Dealing with underperforming employees isn’t easy. Nobody likes giving negative feedback, but if an employee isn’t meeting the company’s standards, the organisation as a whole won’t be reaching its full potential. What’s more, if someone is visibly slacking, their attitude can have a toxic effect on those around them, so it’s vital that this behaviour is nipped in the bud early on.
The first and most important step is to talk to the employee. However, you shouldn’t jump into the conversation head first without preparation and considering what you want to achieve. Emotions can run high (on both sides), people can get upset and confrontation is a strong possibility. You therefore need to think about the following before you start:
- Delve deeper
It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that an employee’s dip in performance is down to laziness, carelessness or lack of motivation. Of course, this can be the case, but also consider that other factors might be at play. Has something significant happened in their personal life, like divorce, bereavement, financial troubles or an illness? Perhaps they’re having a particularly tough time with their mental health, causing their concentration and drive to waver? Or, it could be work itself that’s the problem, if they feel like they’re overburdened with deadlines, being bullied, or they’ve just lost their passion for the role.
If you get to the root of the problem early on, you can take suitable action which is both beneficial for the employee and the organisation.
- Mind your language
It’s essential that the conversation stays strictly related to the employee’s performance, and not stray into something more personal. Of course, not everyone in the office will be best friends, but if there is a personality clash with yourself and the employee in question, this must be put aside for the sake of fairness and impartiality.
Also consider the way you’re going to phrase what you want to say. General statements such as ‘you’ve been slacking lately’, or ‘you’re not performing very well at the moment’ won’t help. Keep things specific and productive.
- Get your facts in order
Part of being specific is making sure you have hard evidence to back up your case. The employee will likely take what you have to say personally, but having statistics around their performance to back your point will mean you’ll have much more solid ground to stand on. How many times have they been late? How many times have they not met a deadline? Are there metrics to show that their performance has dipped, like sales figures? Be direct, be precise and don’t exaggerate. It’s much more difficult to contest facts.
- Look forwards, not backwards
Remember, the reason for this conversation is to help the employee and the business. You want them to be back to their best quickly, so a positive talk about how this can be achieved is far more productive than an attacking conversation about all the times they’ve dropped the ball.
Coming up with a clear performance improvement plan will ensure there is no doubt about what needs to shift in terms of skills and attitude, and the timescale in which it must happen. Having a list of targets or goals is a great way of giving the employee focus, and organising frequent check ins will help you monitor their progress. Modern Cloud systems, like Cezanne’s HR software allows you to record conversations and track improvement, meaning employees are less likely to lose sight of their goals because it is recorded online. You can also have a think about whether they might benefit from training, or if being assigned a mentor would help.
Clearly, if their negative attitude towards work persists and you see no signs of improvement or desire to change, disciplinary action will be necessary, but you don’t want to race to this outcome when it could be avoided. However, it should be made known to the employee that there will be more serious consequences if they fail to improve.