Grace Under Pressure: Handling Performance Issues at Work
You really enjoy a certain employee’s company, and they seemed like the perfect fit for your workplace. In fact, they really hit the ground running when they started last year. But their productivity has slowed to a trickle and they seem disengaged. The problem is, you have been noticing these and other performance issues at work for weeks but every time they stop by your office, you pretend like everything’s just fine.
It is time for a reality check: You are the manager, so declines in team productivity reflect poorly on you. Plus, you are not doing your employee any favours. The success of their career depends on improving their skills and performance; as their manager, you owe them some honest feedback.
Whatever the cause of performance issues at work, it is up to the manager to notice and make strategic moves to remedy the problem. It does not need to be a negative interaction, as long as you learn how to handle performance issues with grace and respect.
Identifying the Root of the Problem
It is Thursday afternoon and your employee has completed only half of the week’s scheduled reports. The problem is low productivity, but why? Are they confused about your expectations? It could be something relatively simple, but you need to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible.
The University of Minnesota’s human resources office shares the following common performance issues at work and their possible root causes are issues that need to be addressed:
- Low Productivity or Late Completion – Make sure you have been clear about the requirements and expectations of the job. Workers could use help prioritising assignments, honing their efficiency, or better understanding the work. They also may be leaving work too early, starting too late, taking excessive breaks, browsing the internet too much, or just procrastinating.
- Poor Quality of Work – Maybe they are being just as productive as their peers but failing to meet your standards. This could manifest itself in errors, inaccuracies, or client dissatisfaction that can cost your company money. Maybe simply slowing down will help them get up to speed. It helps to have examples of the level of quality you expect and be able to point out exactly where their efforts are falling short.
- Resistance to Change – Today’s workforce needs to be agile and receptive to change; those who resist change only hold their companies back. Some employees may need a gentle nudge or additional support when transitioning to new methods or systems, but you have to also be firm in your expectations.
- Inappropriate Behaviours – The right attitude is so important to a harmonious workplace that you want to address and snuff out inappropriate behaviours right away. Poor cooperation, failure to follow instructions, or just plain hostility to co-workers should not be tolerated. These types of performance issues often lead to termination, but sometimes they can be corrected before that step needs to be taken.
- Destructive Interpersonal Relations – Even your top producers can cause company-wide performance issues if they bully their co-workers, engage in passive-aggressive behaviour, sabotage the work of their peers, or hurt morale generally. Sometimes they just need to be made aware of how their relationships with co-workers are impacting the team.
- Negative Physical Behaviours – Drug or alcohol use off the job could spill over into the workday and negatively impact performance. Depending on the type of work, it may not be appropriate to eat, drink, or smoke cigarettes on the job. Poor personal hygiene can also hurt performance in positions that rely on human connections, such as sales.
Encouraging Clear and Open Communication
Regardless of whether you are currently dealing with performance issues at work, it is important to make sure you are regularly communicating with your staff and informing them that your door is always open. Clear communication solves most problems.
Maybe one of your employees is slipping into a deep depression after the death of a loved one, causing their productivity to crater. Or perhaps there is a rumour going around the office that you have not had the chance to defuse. Communicating with your employees helps you better understand the circumstances and take action to support them.
That said, encouraging open communication means you do have to take action and speak up as soon as possible when someone’s performance is slipping. Always be fair, speak with them in private, and give them the tools they need to succeed.
Fixing Performance Issues at Work
The worker with poor performance at work ultimately needs to make the necessary adjustments themselves, but it is up to the manager to make the first move. Generally, your next steps are divided into non-disciplinary and disciplinary actions. The type and severity of the problem will help guide you when determining which action best suits the situation.
Non-disciplinary actions include reminders of what is expected and a fact-based summary of what you are observing from them. Do not be negative or throw insults or opinions out, as these will not help your employee make the necessary adjustments. You might include a plan of action, perhaps with a deadline for when you would like to see measurable improvements. This is easier if you already have an effective performance evaluation process in place.
Disruptive behaviour, wilful failure to follow instructions, or other negative behaviours may lead directly to disciplinary action. Even if you have decided you need to fire someone, it is always best to have a record of corrective actions taken so that everyone is clear about how it got to the point of terminating employment.
Disciplinary actions do not have to be a prelude to a termination, however. Someone could slip up, badly, just once and then turn out to be your best employee with the right method of managing employee performance.
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