How to Manage Underperforming Employees

Shrewd business leaders realize that managing and supporting employees through the low points is crucial to maintain productivity and foster development for their team.
Jason Goodman Bzqu01v G54 Unsplash

Employee performance ebbs and flows. While underperformance is a character trait that can affect people of all ages and in myriad settings, one of the most frustrating places might be in the workplace. Underperforming employees can create extra work for colleagues and hurt morale if nothing is done. Shrewd business leaders realize that managing and supporting employees through the low points is crucial to maintain productivity and foster growth and development for their team.

Below are three ways business leaders can curb underperformance and restore an environment that is conducive to meeting goals and objectives.

READ — How Business Leaders Can Embrace a Multigenerational Workforce

Show empathy and set clear expectations

Sometimes underperforming employees are mislabeled or misunderstood. This is especially true during challenging times for the company, such as periods of economic uncertainty, so employers may give them the benefit of the doubt. Employers should not jump to conclusions and instead put themselves in others’ shoes, communicating with them to gain a better sense of the situation. It might be as simple as unclear expectations about tasks and deadlines or a misinterpretation of processes and procedures.

Expectation misunderstandings can be mitigated at the hiring stage through clear and exact job descriptions. Providing detailed job specifications allows employees to know what the expectations are, limiting any potential confusion about the role, how its managed and how to succeed in it. However, setting expectations should go beyond the hiring phase and continue throughout the duration of an employee’s time with the organization, which can be achieved most efficiently through consistent, open communication.

READ — Hiring and Attracting Talent

Provide training and mentorship

Unpreparedness or a lack of training are some of the most common causes of underperformance. This may be because the employee was hired without the necessary skills, or the job may have evolved over time. Investing in an employee’s professional development by identifying which skills they need to improve and providing training opportunities can boost employee performance and demonstrate the organization cares about their growth.

Matching underperforming or newer employees with more tenured co-workers who can mentor them can also prove beneficial. A mentor can help draw out a passion for the role, as well as regularly be available to provide advice and guidance.

Foster engagement and encourage collaboration

Employees cannot flourish if they do not feel like part of the team. Business leaders who foster a culture of collaboration, show employees that their contributions and input are valued and emphasize that each role, no matter the level, can turn underperforming employees into engaged, proactive ones. Employees who feel valued may also begin to feel a sense of pride and ownership in their work, boosting both productivity and employee retention.

When employers take a more proactive approach to managing underperforming employees by presenting positive solutions, it can lead to more cohesive and high-performing teams with renewed energy and focus.

Niki Jorgensen 1Niki Jorgensen is director of service operations with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources offering the most comprehensive suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace. For more information about Insperity, call 800-465-3800 or visit

Categories: Business Insights, Management & Leadership