5 Ways to Deal with Underperforming Employees

As employees and managers, we have all dealt with Underperforming Employees and colleagues. It is especially challenging to deal with these people as a manager since we are keen to get each team member to give their best to the team and workplace. 

If an employee isn’t performing at their best, the business suffers. That’s the bottom line of the situation. These underperforming employees have their routine responsibilities to carry out. These are part of the daily tasks needed to keep a business running and help to maintain its revenue.

If one employee doesn’t perform, some of the daily tasks will be impacted, and the business is not functioning optimally. When employee performance starts to lag, things begin to slip up, which translates into a revenue and sales decline.

The usual solution is to keep your employees engaged and feeling like they are valued.

Having managers use effective performance management techniques is key to managing standard performance issues. Ensuring employees are engaged and satisfied in their position and with the company is a critical step in controlling underperformance at the initial stage.

Handling Underperforming Employees Step By Step 

However, some employees are beyond the initial stage and are chronic underperformers. This could be due to various reasons that may require more finesse in handling. Dealing with such underperforming employees is usually tricky and will lead to difficult conversations. 

How do you manage an underperforming employee? Here is a step-by-step guide to handling underperforming employees effectively.

1. Face the problem

Recognition is the first thing to try for. Employees need to accept that their manager is correct, and they need support or encouragement to put out better work. But this acceptance requires communication of expectations. It also requires that the employee acknowledges without resistance that they are lagging in the performance of their duties. As a manager, you need to open up to the employee about their underperformance, determine its causes, and see how it can be fixed.

Sometimes employees may t be going through a difficult personal time, or they may need something specific from the manager to help them get past a roadblock and thrive. Once employees know their underperformance has been noticed, they may be willing to start working to fix it.

2. Document discussions

Like most complex issues, it is better to document every conversation or agreement with an employee about their underperformance. Doing this means that the employee and manager both know what was agreed upon and what is expected going forward. 

By documenting what has been said and what is planned to move forward, managers will be able to check in regularly and assess the progress made (or not made). Documenting the process also helps to create a record for the future if another manager replaces the current one or another employee faces similar or exact reasons for underperforming.

3. Identify Areas of Improvement

It is ok to have discussions documented and recorded. However, the next step is to point out specific and verifiable areas where the employees can improve and bring their performance levels back to average. Vague promises and complaints will not be practical in these situations and can lead to bad blood and confusion.

As the person handling the underperformance, you want to specify where the employee falls short and help identify why that might be the case. Ideally, there should be a measurable level of improvement that you want to see from the employee. For instance, if a sales rep is only selling to ten clients monthly and the average expectation is twenty clients, this should be clearly stated as a measure of improvement.

Such performance checkpoints can be used to review performance in the future. Suppose there is no specific reason for underperformance. In that case, the manager should plan regular checks with their employees to deliver feedback, and they can discuss any struggles or challenges they are facing.

When employees feel supported and sustained, they are more likely to come to you to help improve their performance.

4. Create a Plan of Action

‍The following requirement is to have a specific plan for what the employee needs to do and what you need to do if the employee cannot deliver. Having their performance requirements and objectives specified should help improve performance. 

Apart from personal issues, the common causes of employee underperformance are lack of exposure, too much pressure, or lack of skills for the job assigned. If an employee is in over their head or struggling with a particular element of their role, all they need is support and a specific set of actions to follow for their tasks. These steps help the employee improve, and knowing that they have a support system to back them up in case of problems is usually enough to improve performance. 

5. Assess Performance

In case of more attitudinal problems, it is essential to measure and assess the performance of your employees. There should ideally be a benchmark to compare performance so that managers can quickly point out when a team member is underperforming and address the issue head-on before it gets out of control.

This is not the standard performance appraisal but a field or technical appraisal to see how employees deliver.  When employees know that they have to work to prove their worth and are being assessed on their performance, they are more likely to exert themselves to go the extra mile to reach their checkpoints. This helps to add a sense of value to your team and will have them making the effort to keep moving forwards rather than stagnating in their roles.


Having sustained and effective performance management is essential if you want the business to succeed. Employees delivering under-average performance over a long period will take a toll on the company and its bottom line, which is why it’s important to handle underperformance issues as soon as they are noticed.

To do this, managers must hold regular feedback sessions and reviews for all staff members and provide a clear action plan when they identify any areas that need improvement.

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