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Why Employees Under-Perform

By Gerald Walsh ©

No organization can afford to have under-performing employees. Yet many managers turn a blind eye to mediocre employee performance hoping that somehow the problems will go away. They rarely do and the consequences of this inaction can be grave.

Here are eight reasons why employees under-perform and possible courses of action you can take as the manager:

Unclear targets and expectations

Employees cannot read your mind. And most will not admit they don’t understand your instructions. So, be clear and precise in your directions. Identify expected outcomes and completion dates. Deliver instructions verbally and in writing if necessary. Always ask your employees if your instructions are clear and understood.

No rewards for doing a good job

Don’t worry. Rewards do not have to cost money. You can recognize employees for a job well done by saying ‘thank you,’ giving a couple of movie tickets, or writing a brief note of appreciation. Small acts will go a long way to motivating employees.

Employees do not understand how their job fits in the big picture

Invest a few minutes at the beginning of a project to explain why you are asking an employee to do a certain task. Let her know how you will use the output of her work to make an important decision.

Employees lack skills or knowledge to do the job

Because interviews are not perfect, it is easy to overlook skill gaps when hiring. If this happens, you have to quickly identify where the gaps exist and ensure the employee receives the necessary training to do the job properly. Remember, it is probably your fault that this happened in the first place.

Family or health issues conflict with work

Concerns about family or health can increase absenteeism and cause employees to work at reduced capacity. Encouraging an open, supportive workplace with a focus on health and wellness will help employees achieve a better balance between their work life and home life.

Employees are physically uncomfortable

Poor lighting and uncomfortable chairs can impair performance. If this is a problem, you might conduct a workplace audit to assess layout, ergonomics, lighting, temperature, air quality, safety, and noise. Employees will appreciate your interest in their surroundings and their performance should improve.

Employees feel they are under-paid

Consider having an external salary review completed to determine if the wages you are paying are in line with your competitors and industry standards. Employees only want to be paid fairly and competitively and doing so will greatly strengthen your recruitment and retention efforts.

Poor relationship with the boss (you!)

This is possibly the #1 reason why employees underperform. Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach to managing your employees, recognize that every manager/employee relationship is unique and requires a custom approach. Taking the time to learn and understand each employee’s preferred style will pay big dividends for you.

I would like to receive your comments and questions about this topic. Please email me at walsh@geraldwalsh.com and I will respond to you.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn