Why is My Employee a Low Performer?

Why is my employee a low performer

You, as a small business owner or manager may find it hard to build a business when some employees are low performers. Low performance can lead to all kinds of issues like toxic office culture, missed financial goals, job loss, company closure, or even lawsuits. This blog post will help you deal with low performing, disengaged, and unmotivated employees.

Employees may be low performers, disengaged, or unmotivated for three main reasons. First, they may not have the skills or training to do the work properly. Second, they may lack confidence in their own skills to do the work. Third, they may be unmotivated because they don’t like the work, do not care about the work, and may be actively looking for new work. Therefore, it’s your job to find out why the employee is low performing and then support them.

Naturally, you understand that every situation is different and you may have to do more research on your own. In other words, when it comes to your business or organization you must do your due diligence. There are many employee performance-related books out there that can really help you. In short, owners and managers that have to be the “Jack of all trades” in a small business should read two or three books on a topic that they don’t know about. Go find a few good books to read about employee performance with Amazon.

Get a Baseline with a Performance Review

When it comes to employee performance issues you need a baseline from which to start. In other words, you should have already been doing regular performance reviews but if that is not the case now is the time to start. Likewise, it may be beneficial for you to contract or hire an HR professional who can help you with this.

Performance Review

A performance review does not have too long or difficult. For instance, keep your monthly reviews short with three to five questions that the supervisor rates the employee from 0-3 and adds up to show a total score. These questions are the main skills or actions expected of each employee. In addition, you should track the score over the course of each year. Also, in the spirit of keeping in simple, you should have a very small area for the supervisor to make short notes like “Always volunteers to take extra work.” As a result, you and your supervisors are forced to only make notes of the most important or relevant things.

Performance Meeting

After you complete the performance review you should meet with the employee. During this meeting, you will discuss the performance review and try to find out what the issue is for the employee’s low performance. However, you should always come to these meetings opened-minded and ready to support your employees because you never really know what you will discover.

Meanwhile, you should continue doing performance reviews monthly or quarterly as yearly is not enough. Similarly, you could do weekly performance reviews for new employees. In short, you will now have a baseline for all employees to help detect or prevent future issues.

Low Skill Employee

If after the performance review, you discover that your employee’s performance is low because they don’t have the right skills or training you can work with them to correct the issue. Therefore, you need to train your employee more. Certainly, most owners and managers don’t like to hear that they have to do more training even for some long-time employees but everyone needs refreshers.  Similarly, this may be the case for many of your employees. Training should be an ongoing thing and can be easy if the work environment is open. It may seem strange that you have to train an employee a second time but maybe it’s a good time to build a “how-to” guide for each employee, position, and task.

How to Guides for Review

“How to” guides should be updated quarterly by each employee. In other words, this forces the employees to review or study how to do their own jobs over and over. To clarify, this is a sneaky way to have repeated self-training or review sessions! Similarly, you can have group reviews or training sessions for common tasks.

Cross Training

Ultimately, you want your business or organization to continue to run even when the unthinkable happens. In other words, it’s a good policy to have multiple employees cross-trained in multiple positions. As a result, you can have the underperforming employee cross-train a coworker. Certainly, this teaching of a job task will be another review and help the underperforming employee.

In addition, this puts a low-performing employee in a position of authority. To clarify, the employee is now also practicing their supervisor and leadership skills. Consequently, this will protect the organization and start expanding the experience of employees.

No Confidence Employee

If you discover that the employee has no confidence in their skills and abilities then you need to work to reassure the employee that they have the skills. Being unsure about your own skills can lead to fear, humiliation, and guilt for the employee. Alternatively, in some cases when confronted about low skill an employee may get upset or violent to protect themselves mentally.

In other words, these matters need the be handled with care. You will need to spend some time working with and reassuring your employee. At the same time, try to prevent this for other employees. Show your long-term commitment to all employees by starting some sort of employee appreciation program. However, this appreciation program does not have to be elaborate or expensive if you can get creative.

Employee Recognition Program

Ideally, you should start this recognition program right away with elements that are daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. You can even get the employees to help you design and run the program. Here is a short list of ideas to help you get started but remember that these are only a starting point so get creative!

Daily – Tell one person each day that they did a good job today, buy coffee for a different person each day, ask one person for their option about future plans for the organization, etc.

Weekly – Have a short 2-5 minute “stand up” meeting and give kudos or recognition to someone or a team that did well that week, put a hard worker’s name into a draw for a prize or cash that might be monthly, quarterly, or yearly, etc. 

Monthly – Name an employee of the month and give them a gift card, put multiple hard workers’ names into the monthly, quarterly, or yearly draw, etc.

Quarterly – Have a quarterly appreciation event to celebrate all the hard workers last quarter and name them, have a larger draw for the hard workers and you can use the same draw “hat” that you use for weekly and monthly draws so people have multiple entries, give a medium cash prize to the highest performer, give promotions, etc. 

Yearly – Have a large year-end event to celebrate a person or team of high performers, have a cash bonus for all employees, have a large cash bonus for one person,  give promotions, etc.

Work Hating Employee

If you find out that an employee is unmotivated and hates their work but they may be loyal to the organization you need to get them interested in the work again. To clarify, you need to find out what they’re interested in by having a longer conversation with them. Subsequently, you may have to have multiple career planning meetings with the employee over several weeks or months.

Employee Passion

Passion can be a major motivator for people. So, if you can find an employee’s passion move them into a more suitable role within your organization. As a result, you may have gained some major loyalty and trust not from just the employee you’re helping but also from all your employees. This is because they will all see you trying to help. Naturally, not every passion can be accommodated and fit into your business plan. Most importantly, showing that you are considering it may be beneficial to improving organizational culture and environment.

This may be a great opportunity to start having all employees cross-train for other positions. Having multiple employees trained in more than one position will help if there is a sudden and unforeseen loss of employees. Above all, the organization must keep operating for the security of all employees and their families that are supported.

Who Cares? Says My Employee

If you discover that an employee has a “Who Cares?” attitude and may be disloyal to the organization you have some work to do. As always, you need to find out what is going on with the employee by having multiple conversations. Consequently, if you can understand this employee you may be able to win back their attitude. In that case, this could be another example of an employee that could make a lateral move to a new position or start cross-training for more responsibility.

This may also be time for the employee to leave the organization. Read below for more info on supporting an employee that wants to leave your organization.

My Employee is Ready to Jump Ship

If you discover that a low-performing employee is actively looking for another job or should leave your organization because of a “Who Cares?” attitude, don’t get upset. Because even as an employee is getting ready to leave your organization there are at least two opportunities. Above all, employee turnover happens and it can be good for the organization as people with fresh ideas join.

Leave Happy Opportunity

First, you may have an opportunity for the employee may leave happy. To clarify, so many people leave the organization angry and start negative word-of-mouth campaigns that can harm the organization’s or owner’s reputation. Consequently, you may have issues finding good employees in the future or worse you could lose business when the customers or clients hear negative things.

New Ideas & Energy Opportunity

Second, there is an opportunity in that you have the benefit of a low performer leaving your organization. In other words, this is good for you and the organization as you can hire people with creative ideas and new energy.

Support your outgoing employees as best you can by:

  • offering to be a reference,
  • help them review and update their resume with the correct experience they gained with you,
  • reassure them that they can stay working as long as it takes to find a new job, and
  • allow the employee to take time off so they may attend interviews as needed.

In return for this support ask if they can also support you by:

  • cross-training an internal temporary replacement, and
  • if they have any recommendations about who could replace them.

Naturally, if an employee is angry with you they may not be ready to accept your support or return any favours. So, at this point, the best thing you can do is “kill them with kindness”. As a result, they should not have any or many last-minute reasons to hate you more or complain about you. 

Termination, the Last Resort

If an employee is an issue, they refuse additional training, they refuse your other forms of support, and they’re not planning to leave the organization then you are left with the last resort. In other words, you must start the low-performing employee on the disciplinary process that could lead to termination.  To clarify, this is the last resort because of the negativity and hard feelings that it creates. This can affect the employee in question and possibly the rest of your employees.

The use of the disciplinary process and eventual terminations of angry, underperforming, unmotivated, and disengaged employees can be messy and difficult. Therefore, I suggest reading our other blog post called “How to Fire Someone Correctly” to help guide you through this process.

A properly operating human resource department or advisor working with employee issues can help identify or prevent these issues. In other words, is your organization working properly with HR? For a high-level overview see our blog post “What is the Role of Human Resources?”

Ian Hopfe

Ian Hopfe is the owner of LBH Business Services Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Ian is an Indigenous Human Resources Consultant. He has over ten years experience in HR and over fifteen years experience in management. All blog articles on this website are written by Ian unless a guest writer is indicated on the post.

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