How to Properly Confront an Employee That is Under-performing

Every employee may struggle from time to time. When an employee has been underperforming consistently, however, they’re signaling that they need help in order to reach the level of work you expect from your team members.

Here’s how to confront an underperforming employee in a way that generates their buy-in and encourages them to improve their work:

  1. Present the Problem in a Collaborative Fashion

Telling an employee that they aren’t meeting standards and need to change can put the employee on the defensive, making it more difficult for them to see and seize opportunities to improve their performance.

Instead, frame the discussion in a more collaborative manner. “I’ve noticed that your numbers aren’t as good as your co-workers’ numbers are, and I’d like us to work together to find ways to change that.” This framing gives the employee the opportunity to step up.

  1. Listen, Then Speak

When presenting the issue to the employee, ask them if they’ve also noticed the problem and, if so, why they think they are underperforming. Then, listen to their responses while withholding judgment.

Sometimes, the problem is outside the employee’s control and has also been invisible to you as their supervisor. The employee may be as frustrated as you are. Having the chance to air their grievances can help them see that you’re on their side and find ways to ask for the help they need.

  1. Clarify the “Why”, Not Just the “How”

When working with your employee to determine what needs to change, and how. Don’t neglect the discussion of why the change needs to happen. Explaining why the change is necessary provides context and meaning, which help employees engage with the work of change.

In addition, talk to your employee about how it benefits them to make this change. For instance, perhaps their co-workers will take them more seriously, you’ll be able to give them more interesting work, or the change will put them in line for a coveted promotion.

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