Gould Cooksey Fennell

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Managing the Underperforming Employee

Employers of all sizes will eventually have to deal with an underperforming employee. How does an employer effectively deal with an underperforming employee before it turns into a lawsuit? First, you must recognize the fact that you have an underperforming employee. Second, you must then implement a plan of direct action with good documentation to quickly resolve the issue.

Recognize the Underperformer

An underperforming employee can remain undetected for years, most often because co-workers and/or the supervisor do not want to confront the problem. Furthermore, not all underperforming employees act the same. Some underperformers use intimidation to detract from negative consequences, while others may hide their shortcomings by making false claims against co-workers. Recognizing this person is the first step to dealing with the problem before it becomes a lawsuit.

Direct Action and Good Documentation

Now that you have identified the underperformer, it is critical that you implement a plan of direct action backed up by good documentation. Many times when a client calls me for help dealing with an underperforming employee, I am told that the employee has been that way for years and there is no documentation of poor performance. Employers, and those who manage underperforming employees, who fail to address the situation risk alienating their good employees, who often have low morale because they are required to do the underperformer’s work, without any extra pay.

Direct action and good documentation will help avoid this from happening, or if the underperformer has remained unchecked for a long time, help correct the problem before it becomes a lawsuit.

First, consider a group meeting to air everyone’s grievances. If the subject matter is private, conduct individual interviews. Once you have gathered the information, you need to decide whether discipline should be issued based on violations of workplace policies. If discipline is not necessary, you need to document the meeting and provide constructive feedback to your employees so they know what you expect from them going forward.

Second, it is important to re-set the underperforming employee’s focus. A letter of clarification will suffice. The letter may start by saying “the Company has advised you of shortcomings in your performance that must be corrected immediately if you are to remain an employee.” It is important to clearly describe the shortcomings in the employee’s performance, and what the Company expects in order for the employee to meet expectations. A time table should be given so that regular follow up can be initiated to make sure the plan stays on track.

By following these steps, you will have addressed the problem, the company’s concerns, and provided the underperforming employee with a clear means of how to become a productive employee. If the underperforming employee corrects his/her behavior, then the potential problem has been averted.  However, if employee does not change his/her ways, the company will have good documentation to show that it tried to help the employee, and the employee will then have to take responsibility for their own actions.

In conclusion, confronting potential issues early and directly is always a good management practice, and can help avoid what could be a small matter today becoming a bigger problem tomorrow.

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