7 Causes of Employee Performance Problems and How to Deal With Them

For most managers, one of their most anxious moments is confronting an employee with performance problems. Yes, it is part of the job, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less troubling. If the performance problems persist, termination is often the last resort and nobody wants that. On the other hand, possibly the most satisfying part of their job is turning that problem employee’s performance around. They’ve helped create a happy, engaged and loyal member of the staff.

So how does one start turning around a problem employee? The first step is to find out the reason why their performance has slipped. Getting to the source of the problem is critical before you can fix it. Many employee problems fall under a handful of causes. Here are the seven most common that we’ve found:

1. Don’t have a reason to care

As a manager, you must provide constant feedback to your employees and you should expect to get some in return. Carefully explain the employee’s role and how important it is to the organization’s overall health. More importantly, make sure they know how important their duties are to their co-workers and to you, their manager. Provide specific examples of their past contributions to make your case. If employees have a sense of ownership, they’ll work with a sense of purpose.

2. Don’t know what their job is

Don’t laugh, but there’s a chance your problem employee may not know what her job is. That would explain why she’s not doing it. If this is the case, define the job for her as you see it. If you have to get out the job description and go over it together, do it. Once you’ve finished going over it, ask the employee if the definition of the job makes sense and if not, ask why. This is the point where you solicit her views on how it might be better defined, which increases buy-in. Finally, put it in writing so there won’t be any disagreement about what was said later.

3. Lack the knowledge, tools or skills

If your employee is lacking the resources to do the job (such as time, money, personnel, or equipment and supplies), this is the easiest part for you to address. Get him the resources he needs, but remind him that he should have come to you sooner about it and avoided the problem. If it is not a simple matter of resources, decide if the employee is miscast in this role. If so, work with him to find a better alternative inside or outside your department. However, should both of you agree that he has the ability to do the job, it is up to you to provide training to address the skill gaps, one at a time. Use frequent check-ins with the employee to monitor his progress.

4. Frustration over obstacles to their work

In a normal office environment, there can be a number of obstacles that crop up at any time, causing frustration for the employee. If the employee already feels as though their problems don’t matter to management, they may remain silent about the problem and just soldier on through it. These obstacles can be technological barriers, interpersonal issues, information blocks, accessibility issues and more. It critical to find out what is blocking the employee from doing their job and figure out what you can do to help.

For example, your employee is forced to wait long past her own work deadline because a manager from another department has not provided vital data. Without this data, your employee cannot move forward. If the chronic procrastinator in accounting ignores your employee’s her phone messages and emails are ignored by the chronic procrastinator in accounting, a phone call from you to Peter Procrastinator might get things unstuck. At worst, he ignores your requests too and you take it up with your boss. But at least your employee knows that you have her back.

5. See no reward

Do you praise and reward your employees for good work? There are times when it is easy to lose track of this when things get hectic. However, most employees will eventually slide into a negative pattern if their good work goes unnoticed and unrewarded too long. To counter it, establish creative incentives and publicize good work. Incentives and rewards don’t have to cost much money, if any at all, in order to be effective.  Emphasize the value of peer respect for a job well done and give your staff several ways to show appreciation for their co-workers. Often, peer support and respect will alleviate all but the most severe causes of an employee’s unacceptable performance.

6. They want to be rewarded no matter what

Although this attitude isn’t exclusive to Millennials, if you’re part of an older Gen-X or Baby Boomer generation, you tend to mock younger employees for this “participation medal” frame of mind that rewards you for just showing up. It should go without saying that managers should never reward mediocre performance, nor should they ignore poor performance. Quickly address an individual’s performance problems, but establish department-wide parameters for performance as well. This way everyone knows what is worthy of reward and what isn’t.

7. Illness or other personal issues

It’s an unfortunate thing, but life forces itself into the workplace. Whether your employee is taking care of a parent dying of cancer, has severe financial problems, or is going through a divorce, the stress can be overwhelming. Even your strongest employee has a breaking point. If you find out there are outside forces negatively affecting your employee, remember to be patient, empathetic and, above all, discreet. There are many legal landmines over privacy that you have to safely navigate in this instance. Don’t do it on your own … contact your HR department for guidance. There’s an alphabet soup of federal regulations (like FMLA, ADA and HIPAA) that may apply, so get help.

In closing, keeping communication lines open is the most important aspect of managing employee performance. Managers talk about being “kept in the loop,” but then fail to reciprocate. That causes confusion and frustration among the staff. Stick to an open door policy and make a daily effort to talk to your employees. Talk about everything, from the frivolous to the important, and you’ll stay on top of these seven causes long before they become problems. Identifying the root cause of the performance problem is key before you can find the right solution.

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