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How to Handle an Employee with Poor Performance: Guide


No one can deny the fact that poor performance of an employee is employer’s one of the biggest nightmare. Employer or HR invests lots of time, money and efforts to find the right candidate for the job.

When employee is not delivering the expected result, it comes as a bitter disappointment to the employer. Also handling poor performance is a difficult task; one cannot just fire the employee the moment he is seen to be under performing. Let’s have a look at the ways to deal with the poor performance.

Managing Poor Performance Employee

Causes of Poor Employee Performance:

Before moving ahead to the steps to overcome and address the poor performance, it is necessary to find out the root cause of poor performance. Performance is the product of ability and motivation. Lack in either of the two, is the main reason for the poor performance.

Lack of Ability:

Ability can be defined as possession of skills and means to perform some task. Lack of ability in employee can arise out of following things.

1. Resources:

Employee needs sufficient time. Money, personnel and supplies to complete certain task, deficiency or absence of any of those will act as a barrier to optimum performance. No matter how much the employee wants to complete the task, unavailability of resources will hamper his or her work.

Employer has to take care that all resources are at place and instruct employees to bring to notice is any of the resource falls inadequate. Instead of performing poorly with limited resources, proactively bringing things in notice to employer solves the problem. The issue is easier to solve, but if left untreated, it is ought to affect employee’s performance.

2. Obstacles:

Obstacles include the things like, getting approvals, waiting for further action from clients, problem collaborating with other department. In these situations, there isn’t much an employee could do, manager has to pitch in and solve the problems. A keen eye on the problems and a manager who is solution focused is the answer to solve this barrier of good performance.

3. Skills: 

Sometimes employee is a wrong fit for the job, he was not assessed thoroughly while hiring, or he has inadequate training and instructions, or he is promoted before he was ready to handle the said responsibilities. Continuous review from the manager is necessary to identify this problem on time. A correct training will solve this issue.

4. Expectations:

Communication gaps and lack of clarity in expectations results in poor performance. The parameters and the expectations should be clear; also the method and budget to complete certain task should also be discussed. Internal coordination and frequent meetings between the client and the employee helps reduce the gap of communication and thereby lessens misunderstandings.

Lack of Motivation:

1. No recognition and rewards:

Employees get de-motivated towards their work if their hard work and efforts are not appreciated. Employer needs to have certain rewards and recognition program to identify and praise the best performer. Recognition plays a major role in employee motivation

2. No impact on poor performers:

If poor performers are treated the way a good performer is treated then it results in employee dissatisfaction. A reward system should be implemented for good performer. Bad performer should also face some repercussions for his inability to perform well.

Though an employer is not expected to give punishment for bad performance, but a time to time review is found to be suitable and apt to solve this problem.

3. Burnout:

Job burnout can be defined as psychological stress due to mental or physical exhaustion. When employees are experiencing job burnout then they tend to perform poorly. Managers need to take note that the work is well distributed among employees and there is good work life balance. Several ways are to be deduced to re-energize and introduce ways to inculcate healthy work environment.

Thus we see there can be many reasons to poor performance, identifying the cause and then addressing them the correct way will solve the problem. Giving training to the person who is expecting a reward or giving resources to an unskilled person is a complete mismatch and will worsen the situation.

Managing Poor Employee Performance – Do’s and Don’ts:

Do’s for Managing Employee Performance:

1. Have a uniform way to measure performance of all employees. It should be free of discrimination and biases.

2. Have policies defined for poor performance. The desired expectations from employees must be communicated to him and he must be aware of the impact of poor performance.

3. Take actions post the identification of the cause of poor performance.

4. Gather the cues and examples which determine the poor performance, do not just rely on vague data. A proper documentation is essential.

5. Poor performance can also be caused due to some personal problems in employee’s life. It can be a death of near ones, divorce, bad health of spouse or kids. Though it is necessary to separate personal and professional life, but we need to remember we are humans and not machines. Have empathy and help him cope up with the issue.

6. When you see the incidents which shows poor performance, having an open discussion with the employee often helps. The discussion should not have a accusing tone, but should involve more of a active listening.

7. Seek suggestions and views from employee regarding his performance and the ways by which it can be improved.

8. Have a clear action plan which an employee could follow without constant supervision and will be able to bridge the gap of performance. The action plan should be time bound.

9. Have several regular meetings to evaluate the progress and to know about the difficulties. Give useful feedback for the betterment.

10. Provide necessary resources for the betterment of employee performance.

11. Poor performance should be handled in light and positive manner. Do not make the situation appear to be grave as it may pressurize the employee further. The action has to get strict only if the previous measures fail to improve him or her.

12. Be confident and handle poor performance with ease. Do not settle for mediocre results; take actions to get the best results out of your team.

Don’ts While Managing Employee Performance:

1. Waiting until the performance review to point out the poor performance is the worst thing to do. Many times employees are not clear or are unaware of their poor performance. It is better to let them know the moment you realize it.

2. Developing a fixed view of the employee should be avoided, there can be several reasons for underperformance.

3. Believing to others comments regarding the employee’s underperformance. One needs to check the facts on their own, before declaring the employee to be a poor performer.

4. Waiting until things go wrong and then point out the poor performance, This will result in chaos in a already difficult situation.

5. Do not mix misconduct with performance.

How to Discuss Poor Performance with Employee?

Post you find the cause of poor performance, discussing about poor performance with employee can often be a tricky situation. Here are few tips which could help you to make the process effective and efficient.

1. Have a open discussion and communicate your concern to employee:

It is necessary to have open discussion and it lets the employee know about the concern. It is advised to avoid small talk as much as possible and directly jump to the point and be firm about the points you make.

2. Share your observations:

The observations which prove poor performance should be talked about. It is wise to have written proofs about the same, so that employee cannot deny it by giving excuses and reasons. Be specific and precise with the observations.

3. Explain the impact of their bad performance on team:

Bad performance affects the productivity of the organization on the whole; also the morale of the team is down due to the inconvenience. It is necessary to convey the same to the employee with poor performance.

4. Inform them the expected behavior and results:

Sometimes the employee is unaware of the expected behavior and the expected output from him, make sure you discuss it and make him understand the same.

5. Discuss about the possible solutions:

One can ask the employee himself about the possible solutions to the problems and what resources or training will help him to improve the performance.

6. Let the employee know about the consequences:

Disciplinary action is something which gets harsh or strict gradually, let the employee know about the consequence in each step.

7. Decide on follow up date mutually:

Employee should be assigned some action plan along with the date by which he will be assessed. The improvement of performance should be time bound.

8. Have faith and confidence in employee:

Lastly believe in employee that he can do well. And end the conversation on a positive note.

Warning Letter to Employee for Poor Performance:

The format of the letter can be as follows:

Dear Ted,

This is to notify you that in spite of warnings your performance has not been improved. We have already informed you the area of improvements that you need to work upon. In our last meeting held on __ we discussed on 1) ___ 2) __ 3) ___

You are advised to send us your action plan for improving upon the same by tomorrow 4 pm. We shall have meeting on the same post your submission.

Notice to Employee for Poor Performance:

Dear Stanley,

You are well aware that you were put on performance improvement plan. We had discussion on the action plan you submitted us. We provided you enough guidance and time to achieve the targets and complete the tasks.

We are not finding you serious about the job as you fail to fulfill the commitments you gave. There are several complaints from your superiors as well as clients.

Consider this as the last warning and you are hereby given a time up to next Monday for improving your performance. Your performance will be reviewed and in case of further issues your services will be terminated lieu of one month notice.

How to Demote an Employee for Poor Performance?

Demoting an employee will surely have negative emotions involved, but sometimes employer is left with no other option than to demote an employee. The whole process involves lots of tact; here are few tips to make it easy.

1. Communicate in private with employee:

Explain the reasons clearly and take efforts to help him or her accept the change. It is wise to keep the conversation documented, just in case you need to prove that you acted fairly.

2. Assign tasks he is best at:

This will make the employee realize that he is best suited in the demoted role and can deliver best results. With time he will be glad to be in a right place.

3. Let the staff know in professional manner:

When demotion happens, whole staff is gossiping about it. Hence it is better to reveal yourself and praise the employee publicly. Convey the message that employee has been placed at the position where he can use his expertise at his best and benefit the organization.

4. Follow up:

Have meetings with the employee and see how he and the others working with him reacting to the change. Ensure that the things are working smoothly and not hampering the work.

5. Be ready to have resignation at desk:

Often employee puts up resignation and looks for a new job, employer should have a contingency plan in his mind and the resignation from a demoted employee is an expected thing.

How to Terminate Employee for Poor Performance?

Terminating employee is never an easy task. It is the end of association between employee and company. But at times, thing do not work out and taking the step of termination becomes essential. Keep in mind the following points while terminating the employee.

1. Keep it quick:

It is impossible to convey this news in a way which will not hurt the employee and inflict emotional pain, hence stating it as quickly as possible will make this difficult task bit easier.

2. Take timing into consideration:

Do not convey the news on Friday; Employee cannot do anything on weekends as no interview can be scheduled. No job agencies will be open. Employee will be left with nothing to do but to sulk at home and moreover disrupt the family environment. It is wise to talk in private during weekdays.

3. Keep things in writing:

To protect yourself from being accused of unfair behavior, sit along with two people when conversation is made. Also keep things in writing.

4. Last paycheck:

Clear the dues and provide paycheck at the time of termination, do not keep any things pending with you

5. Collect essential things from employee:

Collect keys, passwords of laptop or computer and collect all necessary documentation from the employee. A complete knowledge transfer in a documented form should be taken from employee. This avoids any inconvenience in finding things post the absence of the employee

6. Future references:

When employee is terminated, he does not give reference to the next company. But even if any reference check comes to you, do not give any negative comments and stick to the basic information like- employee designation, last drawn salary, and basic roles and responsibilities.

Thus we covered almost all scenarios which occur while handling poor performance; you are free to add any further suggestions and incidents which can prove as a learning lesson to all of us.