Managing Employees

5 Things to Do When an Employee's Performance Deteriorates

It can be confusing and frustrating when a successful employee's performance takes a nosedive. Intervene effectively using these five steps.
5 Things to Do When an Employee's Performance Deteriorates
Image credit: Klaus Vedfelt | Getty Images
Guest Writer
President, Liz Kislik Associates
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For all kinds of reasons, even longstanding, highly productive employees can experience a performance slump at some point. The Towers Watson Global Workforce study showed that up to 26 percent of workers surveyed said they felt disengaged, and another 17 percent felt detached.

Related: 5 Steps to an Effective Performance Evaluation System

As a founder, you may not always find an obvious way to get someone back on track, but the investment of energy you would need to turn this situation around is still so much less than what would be needed replace and train a new employee.

So, the upshot is that it only makes sense to figure out what’s going on and take action. Ready? These five approaches may help.

Ask explicitly if the employee is okay.

And find out if there’s anything that you should know about instead of assuming you understand this individual's current circumstances and reactions. Of course, it will help if you’re already aware of his or her personal situation.

Perhaps the employee is dealing with a new and challenging circumstance that’s distracting. In that case, it can help to share your evidence: “James, I was wondering if everything’s okay. I noticed that you stopped/started doing X, and I figured I’d better check in with you about it.”

At one of my clients' companies, when a leader touched base with a staffer who had fallen below expectations, the woman explained that her dog had died, and she was grieving. Knowing her boss cared about her helped her refocus on her work.

Related: 5 Steps to an Effective Performance Evaluation System

Look for signs of stress and burnout.

Burnout costs U.S. businesses as much as $300 billion each year, whether the reason is employees having had to absorb too many changes or the fact that they've just been plain old working too hard for too long.

A longtime administrator I knew was being criticized for her negativity, her self-pacing and  her avoidance of anything new. After some analysis, however, it became clear that there was more work than her team could handle. Once her team was staffed up and the new team members were reasonably up to speed, she started to recover her resilience and became more even-keeled.

Probe for changes in the employee's job.

Perhaps there are new problems with equipment, resources or information flows; maybe a major customer is giving the employee a hard time, or a manager is behaving differently in some way.

A CEO I work with was concerned about a downturn in an executive’s previously outstanding performance. We discussed how the employee had recently been assigned to lead a new initiative for which he did not have previous experience, although he was the best internal candidate. The CEO agreed that as soon as the new initiative could afford to pay for an experienced executive, the reassigned employee should return to the assignment where his performance had been consistently superior.

Describe your expectations for the employee's performance.

And talk about how the business, team or customers are affected when it’s lacking. Although up to 87 percent of employees in one survey reported by Strategy + Business said they wanted opportunities for development, only one-third reported actually receiving feedback to help them improve.

So, make sure you’re concrete and specific about both expectations and impacts. Ask what employees need from you or from others in the organization to help them get back on track.

I had to give one senior leader excruciatingly detailed feedback, in areas from interpersonal dynamics to personal hygiene. It wasn’t pleasant for either of us, but until he was made aware of exactly what was disturbing to customers, there was no hope for improvement.

Provide meaningful recognition.

Employees in  a survey by the Cicero Group were three times more likely to choose recognition as the single factor most likely to motivate superior performance-- over inspiration, autonomy and even pay.

Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or even time-consuming. One leader I knew started using the daily standup meeting not just to review the progress of the work, but also to mention superior contributions and excellent performances. Not only did preparation for the daily meetings improve, but team members were eager to make contributions that could be noted.

In sum, even excellent performers can lose momentum or be stalled by circumstances from time to time. How to respond as the employer? Intervening early will help you feel optimistic about a positive outcome and give the employee involved the benefit of the doubt so you can demonstrate to staff the confidence you have in them and your willingness to provide support during a tough time.

Related: 3 Signs That Managers, Not Employees, Are the Problem With Performance Management

Just don't wait to do this: If you wait till you’re fed up with either the person or whatever’s going wrong, you'll find it much harder to turn the situation around.

More from Entrepreneur

Grow Your Business at Entrepreneur LIVE! Join us on Nov. 16 in Brooklyn, NY, to learn from legends like Danica Patrick and Maria Sharapova, pitch our editors, meet with investors, and potentially walk away with funding!
Register here

One-on-one online sessions with our experts can help you start a business, grow your business, build your brand, fundraise and more.
Book Your Session

Whether you are launching or growing a business, we have all the business tools you need to take your business to the next level, in one place.
Enroll Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.