Step 7: Keep everything in writing

After each discussion, email the employee a summary of any planned action, their achievements and areas of improvement. Don’t forget to include suggestions from them. This is a good way to track their progress in writing while keeping their underperformance confidential.


Celene Robert
Celene Robert

Celene heads up the marketing at Escalon. Passionate about helping companies grow their business, she spends her days finding new ways to bring essential business services to startups, SMBs, and growth-minded companies. Based in the PNW, she’s the proud owner of 8 pairs of Birkenstocks and a sassy, cuddly cat.

We provide you with essential business services so you can focus on growth.