How to Handle a Decline In Employee Performance

How to Handle a Decline In Employee Performance

It is always difficult to watch a top performer in your agency start to demonstrate a decline in performance.  There can be a tendency to bend over backward to save the employee by overlooking the growing performance issues hoping that they will turn things around.  However, turning a blind eye is damaging to the employee who has the problem and other employees in the agency who are observing the situation and potentially having to pick up the slack of their co-worker.

Ignoring the problem prolongs the situation.  Instead, use these tips to address the issue and help both the agency and employee move forward in the best way possible.

  1. Identify the Underlying Issues:

Getting the whole story may be more uncomfortable for some, depending on the history of your relationship with the employee.  However, it is essential to realize that most employees don’t wake up one day and make a conscious decision that they are going to stop giving their best effort at work.  There is typically an underlying issue that is negatively affecting the employee’s performance.

Approach the conversation sensitively and with empathy, and make sure you’re able to explain where you are noticing performance issues.  Ask if there is an issue impacting their work and give them space to explain without judgment.   The employee may be reluctant to share, and they may be very transparent.  In either case, you must respect their right to privacy and confidentiality.  If an employee feels their privacy is at risk, they will be less trusting of you and less likely to open up about the problems impacting their work.

  1. Outline an Improvement Plan:

As you continue to work through the process and have provided the employee an opportunity to share where struggles are stemming from, you’ll also want to provide them with specific feedback where performance is suffering.  Share adequate details regarding tasks or processes where quality is declining.  This information will allow the employee to fully understand where work is declining and assess how to approach the problem.

While it may feel more comfortable to hand the employee a solution, this really should be a collaborative effort.  Take time to discuss what steps are needed to improve the work and a timeline for resolving the problems.  This collaboration allows the employee to take ownership of the problems.

  1. Schedule Regular Follow-Up:

It is nice to think that once a discussion has happened and a plan is in place, that the rest of the process will take care of itself.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Getting an employee back on track is not a once-in-done process but requires additional effort to make sure improvement is stable and consistent.

As part of the improvement process, make sure you have scheduled check-points.  This follow-up could be things like running reports to verify work is improving or checking in for progress via phone or email.  Documenting these check-ins keeps everyone accountable for the agreed process and eliminates surprises down the road.

  1. Know When it’s Time to Move On:

While it would be great if all performance improvement discussions and planning played out according to design, there is a chance that the employee will not follow through.  It can be challenging to let an employee go who is struggling, but sometimes it is necessary for the employee’s good and the rest of the agency.

When it comes to releasing an employee from their job, it’s essential to approach the situation with compassion.  Even if performance has continued to decline, it is healthier for all to be empathetic to their struggles and treat them as though they were doing the best they could. 

Addressing performance problems with a struggling employee is never easy, but necessary to help the employee and agency move forward in a better direction.  Using these tips, you can approach and manage tough conversations with more ease and fluidity.