How To Address Poor Performance in the Workplace

Poor performance in the workplace can cause a ripple effect, impacting not just the performer, but their manager, team, and even the entire workplace. Not convinced? Managers spend about 17% of their time working with low performers. 17%!

Managers spend almost 1 day of each week dealing with poor performance. When you take a deep look at it, these poor performers are costing your company a lot.

Imagine how much more productive your company could be if poor performance weren’t an issue. 

Addressing poor workplace performance requires a comprehensive, holistic approach. First, HR needs to identify poor performance, then have a set plan to make changes. Remember – you can’t change what you can’t measure! 

Ready to free your managers from the burden of handling poor performance? 

Let’s get started. 

What is poor performance?

In the workplace, poor performance is when an employee fails to meet the basic goals and expectations of their position. Poor employee performance can be job-related or it can be behavior-related. 

Job-related poor performance is where an employee fails to meet goals or expectations for their job specific tasks. For example, if an assistant consistently fails to schedule meetings, that would be job-related poor performance. 

Behavior-related refers to the employee’s behaviors while on the job. For example, if an employee were always rolling their eyes in meetings and talking behind their colleagues' backs, that would be poor behavior-related performance. 

Some examples fall into both categories. For example: tardiness. A consistently tardy employee is failing to meet the expectations of their job (be on time, work a full shift), and is also exhibiting poor behavior that affects company morale (not taking their job seriously). 

What are some examples of poor work performance? 

There are a variety of different ways poor employee performance in the workplace can present itself. We’ve compiled a list of the most common ways that poor performance often is exhibited. 

  • Misses deadlines
  • Makes mistakes such as typos or miscalculations
  • Arrives late 
  • Produces low-quality work
  • Acts rude 
  • Insubordination
  • Hostile about feedback
  • Doesn’t correct previously raised issues

What is the effect of poor performance in the workplace? 

Poor performance in the workplace has ripple effects that extend beyond the direct work of a low performer, and impacts employee performance throughout the company.

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example. 

David is an individual contributor whose work has started slipping. He used to be a great coder who’d turn in error-free code time-and-time again. However, lately, his code has been sloppy, his deliveries are late, and he’s bristled every time his boss, Shawna, has raised the issue of his performance issues. 

David’s poor performance now results in: 

  • Error-heavy work that causes problems for users.
  • Poor user experience which risks losing customers
  • Extra work for the team to have to fix his mistakes 
  • Resentment as teammembers feel David isn’t pulling his weight
  • Tension on the team due to David’s bad attitude 

If David’s work doesn’t improve, and management doesn’t remove David from the team, these consequences will get bigger. The team will spend more time fixing errors than creating new projects. The delay on deliverables will cause performance issues for the whole team, slowing down their performance,and making their product less competitive. 

As the high performers continue to be undermined by the underperforming employee, they’ll eventually move on to roles where their work can shine. 

In the words of Francie Dalton, president of consulting firm Dalton Alliances Inc., ““In organizations where management imposes no consequences for poor performance, high achievers will leave because they don’t want to be where mediocrity is tolerated. But mediocre performers will remain because they know they’re safe. The entire organizational culture, along with its reputation in the marketplace, can be affected by poor performers.” 

In a nutshell: poor job performance harms the entire company. It cannot go unaddressed. 

What are the reasons for poor performance? 

Everybody has a bad day on the job. But consistent subpar performance in the workplace is due to one (if not multiple) reasons that need intervention by HR and management. 

Personal life problems

Homelife has a funny way of bleeding into work performance. If a previously stellar employee has suddenly started turning in sub-quality work, it could be a sign that something is amiss outside of the workplace. Injuries, illnesses, relationship issues, moving apartments – all these can cause performance to suffer. 

Workplace conflict 

Sometimes, teammembers don’t get along. For whatever reason, one employee rubs the other the wrong way, and performance issues arise as a result. When left unattended, workplace conflicts can spiral, dragging in previously uninvolved parties.  


Burnout is when employees no longer function because they have reached a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It’s a real threat to all employees, but especially high-performers who often take on more than they should handle.  

If a high performer suddenly starts showing poor performance in the workplace, burnout could be the culprit. 

Lack of skills 

Poor performance sometimes comes down to a simple reality: the employee doesn’t have the skills to do the job. 

Maybe they fudged their resume a little – saying they were an “Excel expert,” but can’t define a “pivot table” to save their life. The result: poor performance because they don’t know what they’re doing. 

Lack of motivation

The last major reason behind poor performance is lack of motivation or employee engagement. An employee may find the work boring, the company’s mission uninspiring, feel that their career is going nowhere, or that their work isn’t being appreciated. All these contribute to a feeling of, “what’s the use? My work doesn’t matter anyway, so why should I even try?” 

How to identify poor performance in the workplace? 

Identifying low performers isn’t as simple as thinking, “hm, Jin’s work isn’t as good as it used to be.” 

Without properly measuring performance in the first place, managers end up using subjective measurements and gut checks that are prone to bias

To make sure that you’re accurately identifying performance, you need to set some benchmarks and develop best practices. 

The easiest way to do this is to have a comprehensive performance management process. 

This includes:

  • Goal setting
  • Continuous feedback
  • Check-ins
  • Performance reviews
  • 360 evaluations

A strong performance management system gives you a baseline for your company, departments, and each employee. It’s easy to discover your top performers, see the goals and expectations that employees need to hit, and identify low performers that need additional help.  

Using a performance management system like PerformYard lets you set goals, give feedback, complete evaluations, and visualize data all in one simple single-sign on software. 

How to address poor performance in the workplace?  

The good news: poor performance can be turned around. Low performing workers can, with proper coaching and motivation, become high-performing workers that succeed and thrive. 

However, addressing and fixing poor performance requires a concerted effort. In other words, you need a game plan. 

Here’s how HR and managers can help get low performers back on track. 

1. Align HR and Managers 

If there’s a persistent issue of poor performance, then Human Resources and the employee’s manager need to first meet to get on the same page. In this meeting, it is vital that HR and the manager discuss what the source of the poor performance is, how it is affecting the team, and steps they will take to help the employee correct the issue. 

2. Bring the employee into the conversation

Next, the low performing employee should be brought into the discussion. Remember, the goal here is to fix poor performance, not admonish or punish. Constructive feedback is the key! 

Knowing that, Human Resources leaders and managers should come in with an open mind, an understanding attitude, and a plan to help the employee regain motivation.  

Managers and HR should stick to the facts, presenting an objective account of the poor performance they’ve identified. Then, Human Resources should ask the employee to explain their perspective. Ask them why they think their performance has suffered. Are there any resources that the employee needs? Truthfully invite them to help troubleshoot and fix their own performance.

3.  Determine whether the issue is due to low motivation or low ability

During the conversation with the employee, you should try to figure out if the poor performance is due to lack of motivation or lack of skills. 

Lack of motivation may stem from boredom, frustration, lack of recognition, or disillusionment. 

Lack of skills is simpler: the employee doesn’t have the skillset to accomplish their tasks at this time. 

Once you’ve figured out the root cause of the issue, you can create a solution. 

Skills issue solution 

When it comes to fixing a skills issue, there are three major solutions you can provide. 

First, provide resources. Ask the employee, “What can I provide you to help you succeed?” 

Resources could be:

  • Mentorship
  • Feedback
  • Frequent 1:1s
  • Tools and software 

Second, provide training. Help the employee set up training sessions with knowledgeable employees. Enroll the employee in courses like LinkedIn learning. Help them get the knowledge they need to succeed. 

Third, consider reassigning the employee to a role that better fits their skills. If the employee has talent and potential, it may be best to help them transfer as opposed to having to let them go. 

Motivation issue

If poor performance in the workplace comes down to motivation, then you will need to use different tactics. 

Can You Fix Poor Performance at Your Company?

Yes, you can fix poor employment performance at your company. The key is how to identify it early enough that you can fix it at the right time. What makes performance analysis complex is that not all departments run the same way.

As a company, you can't measure your sales team the same way you would your human resources team. Most of the time, performance evaluations fall on the department managers.

When your management team has to spend more time on the performance of their employees than on company goals. It translates into your business running slower and less efficient.

Having a system in place that runs all your performance reviews and check-ins can fix this. It will make it easier for your managers to focus on getting more business done.

Performance Reviews

Performance appraisals have become essential in measuring your employees' performance. We know that there's always a time of the year where these become a headache for every manager and employee. Many companies work on a one size fits all way by having one set performance review form for all employees.

Yet, at the end of the day, we know that every department doesn't work the same way. It would be ideal for every department to have their own tailored form. The right system will provide you a way to customize your performance review forms for each department.

This way you can measure your employees based on your company needs and expectations. Another way, this system can help is by giving you the option to deploy these reviews at a set time. This means that you can decide if you want some departments to run their performance reviews at a set time.

This can help human resources be more efficient when these reviews come their way. Also, the right system will provide you the option to track goal performance in your reviews.

This will give management a way to track how your employees have been doing on their work performance goals. Tracking progress is essential to identifying low performance. These options will give you updates for you to fix the problems on time before they become a headache.

Goal Management

As your company keeps evolving, so are the goals you set for your business and employees. The work performance goals that were set at the beginning of the year aren't the same mid-year. The right system will provide you a way to track the goals set for your employees.

It will give you a dynamic way to track and update these goals. This will help your employees visualize their progress. This way they'll have a clear idea of what's expected of them.

Also, a goal management system can help you motivate your employees. Since they know where they stand, your employees can work toward what they want to achieve.

This option will help you identify low performance early when it's related to established goals because of the constant monitoring. Identifying these deficiencies can help take your company to the next level faster than you'll expect.

Continuous Feedback

Did you know that almost 60% of employees would like to receive feedback on a daily or weekly basis? Yes, we may not be huge fans of negative feedback. But, if it's delivered in the right way it can do wonders for an employee's performance.

The right system will give you the option to provide continuous feedback to your employees. This way you can identify and document low performance as well. The system may also provide you with ways to give 1 on 1 feedback and keep confidential employee feedback notes.

This will make your manager's job easier and provide a friendlier system to communicate with your employees. About 62% of employees have said that they would work harder if their employer recognized their efforts.

This means that your employees will be happier if you use this system to recognize their performance as well. Happy employees translate into better performance and efficiency. Your employees are the heart of your company so if they perform better your company will be smooth sailing all the way to success.

Use a PIP 

As a last resort for managing poor performance, you may need to put a low performer on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). 

A performance improvement plan (also known as a PIP) is a disciplinary action used to improve failing performance. In a performance improvement plan, the manager and HR lay out the specific areas where the employee’s performance has not met the workplace standards. 

Then, the performance improvement plan lists the specific steps, goals, and expectations that need to be met. 

What happens if poor performance doesn’t improve? 

As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.” 

Despite our best efforts, sometimes poor performance doesn’t improve. Employees cannot rise to the challenge. 

In these cases, if you have exhausted all options, documented all instances of poor performance in the workplace, and provided every way for your employee to succeed – and the poor performance has not been fixed – then you will likely need to let the employee go. 

A termination or a dismissal is never pleasant. But keeping a failing employee around causes negative, cascading effects across the entire organization. In this case, it serves everyone to remove the low performer from the organization. 

How can performance management be used to improve poor performance? 

Performance management solutions, like PerformYard, can be an excellent solution to performance issue  woes. 

With a performance management solution, you can easily set and track goals, leave continuous feedback, and complete customized review cycles – all in one easy platform. 

Employees can easily see their past performance, track their goal progress, and review conversations with their managers. 

Managers can use the dual-view to pull up employee self-reviews while filling out manager reviews, making sure that every detail is accounted for. 

By tracking goal progress and providing consistent feedback, your company can set your employees up for success and give them the tools they need to fix their performance problem. 

HR and leadership can easily track progress for all employees, and quickly see who are the top performers and who is falling behind. By identifying poor performance quickly, HR can set plans in motion to address poor performance before it becomes a crisis. 

This will translate into your company running better in all areas.

Remember to look for a system that fits your needs focusing on performance reviews, continuous feedback and goal management. If you find the right system, you'll be able to take your company to the next level in no time. 

Are you looking for the right performance management system? Find time with one of our product experts to get a live look at what it's like to use modern performance management software.