How to deal with underperforming staff

A key part of managing staff performance is to ensure you have a solid probation period agreed with new starters from the get-go. Set a number of expectations, objectives and measures of success to ensure that the period works for you both. A probationary period is there to support both the employer and employee as a period of development and assessment.

Top tips for planning a probation period:

  • Set a clear direction for the role that is aligned to your company strategy and goals.
  • Ensure the member of staff can see where their performance aligns with the company’s goals.
  • Regularly meet and review with the employee – don’t just expect that at the end of six months you can make a decision, it’s not fair on either of you. On-going discussions with employees about their work should be an integral part of the relationship between managers and staff.


Manager angry with under performing staff member

Remember that employees may underperform at any time during their time at your organisation, not necessarily during a probation period.

When managing people, one of the most difficult things you will ever have to handle is an underperforming member of staff. Underperformance can affect your employees’ morale, job satisfaction and relationships with each other – all the while having an effect on your business and its goals. It’s important and reasonable, for you, your team and the underperforming member of staff, to find a resolution to the problem.

Communication is vital

Sometimes an underperforming employee could have a perfectly reasonable explanation. Maybe their workload is too high, maybe they are covering for another colleague, or maybe there are problems outside the workplace that are affecting their performance.

Make certain that you have as much evidence prior to arranging to speak with the employee; have as many facts as you can. Arrange a chat with the employee in question with a representative from HR if possible.

Explain that the chat is not designed to be accusatory or threatening – just a discussion. The main aim is to find a solution, encourage the employee into performing at a high standard, and ensure they are fully supported to do so.

Discuss specific cases with the member of staff and don’t be vague. Your employee needs to know examples of where they have underperformed and what you expect from them – this will ensure that expectations are clear and fair on both parties.

A good method is to ask the underperforming employee how you can support them to perform better. This approach may allow them to discuss what they think they need. Offer an empathetic ear – listen to your employee. This is their opportunity to share their views and ask for support. If you talk over them, at them or down to them then they are less likely to do so. As we mentioned earlier, there could be a number of reasons that an employee underperforms and this is a chance to discuss them. Discuss ways in which you can support the employee and how, in return, you expect their performance to increase.

One thing to remember is that we spend a lot of time at work – often more time than with our friends, families and significant others – and that time can be miserable if you don’t feel supported and you don’t feel like you’re achieving something.

Going forward

At the end of your meeting, agree on some objectives with the staff member and ensure they are comfortable with them. Make the objectives SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-framed) and once these are agreed, ensure to regularly monitor their progress.

Ensure that you keep your end of the deal, for example, if you’ve agreed to pay for training or to more flexibility. This will only benefit you in the long term!
If you don’t see improvement underperformer in the time discussed, then you should speak to a HR professional to formally address their behaviour. Hopefully though, by following the steps above you can avoid this!

As well as providing high calibre recruitment services, we are also keen advocates for improving staff retention. We believe that employee motivation and retention go hand in hand and are critical to business success.

If you would like to take advantage a free recruitment and retention review with Glu Recruit contact us today on 0114 321 1873 or email

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