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How To Deal With An Underperforming Employee

Asavari Sharma

November 07, 2022

It is never easy when you realize that someone you hired who seemed to have so much potential is not coming up to scratch on the job. For one thing, you spent a lot of money and time bringing them in.

For another, they may be perfectly nice people outside the job. But if they have consistently been underperforming, it may be fairest to the team and to the company to let them go.

But before you take that step, though, is there any way you can help that employee mend their ways and start delivering? It turns out underperformance often has more to do with you and the company than you may realize.

What does underperformance mean?

Underperformance at work refers to a drop in work quality below expected standards. It could include a failure to complete duties or meet goals as required, inadequate compliance with workplace rules and policies, disruptive or negative behavior, or a mix of these.

A new employee not meeting expectations and who consistently underperforms could lead to diminished project results, which could negatively affect relations with your company's clients or stakeholders.

Underperformance could also diminish morale for the rest of your team, who may constantly be picking up the slack for the employee and feeling resentful about it. Therefore, you need to identify the underperformers and take action as necessary for the team's sake.

9 reasons your new hire might be underperforming

Very often, the underperforming employee is not being careless or wilful about their poor work. The answer, instead, lies in core problems that are inhibiting their ability to work.

When dealing with underperforming employees, be sure to keep it conversational and encourage them to share their perspectives and concerns with you. You will likely find that the real reason is one of the following:

1. Job monotony

Particularly for employees with a creative bent of mind, doing the same tasks repeatedly at work could affect their interest in the job

2. Personal issues

You may find out that the new employee who is not catching on is dealing with personal problems, such as illness, the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, or the stress of moving to a new city. These have adverse impacts on productivity and require their own time to process.

3. Poor cultural fit

Sometimes, employees cannot perform at their best because the work culture does not fit their personal work style, or the team personalities differ from their own. If they are the introvert type, for instance, while the rest of your team is extroverted, they may have trouble getting along outside of work, which could hamper their ability to collaborate.

4. Stressful workplace

If the workplace is one where the pressure is always on, or if your new hire is having personality conflicts with their coworkers, it could be causing job stress inhibiting their productivity.

5. General job dissatisfaction

A reason why your association with a new employee is not working out is because the job is not what they thought it would be. This could be because of inadequate communication during the recruitment process or simply a mismatch in expectations. Either way, it leads to dissatisfaction, which reduces their motivation to do well.

6. Poor onboarding experience

Onboarding refers to the crucial first steps by which your new hire formally becomes a part of the team and is introduced to their job and colleagues.

A structured onboarding process is crucial for the employee to understand how the workplace operates, what is expected of them as a new recruit, and whom to reach out to in case of questions.

Without this, they may not know which way to move, causing confusion and frustration, which could, in turn, result in the new employee not meeting expectations.

7. A lack of appropriate training

This again happens because the employee may have done similar work at their previous job, leading the manager at this job to assume that they don't need any training. However, the truth is that on-site training is essential no matter what the employee's background is.

From professional development courses to hands-on mentoring, it is critical to equip your hire with the right opportunities to learn, ask questions and grow. Otherwise, they may not see a clear path for career development, which will demotivate them.

8. A lack of relationship building

It may be that you have not been communicating with your new hire as often as they would like. While many employees appreciate a hands-off managerial approach, new hires need more frequent check-ins and one-on-one discussions to build trust with you.

Therefore, when coaching underperforming employees, have a conversation with them to understand their preferred learning and accountability style is — and if they want more time from you, give it to them.

9. A lack of defined expectations

The job description and interview process will, of course, include an overview of what the job entails. Once your hire starts work, however, they need a specific walkthrough of their roles and targets. Without this, it is only natural that they will feel disoriented.

Managers often fail to set expectations properly when the role is similar to what the employee did at their last job, assuming that the employee already knows what to do.

However, every job is different, making clear expectations a must for your employees to bring their A-game to work every day.

How to deal with underperforming employees

It is often said that a company's greatest asset is its people. However, sometimes those very people can be a massive liability if they underperform.

It can be tempting to punish or let go of the people who consistently present bad work or have a poor work attitude, but more often than not, it helps to understand precisely why they are behaving that way first.

Here is a blueprint for empathetically coaching underperforming employees and helping them change their ways and start producing results:

1. Understand the context

The first and most crucial step in managing underperforming employees is understanding the reasons behind their subpar output. Are they dealing with family problems at home? Are they battling an illness, or were they recently ill?

Did the job necessitate a significant move away from their hometown? Be empathetic throughout the conversation with the new employee who are not meeting your expectations. Write down the points they make, and be patient if they initially show reluctance to open up to you.

If relevant, consider introducing them to the support benefits you offer employees at work, such as wellness programs or counseling sessions. Above all, demonstrate that you are interested in their welfare, both at work and outside, and that you want to help them.

2. Allow for an adjustment period

New hires can often take up to six months to fully adjust to their role and to the expectations it comes with. If you are concerned about a new employee who is not catching on, therefore, consider giving them some more time to get used to things.

If necessary, have a talk with them to check that they clearly understand the goals they are required to meet and the work procedures they have to follow.

3. See if the employee is trainable

A lot of the time, your employee may be underperforming simply because they do not have the necessary skills or technical know-how for a specific task.

If so, assess whether the new employee hire is not working out can be trained and supply them with the necessary resources to pick the skills up and be confident using them.

This includes understanding how your employee prefers to learn (through an online webinar, written tutorials, or an in-person training session) and equipping them accordingly.

Suppose your employee is committed to participating at work and shows an active interest in receiving feedback and learning. In that case, the chances are that a training program may be all they need to perform at par.

4. Adjust your recruitment strategy

This is particularly important to consider if it is a new hire who is underperforming. Ask yourself whether there were gaps in the onboarding process and training period or whether the hiring process was targeting the wrong kinds of candidates.

This will help you understand the skills and personality traits you want in a new recruit more thoroughly and align the hiring process towards finding people with those attributes next time around.

5. Understand what motivates your employees

Take the time to understand what makes your underperforming employee tick. What are their short-term and long-term goals? What would they like you to do more or less as a manager? Listen actively and with patience, and pay attention to everything the employee is saying.

This helps you assess whether or not the employee is in the right role and whether they can contribute better in a different capacity. In fact, this is a good practice for all your employees, not just the underperforming ones.

6. Chalk out an action plan together

Once you and the employee have identified the performance issues and discussed the underlying causes, it is time to work together on an action plan to address those issues.

This should include an outline of the actions or goals that the employee needs to complete, timeframes for each of those, and support or resources that you as a manager need to help them out with.

If there is a skill gap, this action plan could include opportunities for the new employee not meeting expectations to pick up those skills within a specific timeframe and mentorship or technical training that you provide them with.

If there are personal issues involved, the action plan could include a certain amount of time off to deal with those issues, as well as a back-to-work adjustment program you can support them with.

7. Let them set their own performance goals

Mainly when dealing with underperforming employees, it is essential to include them in the goal-setting process rather than simply telling them what you want them to do.

Ask the employee what they wish to achieve, which areas they would like to improve on, whether there are any new skills they need to pick up, what would help them avoid performance issues going forward, and how other team members can help.

You can also give them extra or more challenging tasks if their subpar output is because they feel like their skills aren't being utilized enough.

By focusing on performance rather than issuing blame, new employees who are not catching on take more ownership of their goals and feel empowered to do better.

8. Have regular follow-ups and check-ins

Once you have set goals together, have a regular follow-up process by which you ensure that tasks have been met according to agreed-upon deadlines and that the new employee not working out has everything they need to make progress.

You can schedule these sessions daily or weekly, depending on the task at hand. Be sure to give the employee enough scope to explain how they are progressing and their challenges. You do not have to see this as micromanaging.

Employees who might have been underperforming because they did not feel noticed will appreciate the extra interest you take and feel more motivated. Plus, this helps you catch knowledge or technology gaps sooner and rectify them.

9. Recognize progress

Particularly when an underperforming employee has been asked to improve, it is critical to recognize when they are doing well. Praise them for their overall efforts as well as specific improvements they have made. This helps them feel seen, instills them with confidence, and encourages them to continue working on themselves.

10. Give faster and more relevant feedback

Be prompt about providing specific feedback to your underperforming employee to illustrate how they are improving and where they are lagging. Ideally, this feedback should include perspectives from their teammates as well.

Focus on specific points and keep the conversation about finding solutions rather than pointing fingers. Talk about how the changes in the employee's behavior have impacted the rest of the team, and commend their efforts to do better.

Be sure to provide frequent feedback daily if necessary. Whether the new employee not meeting expectations is now doing something wrong or right, you should point it out straight away so that they know which direction to move in.

11. Make a decision if they continue to underperform

If the employee continues to underperform despite the steps you have taken to enable them, it may be in the best interests of the rest of the team and the company to let the employee go. This also shows the rest of the team that you take underperformance seriously, motivating them to keep doing their best.

There are two options here — reassigning them to a different team that may align with their skills and personality or terminating their employment altogether. The latter option will be difficult for both of you, so be sure to follow due procedure and be as considerate about it as possible.

12. Be punctilious about documentation

Even if things do not work out with the underperforming employee, it is essential to have on record the process you followed to approach and change the situation.

Document all the steps you followed, from the initial conversation to the motivation behind your final decision, as well as what transpired during each meeting and after each goal-setting session.

Include both the highs and lows and make changes to your formal action plan for underperformance management as necessary. Then, email a summary to the employee in question and encourage them to share their thoughts. This will serve as a valuable blueprint for future situations like this one.

Tackle underperformance at the recruitment stage

When an employee not meeting expectations is insufficiently engaged at work, it is almost always a result of a disconnect at the hiring or the onboarding stage.

Often, you may discover that your hiring process requires a revamp to suitably convey the skills and behavioral traits you need and attract candidates of that ilk.

In this regard, Adaface can significantly simplify the hiring process by automating the resume screening and providing a user-friendly assessment experience for candidates.

This will create more goodwill for you as an employer and ensure that the right talent is selected for the right job from the get-go. To learn more about Adaface, visit our website.

Asavari Sharma

Asavari is an EiR at Adaface. She has made it her mission to help recruiters deploy candidate-friendly skill tests instead of trick-question based tests. When taking a break, she obsesses over art.

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