5 ways to help an underperforming employee

5 ways to help an underperforming employee

What if you notice that one of your employees carries out tasks with difficulty? Or the quality of their deliverables isn’t up to par? What is the next step to take? How can you help an underperforming employee so that they start making progress again?

Undoubtedly, when one contributor’s performance is low, this will, sooner or later, also affect the performances of other team members. And not only this, collective morale will also be wounded. That’s why identifying — and, consequently, addressing — the issues faced by an underperforming employee early on, is critical. 

In what follows, we’ll discuss five ways — approaches and tactics — you may use to help an underperforming employee; that is, if you notice that they’re struggling and their performance is low. 

But, before that, let us first focus on your role as the person responsible to help an underperforming employee.

Helping an underperforming employee as an HR person, a team leader or line manager

As a team leader or line manager your role requires you to provide direction; and monitor the progress of your team. To elaborate, you probably work alongside your team and, thus, you are connected to each and every one of them. Given these points, it will be easier for you to take notice of changes, in both their performance and their behavior — or even their mood — so that you’ll act on time and provide the support needed.

On the other hand, if you hold an HR role you may become aware of relevant issues in two different ways. That is to say, you’ll either be notified by a manager dealing with an underperforming employee and need your support. Or you may become aware of such issues in one of your monthly one-to-one meetings — or any other meeting format — with your company’s personnel. In any case, your collaboration with the person dealing with performance issues and the manager responsible for them will be critical for the resolution of said problem.   

So, how do you help an underperforming employee regardless of your role? 

5 ways to help an underperforming employee 

In one of our latest articles we offered a few ideas as to how you can address poor work performance, in general. That is, how — by making all-embracing improvements in the consistency of your team, the way you work with them and your company culture — you may resolve performance issues in your team; or your company, as a whole.

This time, we’ll focus on the things you can do to help each member of your team bounce back. Once again, you’ll need to first examine the root cause of the problem. What is it that leads a specific individual into falling short of the standards you have set? Only by answering that question the right way, will you be able to provide the right support to your team. 

The different scenarios you may be dealing with when an employee is underperforming are, more or less, the following:  

1. Train, upskill or reskill an employee that has recently been moved to a new job position

An employee may be underperforming due to a radical change in their role. That is to say, they recently took on a new role and find it difficult to become efficient. 

In a similar fashion, they may find it difficult to carry through any new responsibilities they have no previous experience with. In this case, you may notice that the employee probably underperforms in tasks their predecessor may have been successfully completing, up to this point. To help your underperforming employee get back on track, you’ll need to provide necessary training; so that they’ll learn the ropes of their new role. Alternatively, you may assign an experienced colleague as a silent mentor; or work, yourself, closely with them — to help them learn the ins and outs. 

All in all, given these points, your underperforming employee may need empowerment in their skills to meet the standards of their new role.

2. Release the employee from excessive workload

In a similar fashion, you may notice that an employee lags behind because the workload they’re responsible for has increased. To elaborate, the volume of assigned tasks and responsibilities may be disproportionate to what they have been dealing with, so far. The employee may not be able to carry through with assigned tasks, regardless of the reasons their workload has increased. That is, regardless if there has been a redeployment of staff or because members of your team withdrew; or even because your company’s needs are rapidly growing. 

It is your role as a manager to provide them with an optimal solution to the problem; and help them deal with it. Among other things, you may consider redistributing tasks to other team members, reprioritizing tasks or providing them with extra time; perhaps, by extending deadlines for some of the more time-consuming tasks. Or, as a last resort, you may also consider hiring additional staff; especially if the workload isn’t going to be reduced for a while.

3. Support the employee with some well-earned time off 

Though it sounds a bit contradictory to suggest that an underperforming employee take some time off, it does make sense; especially if they’re dealing with personal problems or they are experiencing burnout. In either case, by helping your employee recover you’re not only helping them take the time needed to get back on track and be productive more quickly; you’re also preventing turnover.

4. Help the employee adapt to a recently-changed work environment

In some cases the root cause of underperformance may be an organizational change; or any other modification in the way you work within your team. To elaborate, it’s not unusual for a change in the consistency of the team to stir the pot. If, for example, your team recently grew bigger and new team members joined in, senior members may find it difficult to collaborate with new members in some cases; or remain fully productive. All in all, if annoyance and discontentment incites underperformance in one of your employees, it is your responsibility, as a team leader, to help them individually — and your team, as well — to absorb changes and reestablish collaboration from scratch.

5. Re-inform the employee of the company policies or your team’s guiding principles

Finally, if there’s no valid reason explaining the behavior of an underperforming employee and their delivered or produced outcomes, it’s probably about time you started a difficult discussion with them. 

To elaborate, your employee may not be fully aware of how things work within your company or your team; with respect to priorities, urgency of delivering outcomes and required efficiency, in general. This may be the case of a new hire or a person that has not been appropriately induced to company operations. In this case you should further discuss with them and work on a probation plan together, as to how they will be able to make progress; if not, you may need to make more radical decisions.

Afterword: Helping an underperforming employee

There are ways and means to help an underperforming employee. Understanding the root cause of their shortcoming is the first step to take; before you can come up with the right set of actions. To elaborate, when one of your team members lingers over their tasks at hand or said quality is non-optimal, they may — among other things — be dealing with excessive workload, their assigned responsibilities may be beyond their abilities or they may even struggle with burnout or personal issues. 

To help them get back on track and cover ground, so that they don’t burden other team members, you may need to provide extra training, reprioritize the assigned workload or even prepare a personalized probation plan, if needed.