Career Development

20 Ways to Help an Underperforming Employee

December 31, 1969

Managing employee performance means taking the time to help employees maximize their potential. Sometimes this means working with one or more employees to establish better performance standards. By giving them the chance to improve, you can maintain a quality team of professionals who respect and value your company. In this article, we define why it is important for managers to help underperforming employees and review 20 ways they can provide help.

Related: 23 Performance Evaluation Phrases to Use in a Review

Why is it important to coach an underperforming employee?

It is important to coach an underperforming employee because you can re-instill a purpose and determination in them that motivates them to perform up to your standards. Furthermore, coaching an underperforming employee can improve loyalty as it shows you care about their success in the workplace. It can also have an overarching influence on the productivity of your company and, therefore, its success.

Related: How to Be a Good Coach at Work

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20 ways to help underperforming employees

There is a wide variety of motivational methods you can use to inspire better performance in a single employee or a whole department. Here are 20 ways you can help underperforming employees gain back their confidence and motivation for their job:

  1. Take action as soon as you notice underperformance
  2. Meet with employees to discuss their job performance
  3. Establish the cause of underperformance
  4. Practice performance confidentiality within the department
  5. Send out a training survey
  6. Have a discussion to establish long-term goals
  7. Send out a survey regarding supervisor performance
  8. Define their purpose within the company
  9. Set up monthly meetings to discuss progress
  10. Provide continuous feedback
  11. Enroll employees in online courses
  12. Set them up with a mentor figure within your company
  13. Suggest time off to focus on personal life changes
  14. Create an incentive program for department-wide performance
  15. Review their job expectations and areas for improvement
  16. Allow them to retrain in specific areas of their job
  17. Encourage a healthy work-life balance
  18. Assign them a new task or project
  19. Provide gifts for good work
  20. Take a step back to encourage responsibility

1. Take action as soon as you notice underperformance

One of the key components to help an underperforming employee is to act as soon as you start noticing underperformance signs. For example, if an employee begins turning in reports late, missing meetings or doing less work than they usually would daily, you should acknowledge those changes and make a plan of action.

2. Meet with employees to discuss their job performance

Upon noticing changes in their work behavior, schedule time for a one-on-one meeting. In the meeting, ask how they are doing with their current workload and address the areas of their job where they are underperforming. This can help them understand their current position while also demonstrating that you care about their success.

Related: 10 Ideas to Improve Employee Engagement

3. Establish the cause of underperformance

By establishing the cause of their underperformance, you can start to create a plan to help them succeed in the future. Maybe they get caught up in small details, or perhaps they need additional training in a particular aspect of their job. However, sometimes work-related circumstances do not cause underperformance. Instead, employee underperformance could be because of personal life changes. In this case, try to be understanding and establish a time frame where you expect their performance level to increase.

4. Practice performance confidentiality within the department

Another helpful way to promote better performance is by practicing confidentiality, which means keeping the employee's underperformance between you and them. They might feel embarrassed if the rest of the department knows, and it could help them remain confident among their coworkers.

Related: 33 Performance Review Examples and Sample Phrases

5. Send out a training survey

If you see underperformance in more than one of your employees, they might need additional training. Send out an anonymous survey via email to identify areas where they feel less confident. If all of your employees say they need more experience with a specific software program, this could be the cause of the underperformance.

6. Have a discussion to establish long-term goals

Sometimes employees forget what their long-term career goals are. This might cause them to underperform due to a lack of purpose. Meet with them to discuss what their career goals are. Ask them about their dream job and what inspired them to take the position they have now. This could help them re-visualize their long-term goals and promote a better work ethic.

7. Send out a survey regarding supervisor performance

Another area that could contribute to underperformance is management style. Send out an anonymous survey via email to gauge your employees' perceptions of their managers' leadership. If more than one mentions that they want more daily direction, for example, then that is where you should focus to start improving performance standards. Consider holding a morning meeting, checking on team members throughout the day and providing feedback more often,

8. Define their purpose within the company

If you see a pattern of underperformance in your employee, it could be because they need to remember their role within your organization. Meet with them and discuss their importance and the purpose of each of their daily job duties. Explain to them what occurs when they do not complete their job duties effectively and how they can maximize their efficiency.

9. Set up monthly meetings to discuss progress

Set up daily, weekly or monthly meetings to help monitor the progress of your employees. Use this time to listen to them and discuss what they still find challenging versus what they feel more comfortable with. By doing this, you can re-focus their performance goals or provide training as it becomes necessary. This also ensures accountability on the part of your employees.

10. Provide continuous feedback

Feedback can be a powerful motivator for your employees. Provide them with critiques of their work so they can identify what they still need to work on. However, if they hit their daily quota, attend every meeting that week or turn in a report on time, make sure you also take the time to praise them for what they have achieved. This could increase their confidence level and make them work even harder.

Related: 4 Ways Feedback Improves Performance in The Workplace

11. Enroll employees in online courses

If your employee mentioned a specific skill they want to improve that currently affects their job performance, help them enroll in an online course or participate in a seminar for that skill. You could even enroll the entire department in the course so that everyone can boost their knowledge of a particular subject.

12. Set them up with a mentor figure within your company

A mentor can provide years of industry knowledge and encouragement to an underperforming employee. Choose someone who does not work in their department and is higher up in the company. For example, pair a marketing specialist with a member of human resources or sales.

13. Suggest time off to focus on personal life changes

If an employee's underperformance has to do with their personal life, it might be best to suggest time off to focus on their current situation. For example, if your employee experienced a family illness or loss, a traumatic event or even an exciting event like moving to a new house or introducing a new baby to the family, these are all factors that could contribute to underperformance.

14. Create an incentive program for department-wide performance

If you notice department-wide underperformance, it might be helpful to create a fun incentive program based around achieving department goals. For example, you could start a program where if the sales team meets their monthly quotas, then they get a Friday off or gift cards to the restaurants of their choice.

15. Review their job expectations and areas for improvement

To promote productivity, remind your employee of your job expectations for them and where they could improve. For example, you can create a list of expectations including that they must create five newsletters a day, pull engagement numbers for each newsletter and put the data in a spreadsheet by the end of the day each Friday. You might notice that they currently only write three newsletters a day, and they need to reach five to meet your expectations.

16. Allow them to retrain in specific areas of their job

If an employee is underperforming, it could be because they need more job training. For example, if a member of your sales team has continuously missed their sales targets for the week, you should reteach them about your sales strategies to hopefully improve their results.

17. Encourage a healthy work-life balance

Sometimes employees get so invested in their work that they end up working too much, causing them to feel strained or tired. This can cause them to lose their motivation to perform at the same level as before. You can prevent this by promoting a healthy work-life balance for your employees and encouraging them to take time off when they can.

18. Assign them a new task or project

If an employee is underperforming, it might be time for a new, more challenging task. Something new can help re-motivate them and give them a break from other tasks that have become mundane or less challenging.

19. Provide gifts for good work

If you notice a significant positive change in your employee's work ethic, you should reward them by giving them a small gift like their favorite work snack or a card praising their excellent work. These small but meaningful gestures can encourage your employee to continue making improvements.

20. Take a step back to encourage responsibility

Once your employee begins to show improvements in their performance, allow them to retake responsibility in their daily work life while continuing to monitor their work. The goal is to eventually ease up on your coaching as they progress.