How To Handle Underperforming Employees?

Every manager, at some point in their career, will have to learn to handle underperforming employees. The way you choose to deal with underperforming employees, be it in the form of an employee performance review or a difficult conversation at work, can set the level of team morale and affect the bottom line of your goals. In this post, we’ve listed proven methods to effectively deal with underperforming employees. The post will also help you learn how to provide corrective feedback in a way that it provides a playground for the underperformer to grow.

deal with underperforming employees

People struggle to perform at their job for two reasons: either they’re incompetent or they’re lazy. If you look at it closely, you would find that there is a world of difference between the two.

Incompetence in most cases is an indication of lack of skill set or knowledge required to perform the job. In most cases, it’s easier to work with underperforming employees who lack the necessary skills.

To address the latter, however, is a herculean task. Firstly, you do not know the reason why the employee chooses not to do his or her job. Secondly, you do not know if the employee is unsure of your standards, or they simply refuse to do what is required of them. This kind of employees are often tough to deal with. Their denial or refusal to address the lapse in productivity can spread like wildfire and affect the overall morale of the team.

How TO Effectively Handle Underperforming Employees?

The stress of having to deal with an underperforming employee can lead to decision paralysis. Too many times, managers allow themselves to be bulldozed by underperforming employees. This also means that the organization has to bear the cost of an underperforming employee for much longer than needed. This leads to the question: Is the employee worth keeping?

No one likes to terminate an employee. Not to mention, what if the replacement turns out to be worse than the one you fired?

Now, you’re drowning yourself in a work situation where nobody wins. Not you, not the poor performing employee, not your organization, and definitely not the other employees.

how to handle underperforming employees?

Your primary goal is to improve the poor performance and retain the employee. But this does not mean that you do it at the expense of other employees. The best way to handle underperformance is by not letting the problem go unaddressed.

Roughly 50% of the American workforce strongly feels that they understand work expectations. This means that 5 out of 10 employees at your organization don’t know how to do their job effectively.


Step one as a part of the corrective measures module is to set clear expectations. Every underperforming employee needs clarification of performance goals and expectations for improvement.

Ask the employee for ideas, thoughts, and/or suggestions that will likely turn their performance around. Provide the employee with necessary training using the right of resources if you need to. Lastly, set up performance review meetings so you can provide timely, accurate and honest feedback to the underperformer.


Once you outline clear objectives and necessary action to meet those objectives. Assess the underperforming employee’s progress and see if they need extra training or resources that would help them perform better. Let the employee know that their hard work will not go unnoticed by the management. A sincere gift, whether it is a $50 gift card or a handwritten note, will show how much you appreciate the employee’s hard work and will go a long way to motivate him or her to keep improving.


It can be disheartening to see that the underperforming employee remains disengaged from work. Holding onto underperformers can create a ripple effect within the organization. Those hardworking employees will get discouraged if they see their coworker slacking off and not getting the short end of the stick. At some point, you’ll have to let the underperforming employee go. This is never an ideal thing to do and should always be treated as the last resort. It is, after all, better for the team and the organization.

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Priyansha Mistry
Currently editor at The HR Digest Magazine. She helps HR professionals identify issues with their talent management and employment law. | Priyansha tweets at @PriyanshaMistry

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