Are your employees underperforming? Here’s how to tell

Identify the issues before it’s too late.

Are your employees underperforming? Here’s how to tell
[Photo: Martin Poole/Getty Images]

Perhaps you’ve noticed business isn’t “as usual” lately and you’ve realized that a staff member or two haven’t quite been performing up to scratch. Underperformance in employees can have a huge domino effect if it’s not dealt with and could result in serious issues like profit loss and decreased team morale.


We’ve decided to investigate what constitutes underperformance, causes, how to identify an underperforming employee, and the necessary steps to amicably resolve the issue.

What is underperformance?

Underperformance is when an employee is performing their duties below the required level expected. The following points underline some of many examples that class as underperformance:

  • Failing to perform duties to a high standard/altogether
  • Noncompliance of work policies and procedures
  • Bad behavior that negatively impacts others in the workplace.

What causes underperformance in employees?

Lack of growth opportunities


Employee goals vary–some may just be after job stability while others may want to progress within a company.

The reassurance of growth opportunities is imperative to driving motivation. If there is no “progression,” no matter which form this is presented in, then employees can display attributes of underperformance.

Lack of variety


Lack of variety in the job can lead to everyday tasks becoming mundane. This, in turn, causes a lack of inspiration that affects the standard of work that’s churned out.

Lack of communication

If you’re not receiving the right communication–whether that’s related to job performance or critical HR updates, this can lead to burnout and unclear goals.


Work-related stress

This occurs when employees are unable to work properly due to stress that can manifest physically and mentally–affecting overall job performance.

Lack of settling-in period


The onboarding process in a new job is critical. Time restraints and seasonal changes can affect how much time and money goes into settling employees in; however, shortening this process for the sake of profitable gain can damage their ability to perform tasks in the long run.

Personal issues

Some issues can be so serious that they impact our day. When employees feel down due to issues outside of work, this can seriously affect their ability to concentrate, especially when they feel like there’s no support system in place.


Bad working environment

This isn’t necessarily aesthetical–if the general vibe in the office is negative and highly pressured, then this can have a negative effect on an employee’s ability to cope with the team.

Lack of challenges


If duties are monotonous, it can be easy for employees to slip into autopilot. This means work output can take a serious beating and appear lackluster.

Lack of incentives

It’s a great feeling when you go above and beyond to achieve your targets, but if there’s no incentive for the achievements, this can cause employees to feel unobligated to achieve more in their role.


Unclear goals/lack of direction

Expectations of the job should be highlighted both in your interviews and on the job. If changes need to be made to the job then this must be communicated, not expected, as this can cause significant confusion.

Lack of on-the-job resources


Not being able to perform the job properly can increase job pessimism, especially when it’s been justified why resources are needed.

Developing a plan with an underperforming employee

Each scenario will require you to deal with things differently. If the issue is solely with an individual, then taking the following steps ensures fair treatment:

  • Approach the employee in question and ask how things have been going and ask if they have anything they wish to talk about.
  • Some employees will feel able to disclose what could be bothering them, which makes developing a plan much easier.
  • For those who are unaware of how their actions are impacting the business, it’s the right time to bring up a few concerns and strategize a plan.
  • Write down the issues and agree on a plan together. SMART targets are a classic but fantastic way to set goals.
  • Should any of the issues be rooted in personal problems, then offer to be a listening ear and advise on employee support through your HR department.
  • Ensure every conversation thereafter is kept positive yet constructive.

How to provide feedback to an underperforming employee

Addressing underperformance head-on is key to resolving underperformance, and so feedback must be constructive to aid employee development.


Below are some dos and don’ts of giving feedback to an underperforming employee:


  • Be specific and constructive with feedback.
  • Be observant of any patterns that lead to underperforming behavior.
  • Be encouraging and explain how making positive changes will improve their development as a whole.
  • Be kind, always.


  • Pile on everything that needs improvement. Focus on one or two manageable issues at a time.
  • Show negative emotions. It’s easy to feel frustration, however this exudes too much pressure.
  • Use ultimatums or absolutes such as, “If you can’t get this to me by the end of the day, then there’s no point in coming back.”

Steps to take if no improvement is made

An employee can, unfortunately, make no progress despite a plan and support system in place. If this is the case, then a formal route will need to be actioned.

It’s important to make the employee aware that disciplinary action can be taken if no improvement is made. To be certain you’re dealing with your employee fairly, ensure you comply with employment law.

Consult with your HR department how you should go about the procedure. Generally, the following pattern is followed:

  • Invite your employee to a meeting in writing, ensuring you give them enough notice before the meeting.
  • State in writing that the employee has the right to be accompanied by a witness.
  • Ensure you list the reasons why the disciplinary meeting is taking place, using dates of past events if necessary, to back up your decision.
  • During the disciplinary, give the employee the opportunity to defend their claim and provide evidence as to why they don’t deserve a warning or dismissal.
  • Let the employee know they can appeal the decision in writing if they feel it is unjust.

This article originally appeared on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission.