How to Manage and Improve Poor Performance in the Workplace
How to Manage and Improve Poor Performance in the Workplace

How to Manage and Improve Poor Performance in the Workplace

Regardless of how well you manage your team, there can be times when either a single employee or a group of employees start underperforming in the workplace. If this happens, don’t panic, you can always call an HR consultancy in London for an HR advisory service or follow some of our HR advice below. There are a number of simple and easy ways to ensure that your team pick up the pace and start performing at their absolute best.

However, before we begin handing out HR advice on how to tackle poor performance, we should first clarify exactly what is meant by that phrase. When it comes to poor performance within the workplace, there are three categories that you should consider before you approach an employee about their performance. These are:


Underperformance refers most specifically to the work that the employee undertakes — is their work of a poor standard? Has it become significantly worse over a period of time? Are they failing to meet deadlines and often seen to be unproductive or unfocused? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your employee may be guilty of underperforming in the workplace.


Misconduct in often more serious than underperformance. Misconduct refers to issues such as continued absence, a negative change in attitude (including being rude or dismissive to colleagues as well as customers) and unexplained late arrivals into the office or to team meetings.

Gross Misconduct

The most serious of all three categories, gross misconduct is not to be taken lightly. Whilst misconduct focuses on minor issues, gross misconduct covers issues such as violence towards colleagues, customers or contractors, insubordination, theft and/or substance abuse.

Once you establish the category that the employee or group of employees fits into, it is then crucial that you look at any potential causes for their change in behaviour. These changes might be work related, or they might be issues occurring outside of the workplace.

Whatever the reasons behind the poor performance, you must ascertain these before you can move forward with a solution.

Managing Poor Performance In The Workplace

How do I establish the potential causes of poor performance?

If you think the issue might be a result of workplace tensions, you must ensure that you get to the bottom of these tensions before they start affecting every employee’s performance.

Some common issues that often have a detrimental effect on performance are workload (both too high and too low), poor working conditions, poor communication between superiors and employees and unachievable expectations.

Alternatively, the causes might be more internal feelings of failure, either through an employee feeling excluding from the rest of the team, feeling undervalued or feeling like their voice is never being heard.

If the issues are workplace based, they will be slightly easier to approach. As a manager or owner of a business, you can control how your workplace operates as well as (to some extent) the attitudes within the workplace.

However, if the causes are linked to issues outside of the workplace, such as addiction or depression, it might be slightly more challenging to draw these causes out of the individual.

In order to ascertain exactly what’s going on either at work or at home, you should meet with the employee and offer a time for them to be completely honest about whether there are any issues that are occurring, either in their personal or their professional life, that might be having a detrimental effect on their performance. Once you have established these causes, you can begin attending to them and then start to move forward.

What should I do once I’ve established the causes?

If you’re dealing with underperformance rather than either misconduct or gross misconduct, you should be able to deal with the employee’s issues without resorting to more serious actions. Once you have listened to the employee’s concerns, you should work with them to ensure that change occurs and they are provided with the opportunity to excel.

For example, if the reason behind underperformance was workload being too high, a reduction in workload or an assistant who can support them in their role should rectify the issue and ultimately improve performance.

In order to ensure that you are clear in what is expected within your business, you should include the following points when working towards a solution:

  • Have you clearly identified the issues/problems that you wish to be rectified?
  • Have you provided clear expectations of how their performance will be measured following the solutions meeting?
  • Have you outlined the support network that is available to that employee, and will this network provide enough support for the employee?
  • Have you outlined the consequences that might occur should the employee’s performance not improve?

The key to finding an appropriate solution is to involve the employee in all discussions and to ensure that there is a constant flow of communication between the employee and their superior and/or support network.

What if the problem involves misconduct or gross misconduct?

If your problem is more serious and falls under the category of either misconduct or gross misconduct, more serious actions may have to be taken. If the misdemeanour involves behaviour that can be modified, for example, insubordination or unnecessary rudeness to other employees, dismissal may not be necessary.

However, if the problem relates to behaviour that questions the employee’s ability to perform their role in the company successfully (i.e. they betrayed your trust and therefore cannot be left to perform their work unsupervised), you may have to think about letting the employee go.

You should discuss your options with a legal professional before you take any action that could result in a lawsuit.

What if things don’t improve after a discussion between the employee and their supervisor has taken place?

If you have provided every opportunity for the employee to excel and they are still not changing their behaviour, you may be forced to either sanction or dismiss the individual.

A sanction refers to an oral or written warning, and it should be explained clearly to the employee before it is implemented. If a warning is issued, then it is crucial that the employee understands why the warning has been issued, as well as how long it will be in effect. The employee should also be advised of the consequences, such as demotion or dismissal, if they fail to adhere to the conditions of the warning.

If the issues are simply too large or too complex to warrant a warning alone, you may be forced to dismiss the employee. It this is an action that you feel must be taken, you should ensure that you adhere very closely to your company’s dismissal policy. Your dismissal procedure should involve:

  • A written invite that requests for the employee to attend a formal disciplinary hearing.
  • The freedom for the employee to be accompanied by either a friend or a professional.
  • A clearly written statement that sets out the reasons behind the hearing and potential dismissal.
  • The assurance that the employee with be given an opportunity to provide feedback and/or mitigation in regards to the complaints against them.
  • A clear, written statement that explains your reasons for dismissal and your desire to do so before the meeting/hearing is concluded.
  • The dismissal statement should be followed up in writing as soon as possible after the hearing.
  • You should ensure that you provide the employee with a ‘right to appeal’ within five days.

The points above are not an exhaustive list, but a handful of the most crucial aspects that will ensure you carry out a dismissal hearing in the fairest and professional way possible.

However, if you are in any doubt as to the way that you should handle a dismissal, you must seek professional advice. If you don’t, you might find yourself caught up in an unfair dismissal lawsuit which could lead to large sums of money in compensation.  

Want support with your HR? Our HR Advisory service provides affordable, qualified, legally compliant HR help and innovative HR technology for small to medium sized businesses. Find out more by contacting our experienced HR team by calling 020 3751 4422, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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