Managing underperformance in the workplace

Emmanuel Zvada

Emmanuel Zvada
EMPLOYEES can be a company’s greatest asset or its biggest liability, depending on how they carry out their duties. In fact, underperforming employees can undermine the organisation’s performance. When employees underperform, a business can’t operate at full capability. A business can’t sustain itself if employees are not doing their part to help the business function as planned. No organisation can tolerate poor productivity.

What is underperformance?

Workplace underperformance occurs when an employee’s quality of work has decreased below the required level.

The characteristics and severity of these situations vary, and this can be failing to perform duties to a high standard, or not performing their tasks at all, non-compliance with work policies and procedures or poor behaviour that negatively impacts others in the workplace etc.

Underperformance in employees can have a huge domino effect if it’s not dealt with swiftly and could result in a loss or decreased team morale.

Causes of underperformance

It is the norm that when the employment relationship begins between the employer and the employee, the employer will spell out its expectations to the employee both verbally and in writing.

When it comes to knowing what is expected of them, employees need more than a job description.

They must know when they are performing well and when they are not. There are many reasons an employee might underperform.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people began working remotely causing some employees to be stressed.

What it means is that it’s very important to note that not all underperformance is due to the employee being lazy, or insubordinate.

Dealing with underperformance

It should be known to employers that if they do not deal with an underperforming employee urgently, the company will be sending a message to others that this performance or behaviour is acceptable, and it sets a bad precedent for both that individual, as well as the rest of the team in the organisation.

As soon as the poor performance issue has come to the company’s attention, there is need to speak to the employee to find out its cause.

This will help the company to take corrective action so that organisational productivity does not suffer.

Here are some tips on how to deal with underperformers:

Probing the underperformer

Before taking other corrective measures on underperformers an investigation should be carried out.

This is when the manager tries to establish the real problem that is causing poor performance. In probing the employee, managers should also try to ensure that the employee unpacks all the issues surrounding his performance and failure to meet standards.

On the same note before you decide to take drastic measures againt the underperformer, try to probe the company and its operations.

This is done to check if the difficulties the underperformer is facing are caused by the organisations’ operations or the employee him/herself. As an employer it is good to look into the internal processes first before pinning the employee.

Re-evaluating your targets and standards

Setting goals and objectives correctly goes a long way in helping in their achievement. Targets must be specific, measurable, appropriate and timed (Smart).

Most targets fail on the realism aspect where targets are often not realistic for employees.

A re-evaluation of the targets should be done as that can help underperformers.

Maybe the targets are too high and that is why the employees fail to meet them.

Having high  expectations might be the reason employers get dissatisfied with employees’ performance, hence the only way to go is to evaluate employees’ strengths and weaknesses and set reasonable standards.

Offer training or coaching to underperformers

A company that invests in employee development invests in its success.

By training employees, the company will be creating a workplace that is adaptive, flexible, and ready for change.

When employees continuously fail to perform they may be sent to corporate training seminars so that they can learn appropriate and updated skills needed for their profession.

Coaching can also be done for underperformers. Show them how the job should be done. Let them experience working with the managers, and knowing what is expected of them. Give them constant feedback about their work so that they can keep on improving until they meet, and even exceed, your standards.

Transfer them to other departments

A transfer involves the moving of an employee from one job to another without changing the responsibilities or compensation.

Sometimes it is good to re-assign employees to departments they will best utilise their skills.

The purposes of such transfer are either to increase their effectiveness in the organisation or improve the versatility of the employees or to rectify mistakes made at the hiring stage or even to adjust the workforce in the organisation.

A transfer provides skills in another department within the business. Transfer helps an employee gain wider and broader experience within the

Tie pay to performance

An effective compensation strategy is integral in attracting new talent and retaining and motivating the best performers. Yet, if not done appropriately, the way in which a company compensates its employees can lead to a number of negative effects.

While research suggests that pay is not the biggest motivator for employees — it sure helps.

When there is a structured process to tie increases to performance appraisal scores, employees are motivated to meet deadlines and get things done.

It is also a great incentive when better performing employees know that they received a better salary than underperformers. What is more important is for underperforming employees to know and understand that they received less because they did not accomplish assigned tasks or meet deadlines.

Let go underperformers

If employees are not improving even after providing them assistance and training in their work, maybe it is time to let them go.

In reality, tackling a poorly performing employee, if handled properly it is not as problematic as employers think.

The key is to be firm, organised and methodical and to ensure that the  disciplinary process is carried out fairly.

Be mindful to comply with all the rules to avoid labour disputes over illegal termination.

Productive employees are necessary for any organisation to sustain its business.

On the other hand, underperformers have an undesirable effect on the company in several aspects.

  • Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and international recruitment expert