7 Causes of Poor Employee Performance - And How to Address Them
It's every manager's least favorite part of the job: someone on
your team isn't performing up to expectations, and it's time to do
something about it.
But before you decide how to address a performance problem, it's
important to diagnose the root cause.
In my experience, performance is the confluence of ability and
motivation. An employee needs to have the ability to perform the
task as well as the motivation to do so. Figuring out which is the
cause of the performance problem can help you decide how to address
Lack of ability
The first four causes stem from a lack of ability:
- Resources: If your employee is lacking the
time, money, personnel, or supplies to complete a task, he won't be
able to complete it, no matter how much he wants to. This is
probably the easiest root cause to address, but you should also
tell the employee that he should have come to you with his problem
sooner instead of trying to make it work without the proper
- Obstacles: Obstacles might include getting a
decision from clients or higher-ups, problems collaborating with
another department, or other obstacles outside the employee's
control. As the manager, hopefully you can step in and help her
tackle or find a way around the obstacle to get the job done.
- Skills: Sometimes a performance problem is a
simple lack of skills. Perhaps the employee was promoted before he
was ready, or a new set of job duties has been assigned. Hopefully
some extra training or mentoring can solve this performance
- Expectations: If no clear parameters or
expectations for a project have been set, or if the employee has
misunderstood them, this can be a major cause of poor performance.
Go over project goals and deliverables again and see if you can
help clear up any confusion or miscommunication.
Lack of Motivation:
The second set of causes for poor performance are more personal
and emotional to the employee and are based in a lack of
- No carrots: Are employees praised or rewarded
for good work? Some employees may begin to slack off if they
perceive that their hard work goes unrecognised. For some people,
having their good work recognised is vitally important to their
work satisfaction, and their performance may improve just from past
good works being recognized.
- No sticks: The opposite problem to having no
carrots is having no sticks. If there are no penalties for poor
performance, some employees may feel they can "get away with"
turning work in late or shoddily done. Don't just start handing
down punishments suddenly, however; take the time to review or
design a step-by-step series of consequences for poor performance
and announce them to the entire team before implementing. The first
step can be as simple as talking about the problem, with
consequences increasing from there.
- Burnout: If an employee seems bored or burned
out, it's the manager's job to try to help reenergize him. Being
burned out is not a free pass for doing sub-par work, but it is a
red flag to a good manager that the employee's talents may be
underutilized. A quick note: poor performance can also be a
passive-aggressive way for an employee to try to redress what she
sees as wrong, so be aware if she seems to harbor any anger or
resentment as well.
As you can see, one size does not fit all when it comes to handling
performance problems. Handing down a punishment for someone who
lacks the proper resources or doesn't have the necessary skills
isn't the right approach; nor is prescribing additional training
for someone who really needs praise. Identifying the root cause of
the performance problem is key before you can find the right