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What is meant by an Underperforming Employee?

Underperformance in the workplace typically involves an employee that is failing to perform the duties of their role to the level that is expected/required of them. Below, we discuss 5 tips for employers to manage their underperforming employees in the workplace. 

1. Recognise/Identify the Problem

Identifying underperforming employees is the first step to rectifying the problem. Distinct signals of underperformance include: disassociation from tasks and responsibilities, reduced output and quality of work, recurrent absenteeism, discouraged demeanour or unprofessional conduct and decreased interaction with colleagues. Recognising the underperforming employees can allow the employer to focus on steps to deal with the employee.

2. Conduct Meeting with Employee

The underperforming employee should be approached by their manager/supervisor. In order to establish the reasons behind the underperformance, the manager must set an appropriate, non-confronting tone for the meeting and ask the right questions. In the meeting, the manager should reiterate the job requirements to ensure the employee is fully aware of what is expected of them in their role. Similarly, it may be important to address if the employee’s expectations of the job, including recognition and career advancement, have been matched as this could be a poignant reason behind their underperformance.

3. Develop Mutual Action Plan

Once the job expectations have been reaffirmed to the employee and they are in the position to improve their performance, an action plan should be established with input from both parties. The action plan should include an outline of actions that the employee and manager are responsible for, a timeframe for achieving performance improvement and the support and resources that will be provided by the manager. 

4. Schedule Follow-Ups

Resolving an underperformance situation will take time, so the manager must give the employee a reasonable amount of time to improve in their job position. The manager should schedule regular follow-up meetings to ensure the employee is improving their performance whilst fulfilling the aims of the action plan. The follow-up meetings should be a casual conversation that provides an opportunity for the employee to voice how their work ethic is developing and what is still challenging for them.

5. Recognition of Progress

Providing regular feedback and positive support is fundamental for an employee to feel motivated to improve their performance. As the employee begins to make progress, the manager should be vocal about the change they have noticed whilst  praising them for their effort and refer specifically to what they have accomplished and the positive impact it has. 


If these 5 tips do not succeed with underperforming employees, managers may have to turn to the two most common solutions which involve job reassignment or termination.