Tough Conversations: How to Handle an Underperforming Employee

It’s the conversation every supermarket manager or owner dreads. You’ve noticed that one of your employees is habitually underperforming. You also know that handling the issue before it grows is incredibly important. But where do you begin? How do you have these difficult conversations without creating feelings of resentment on either side or making the problem worse?

Understanding how to give constructive guidance and criticism to employees not performing to their full potential is crucial for maintaining a positive, productive, and healthy work environment. As a boss or business owner, providing necessary support for your team members is a vital skill. Read on for some pointers on how to approach these often awkward conversations.

Don’t Make it Personal
Any awkward or tense conversation is made worse by letting emotions get in the way. When confronting an employee about their work performance, leave your emotions at the door. Coming into the conversation with anger or an accusatory tone will only cause conflict. No person, employee or not, can react well if they are made to feel cornered, blamed, or threatened. This conversation is an opportunity to listen and resolve conflict, not to vent your frustrations.

If your goal is to truly resolve the problem, make sure you remain objective, open, and focus on solving the issues at hand. Constructive conversations are a result of clear thinking by both parties. Going into the meeting with a level head is leading by example and will help encourage the employee in question to approach the conversation in a similar manner.

Catch it Early
The longer a problem is allowed to go on, the more difficult it will be to solve. If an employee has begun to slack off or underperform, don’t let it slide. This gives the message that expectations have been lowered, and the behaviour is acceptable or unlikely to be checked.

Of course, everyone has off days, and a few off-hand occurrences may not signal a broader issue. However, as soon as you notice the beginning of a pattern, it’s important to act. Early intervention will ensure the employee knows that underperformance does not go unnoticed, meaning they are less likely to venture deeper into unproductive habits and routines.

Look For The Root of The Problem
Simply having a conversation with the employee in question is not enough if you do not address the root of the problem. Most times, there are tangible reasons that employees are underperforming. Perhaps they’ve felt unappreciated or uninspired and feel their work would improve with more responsibility or recognition. Maybe they’ve been struggling with personal issues or feeling burnt out, and there are steps you can take to lighten their workload.

Listening to what your employee has to say about the situation and making sure that their thoughts are heard is the only way to truly solve problems and ensure that the issue does not reoccur. Simply demanding that an employee work harder or change their behaviour is unlikely to be effective as it does not address the circumstances that have caused the issue in the first place.

Make a Plan
Once you’ve identified the root of the issue, move forward by working with your employee to form a plan. Setting clear expectations and constructing achievable goals can motivate idling employees and help them understand what they need to do to reach their full potential in the workplace. If need be, plan future meetings so that you can discuss their progress and ensure no further conflicts or roadblocks are standing between your expectations and your employee’s performance.

Reward Improvement
When all is said and done, and the conversation is over, it’s not time to check out. Making sure you stay engaged with your employees and recognise or reward positive improvements in performance is key. When workers feel appreciated, they are more likely to perform to their best abilities. In the long run, it is more effective to recognise and reward great workplace performance than to constantly be in pursuit of fixing performance issues.

It’s Always Worth Addressing
When it comes to difficult or negative conversations with an employee, it can be tempting to avoid the situation altogether. However, avoiding an awkward conversation in the short term can cause larger, more severe performance issues that simple conversations may not quickly resolve. An underperforming employee is always an issue worth addressing calmly and quickly, as an effective solution is probably less complicated than you think.

To learn more, contact Indihub at 0404 335 559.

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