5 Common Reasons Why Employees Underperform and How to Fix Them

by Anita Bowness | Posted | Performance Management

5 Common Reasons Why Employees Underperform and How to Fix Them

It's a situation that every manager dreads: dealing with an underperforming employee. It can be awkward to approach an employee who isn't pulling their weight. However, putting off the conversation can have serious consequences. When other employees are forced to pick up the slack, this can lead to issues like resentment, burnout, low morale and high turnover.

The truth behind poor performance

We'll take a wild guess and say that most employees don't wake up in the morning thinking of all the ways they can do their job poorly. And yet, we treat employees as if they're underperforming on purpose, when most times, their manager needs to be held accountable as well.

To help you get to the root of the issue, we're sharing a few of the reasons why managers feel employees underperform. These tips come from our Unlocking High Performance series with Jason Lauritsen, based on his new book of the same name. We'll share some tips on how to diagnose issues, address it and prevent it from happening in the first place.

The best way to handle performance issues is to be proactive @AnitaBowness #performancemanagement
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1. Employees don't understand what's expected of them

Often times, there can be a disconnect between a manager's expectations and an employee's understanding of their role. In fact, according to research from Gallup, only about half of employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.

In order to empower your employees to take initiative and perform at their best, you need to make sure you're setting crystal-clear expectations. If you're worried your employees don't understand the expectations and goals set out for them, ask them to self-assess. Have them write down how their performance is assessed and what they believe are the three most important goals for their role.

If you're not on the same page, make sure to document goals and expectations clearly, discuss them with your employee and carefully explain how you will be measuring their progress.

2. Employees don't know that they're not meeting expectations

After you set expectations, you can't walk away and hope for the best. As a manager, you need to know what your employees are working on, hold them accountable for meeting expectations, and provide regular feedback on their performance, both appreciative and constructive.

If you have a feeling that your employee doesn't know that they're not making the grade, again, get them to assess their own performance. Ask them how they think they think they are performing and how they know. If their assessment is way off base, make sure that you create clear measures of performance that are regularly visible to the employee. You'll also want to set aside time to meet with your employee on a regular basis to provide feedback (positive and constructive) and coaching.

3. Employees don't know how to perform as expected

Sometimes, an employee doesn't have the skills or knowledge you expected them to come in with. Whether they're lacking the technical skills to do the job or the soft skills required to be successful in the workplace, a gap in ability can be tough to overcome, but not impossible.

First things first, you'll need to make your employee aware of their poor performance. If they've made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to improve, then you know you're dealing with a skills gap.

To fix it, encourage the employee to talk to their peers to get suggestions on how to improve.

You can also observe your employee's performance more closely to see if their skills gaps could be addressed with additional learning or coaching.

4. Employees are unable to meet expectations

You've set clear goals and expectations. You've provided regular feedback and you've seen your employee make repeated, good faith efforts to improve. And yet, their performance continues to suffer.

Whether they've been given insufficient resources or are in the wrong role, at this point, you need to make it clear to your employee that change is required. This will be a tough conversation, so it's important to approach it from a place of empathy. Let them know your goal is to help them reach their full potential and capacity. Also, make sure their performance is not a well-being issue.

If they're still not able to meet your expectations, work with the employee to help them find a role that's more suited to their interests and skillset, either within or external to the organization.

5. Employees choose not to meet expectations

Despite providing your employee with everything they need to be successful in their role and making them aware that they need to improve, things aren't getting any better. Usually, this is the result of disengagement, disconnection, entitlement or resentment.

If you feel like your employee is physically present, but they're not showing up the way they should, it's time for the toughest conversation of all. You need to let them know that if they don't improve their performance, they won't keep their job.

Establish a clear timeline and measures of success and be sure to document every point of this process. It's also important to give your employee some control over the situation too. Ask the employee to write out a plan or list of commitments for how they will improve in the expected timeframe.

The bottom line

As the old saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In other words, the best way to handle performance issues is to be proactive. By putting a solid performance management system in place that helps you set goals, keep your employees accountable and cultivate their growth, you can help your employees reach their full potential.

Want to learn more? Check out our webinar: "A Manager's Guide to Confronting Performance Issues"

So how exactly do you design a performance management system that can help you identify and eliminate performance issues before they happen?

Tune into our upcoming webinar, "A Manager's Guide to Confronting Performance Issues" on April 16 at 2:00 pm EDT. Our speakers, Jason Lauritsen, Employee Engagement and Workplace Culture Expert, and Anita Bowness, Principal Product Manager for Saba, will teach you how to adopt a modern approach to performance management impacts employee engagement and productivity.

If you want to learn how to make performance discussions less awkward and more empowering, register now to save your spot.

A Manager\'s Guide to Confronting Performance Issues

Learn how shifting the focus of performance discussions makes confronting poor performance easier.


Register Now
Cover of the book
Cover of the book

A Manager\'s Guide to Confronting Performance Issues

Learn how shifting the focus of performance discussions makes confronting poor performance easier.


Register Now


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