In a nutshell: If an employee isn’t living up to expectations, tell the employee the truth, be sensitive to his or her feelings, and take action before the situation worsens.

Helping an employee with poor performance

You spent countless hours reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, checking references and training the new hire, but he or she isn’t performing the way you hoped. Don’t write them off quite yet! If you intervene quickly, you may be able to solve the issue and salvage the relationship.

Here’s where to start:

Be Sure

First, make sure the assumptions about the employee’s performance are substantiated. If you are not closely involved with the employee’s day-to-day duties, you may not clearly see the impact they are having on their team or how much they support their manager. So, ask those who are at liberty to tell you (like the supervisor) about performance. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) “3 Signs That Your New Hire Won’t Work Out,” red flags include:

  • Issues with attendance, tardiness, availability or general reliability
  • Lack of an essential skill or attribute for the job
  • Unpleasant, disagreeable, overly assertive or demanding demeanor

Be Proactive

If you’re noticing any warning signs, now is the time to get involved. Don’t let them ravel out of control. By being an active participant in the employee’s career, you’ll show them you care and want them to be successful. According to a study by Deloitte that surveyed millennials, the employees who planned to stay with their employer more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%). This goes to show it’s a worthwhile gesture. Partner your troubled employee with someone at the organization that they will look up to. By introducing a formal mentorship programwith all employees during onboarding, you may even avoid some poor performance issues in the future.

Be Sensitive

You never know what someone is going through. Even though they spend a big portion of their day and week with you, there may be issues aside from work that are preoccupying their minds. It’s common for people to resist discussing problems in their personal lives, especially with superiors at work. And you shouldn’t ask either; your role does not include therapist. With this in mind though, be compassionate. And, if you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP) through company-provided health insurance, it’s worth mentioning. You can say something like, “If you’re having a personal issue, I recommend you seek assistance. And I can direct you to our EAP.”

Be Honest

If conditions don’t improve, it’s in your best interest (and for their own good) that you have a formal conversation about the poor performance. According to SHRM’s“11 Tips for Talking About Poor Performance,” you should prepare for the meeting with two documents: talking points for yourself and a written takeaway for the employee. Provide examples of when the employee was unable to meet objectives, so they clearly understand the issue at hand.

And, if all else fails, it may be time to separate. No one entered this employment agreement thinking it would end this way, and there may be hard feelings on both sides. But honesty is the best policy when it comes to termination. You owe it to them to let them know how they fell short (and, by now, they should have a clear idea of this). If you feel so inclined, offering to form a transition plan together, while they look for a job and you search for a replacement, may improve an otherwise negative situation.

The idea in dealing with poorly performing employees is to give them a real chance — and maybe a couple of chances if the situation warrants it. If you take the steps outlined above, you may be able to improve an employee’s performance, which will make both of you happier in the end.

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