How to Manage Underperforming Employees Without Losing Your Sanity?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware that managing underperforming employees can be one of the most difficult parts of any manager’s job. Not only do you have to make sure that they stay on task and meet deadlines, but you also have to deal with low morale and office discord if you end up having to let an employee go. It’s no wonder why this aspect of management tends to burn out managers so quickly! With the right strategies, however, you can manage underperforming employees without losing your sanity, or your reputation as an effective leader and manager of people.

Understanding Employee Underperformance

It’s inevitable sometimes, even when you hire well, employees just don’t seem to live up to expectations. Instead of wasting time and energy wondering why take proactive steps toward improving performance by first understanding what might be causing it. The most common reasons for underperformance in an employee can typically be attributed to three things: interpersonal communication issues with a manager or team members; stress brought on by other factors within your organization (e.g., workload, uncertainty about goals); or some combination of both stress and poor communication. The more you understand what may be causing underperformance in your team members, the easier it will be for you as a manager and for them as employees to manage those issues effectively over time.

The Causes Behind Employee Underperformance

The causes of employee underperformance are varied, but they can be broadly divided into three categories:

  • Poor management skills and leadership
  • Lack of training and support from the company
  • Lack of motivation to perform well

The first category is self-explanatory. It is the responsibility of a manager or supervisor to provide the appropriate training and support for their team members. The second category is also a function of management, in that companies should be investing in their employees by providing them with the tools and resources necessary for success. The third category is more difficult to address because it requires a change in attitude on behalf of the employee.

Top 6 Tips For Managing Underperforming Employees

1. Accept That There Is A Problem

If a friend or colleague informs you that one of your employees isn’t performing up to par, there’s probably a reason for it. And chances are, no matter how hard you might try to tell yourself otherwise, performance improvement isn’t going to happen without addressing the underlying problem. To help boost employee morale and productivity while managing stress in what is often an extremely tense situation, accept that something is wrong with your employee’s performance (no matter how much you might want it not to be) and start by identifying why.

2. Monitor Progress & Provide Feedback

It’s easy for an employee’s performance to slip without you noticing. But you must regularly check in on how they’re doing and offer your assistance if they need help. If you notice a certain topic or skill that needs attention, schedule some one-on-one time with them so you can get their development back on track. Before getting together, take a look at your employees’ most recent deliverables and make notes about areas that could use improvement that way, when it comes time for your meeting, you’ll have specific things to point out. Be careful not to criticize too harshly, though; these sessions should be more of a collaborative effort than anything else. (For example, You’re doing a great job on the X project!

3. Identify What Went Wrong

Before you can do anything else, it’s important to figure out what went wrong. Was it a lack of effort on his or her part? If so, then more frequent check-ins might be in order. Was it inadequate training and education? If so, then you may want to look into more formal ways of getting them up to speed. Whatever you decide, make sure that your employee is involved in figuring out how they can improve their performance; otherwise, they may not have as much motivation to get things done. Identifying problems early and addressing them head-on will help ensure that your employee doesn’t get complacent down the line. You’ll also set a precedent for open communication about progress (or lack thereof).

4. Have a Plan in Place

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. For example, if you want to improve employee satisfaction, use an anonymous survey or another formal feedback tool at regular intervals at least once a year to gauge overall levels of employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall well-being. Also, consider measuring these factors for key individuals so that you know who may need additional support or training. Use any data that you uncover as part of your improvement plan.

5. Always Follow Up

Sending emails without following up may make you feel like you’re being productive, but it’s likely hurting your productivity in ways you can’t even imagine. I know, it seems counterintuitive after all, if something requires follow-up, doesn’t sending an email and moving on improving your chances of getting it done? Not necessarily. By adding a follow-up task into your already-packed schedule, you are throwing another log onto a fire that has gotten out of control. What starts as a single email can easily turn into many more back-and-forth messages over time. This is time and energy you could have spent doing anything else such as getting ahead on other projects or tasks related to your job.

6. Use the Right Words

In life, as in work, it’s important to be clear and direct with others. Since underperform can mean a lot of things, why not replace it with something more descriptive? For example: Doesn’t fulfill tasks. In addition, you could add a few positive words here: super productive day, which would provide some contrast. Then you can sprinkle that throughout your post so you emphasize productivity. At the end of your post, you might want to include these bullet points about what employees need to do rather than simply telling them what they shouldn’t do. Teamwork makes dreams work? Well done is better than well said? It’s easier for people who are on your team (the team being your business) if they know how their behavior affects results.


The first and most important step in managing an underperformer is to acknowledge that it’s a problem. It can be hard for managers not to become defensive or protective of their employees, but you have to put your feelings aside. The second step is transparency. Sometimes underperformance isn’t deliberate; it may just be a result of poor skills or motivation. As long as your team knows where they stand, they’ll be more willing and able to improve performance.

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