• 6 min read

Managing Poor Performance at Work: 6 Vital Steps to Take

Bad review
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All employees go through a probationary period where managers assess their performance and see if they’re a good fit for the company. But after passing this initial test, there are times when an employee (or in some cases, employees) starts to slip up.

As a manager, it’s your job to recognize when a staff member is underperforming and address those issues head-on. If you’re having trouble identifying and managing these problems, then here are few tips to get you through this difficult task.

1. Understand Poor Performance

Before you can manage or improve an employee’s problematic behaviour, it’s better to get a proper understanding of what exactly counts as poor work performance, which is typically categorized into three levels.

The first and easiest to remedy among the three is underperformance. This level is commonly characterized by an abrupt drop in your employee’s productivity. Examples of this include being habitually late or consistently missing a deadline. Underperformance is usually the first sign that something’s wrong and should be addressed as soon as it’s noticed.

The second level is called misconduct. It happens when an employee’s behaviour starts becoming disruptive for both the individual and the company. Instances of misconduct include barging into meetings unannounced; acting rude towards colleagues or badmouthing management.

The last is gross misconduct; where an employee starts showing signs of violent tendencies. Situations that belong to this degree are usually handled with the help of your HR and legal team.

2. Investigate Further

Human behaviour doesn’t change overnight and that applies to your employees’ performance as well.  Positive Paula won’t suddenly turn into negative Nancy after the weekend - no matter how dreary Mondays can be. It’s therefore important to know the causes behind these changes so you can fix them and so that they don’t escalate into a more pressing issue.

When presented with a problematic employee, the first thing you should do is create a timeline and ask as many questions as you can. For example, “Are they new or have they been in the company long? Are there other instances in which the employee performed badly? Is this the first time they showed signs of problematic behaviour? How does the rest of the team feel about it? How did it affect the company?”

By establishing when and how an employee’s problematic behaviour first started, you have a better chance of nailing down what caused it. Knowing these answer will arm you with the proper information and will give you a better idea on how to handle the situation.

3. Find a Compromise

Once you know the reason behind their problematic behaviour, it’s time to come up with the best solution. For example, if the new graphic designer you hired is talented but comes to work late because they live too far away, then maybe you can compromise by providing them with a flexible work schedule. It might seem unconventional but finding solutions to help new hires adjust to the office environment is always easier than recruiting and training new talent.

However, if the employee has been in the company for a long time, the conversation can get trickier. After years of employment, they might be a bit sensitive or feel entitled. If this is the case, it’s even more important to talk to them as soon as possible. But begin the conversation on a positive note and make sure you’ve practiced what to say.

Whether an employee is new to the company or not, it’s important to know the reasons behind their poor performance, that way, they know what they can improve on moving forward.

4. Apply the Appropriate Sanctions

There are instances, of course, when working on a happy compromise isn’t always the best solution. When an employee shows consistent problematic behaviour, whether it’s always showing up to meetings late or missing a deadline, they should be held accountable.

If an employee’s underperformance doesn’t warrant dismissal, create a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).  A PIP must contain a set of goals that they should be able to accomplish within a specific period of time, and usually between one to three months. As its name suggests, it’s a tool that’s used to measure how much an employee’s performance has improved and if it’s enough to keep them in the company. Similar to being put on probation, the PIP serves as a test for the underperforming employee.

Before implementing the plan, be sure to inform the employee about what you intend to do and inform them of the consequences at stake. There are also a few workers who believe that being put on a PIP is a sure sign that they will get fired. Assure them that that’s not the case and that the PIP is actually the company’s way of retaining potentially good employees.

5. Follow-up Regularly

Similar to a doctor following-up on their patient, it’s also important to check up on the status of your employee’s performance. After implementing a PIP, make sure to follow-up and keep track of their behaviour. Be sure to compliment them if they have shown signs of improvement and encourage them to do better. Not only will this motivate them, it will also keep them on their toes.

If their performance is inconsistent throughout this disciplinary period, it’s up to you whether you’d like to extend the courtesy of giving them another chance or if you’d like to impose a stricter sanction.

A step above the PIP is suspension without pay. However, this kind of sanction should be done after at least three written warnings or disciplinary meetings. Their contracts should also strictly write that management has the right to enforce this particular sanction.

6. Act Immediately

When it comes to managing poor performance, it’s important to act quickly. Sometimes, managers take too long to provide feedback to underperforming employees, leaving them feeling blindsided or betrayed when they are put under disciplinary action or worse, terminated.

When employees aren’t given the opportunity to improve or defend themselves, they could file a formal complaint, causing disastrous effects for the company. They can take legal action, write a poor review online, start a rumour about management or badmouth the company to their friends and former colleagues.

To avoid these unpleasant situations, it’s always important to address and inform employees about their poor performance as soon as possible.

Not every employee is the same. Some show signs of problematic behaviour right from the very beginning while others start acting out after a few months, or even years. But by regularly managing work performance, signs of problematic behaviour shouldn’t be hard to miss and worst-case scenarios can, most definitely, be avoided.

Have you ever managed an employee’s poor work performance? Tell us all about it the comments section below!