"Off" day or Slump? What to Do About Underperforming Employees

Here in Minnesota, spring doesn't spring. Rather, it creeps up on us in fits and starts.

This year, it seems, we're seeing more fits — think snow! — than starts. That's right, we had snow during the last week of April just when we thought winter was finally over.

Of course snow in April isn't all that troublesome. Like a wrong-number phone call, it gets your attention momentarily and then it's gone and usually no cause for concern.

"Off" days are like that, too. We all have "off" days, which, like snow in April, generally don't last too long.

If they do persist, however, bad days turn into ruts, and that's a problem. In sports we call this a slump. No one likes to see his baseball team in a slump — or his employees, for that matter. And especially not his experienced workers, because "slumping employees" means underperforming employees who can stifle innovation and productivity.

Few underperforming employees consciously slack off, of course. What's more, they could be just as baffled as you by their downturn in production.

Therefore, what if you take steps to diagnose the reason or reasons behind an employee's eroding performance and work with her to help her get back on track? Not only would you take vital steps toward motivating her back to her usual productive self, you would show her she is valued and that you and your organization care about her.

There are steps anyone can follow to try to diagnose causes behind underperformance. Basically, you identify what has changed: The skills necessary for the job? The boss? A coworker? Goals? Or perhaps nothing has changed and the same job day after day no longer challenges your employee.

After identifying what is causing underperformance, you and your employee can decide what to do about it. Then it's time to work with your employee to set goals and milestones to monitor improvement.

All this takes time, of course, but it's difficult to replace experienced workers so don't give up on slumping employees too quickly

On the other hand, keep in mind that if you and your employee have legitimately tried to correct the situation with insufficient improvement, it may be time to amicably part ways.

It's unrealistic to expect that everyone will have a perfect day every day. Bad days happen. But if you watch for slumps — and coach your managers to watch for slumps — and know what to do to help employees out of slumps, you can help them recover and improve productivity and along with it, your bottom line.

Tips: Why Employees Under Perform; Eight Hazards to Avoid

Most managers have to deal with underperforming employees from time to time. It's an unpleasant task; one we all like to avoid.

Don't you think it would be easier to eliminate the reasons employees under perform to begin with? (That's rhetorical; the answer is "yes.")

Look at the following eight hazards to see if they are leading to underperformance in your organization:

1) Employee feels overloaded

In today's competitive environment, thousands of downsizing companies are asking their employees to take on more and more tasks. Becoming overloaded is really difficult to avoid. Yet, studies show that feeling overloaded is the number one reason employees under perform.

Suggestion: Help your employee prioritize the tasks you give him. When possible, give some of his tasks to a colleague. And finally, help him with time management so he can gain control over his schedule and become more effective in his work.

2) Inadequate capability

Does your employee have the skills, tools and experience necessary to successfully perform the job he's asked to do? If any of these three factors is missing, chances are he will under perform.

Suggestion: Make sure your employees are capable of doing their jobs by looking for these factors when hiring. Hiring personnel often overlook them when a candidate has solid academic credentials, and is intelligent and confident. Plus – and it's no secret – candidates often exaggerate their abilities on their résumés and job applications.

3) Poor job fit

Is your employee suited to the job he is doing? Many people fall into jobs that are a bad fit. Rather than understanding themselves and selecting a calling that builds on their strengths and aligns with their interests, they choose jobs because of peer pressure and societal influences.

Suggestion: Know the job. Then using behavior assessments, determine the type of person who is successful in that job and hire those who have these same behavioral traits.

4) Fuzzy goals and accountabilities

Employees need to clearly understand their responsibilities and the results you expect. Otherwise, crises, sudden requests and direction changes can intervene and affect their priorities and daily work.

Suggestion: Clearly define your employees' responsibilities and your expectations. Additionally, track smart goals to help your employees focus on what is most important to your business.

5) Poor relationship with manager

Managers and employees who understand each other's preferred styles communicate better and work together more effectively than those who don't.

Suggestion: Assess a manager and her employees. This allows her to use objective information about herself and her workers, so she can work with them more effectively toward a common goal.

6) Poor relationship with coworkers

Doing well at work — and doing work well — isn't just about ability. Workers need to get along with each other. Working together well lessens stress and makes the whole team more effective.

Suggestion: Identify and correct these four factors that harm relationships among coworkers:
• Insensitivity toward others
• Unclear accountabilities
• Poor cultural fit
• Incompatible styles

7) Health and wellness issues

U.S. companies lose approximately $260 billion in output each year because of health-related problems. Whether absent from work altogether or present but working at reduced capacity, unhealthy employees have difficulty performing at their peak.

Suggestion: Do what you can to improve employee well-being. You might, for example, get your employees engaged in their health and wellness at work. Company wellness programs offer yearly health risk assessments and other tools and resources employees can use to better their health and fitness, which, in turn, improves employee productivity, attendance, confidence and general morale.

8) Physical and environmental factors

Numerous behavioral studies show that a pleasant and comfortable work environment improves worker productivity and reduces turnover. Researchers in Finland, for example, showed that when interior air temperature was 30 degrees C (86 degrees F), worker performance was 8.9 percent below worker performance at the optimal temperature of 22 degrees C (71.6 degrees F).

Suggestion: Maintain a pleasant and comfortable work environment. Begin by maintaining a temperature of 70–72 degrees F.

Your Solution Toolbox: Profile XT™ Helps You Select and Develop Employees

Measuring What Matters

Look back at the list of hazards above, especially the third one, poor job fit.

It’s common sense that employees who fit their jobs well will exhibit a higher level of job satisfaction than those who do not. They come to work more often, change jobs less frequently and perform superbly overall. They achieve success with what comes naturally to them.

How can you ensure that your employees work where they belong in your organization?

That's a great question. The answer? Profile International's assessment tools particularly the Profile XT™.

Although I haven't mentioned it in awhile, I often use an analogy when I talk about the ProfileXT™. This analogy asks you to think of attempting to put a square peg in a round hole.

To make a square shape fit in a round slot you must shave the corners. If the peg is more curved then square, you will need to shave off less to make it fit. And if the peg is already round, it fits perfectly in the hole with no shaving or honing needed.

Managers using assessment tools correctly already know the shape of the holes they need to fill. They need only the peg to fit it well. ProfileXT™ helps them find the right peg. It measures job-related qualities that make people productive such as thinking and reasoning style, behavioral traits, and occupational interests.

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Call me, too, if you are looking for professional assistance with your personnel questions. We'll help you learn how to:

Let’s Talk! We offer a no obligation consultation to informally assess your current policies, procedures, and practices. This may help determine what’s missing in your current programs to meet the above recommendations. Call 952-322-3330 or send an email to mgorski@mgassessments.com.

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