3 Ways to Improve the Performance of Struggling Employees

December 28, 2022

by Dean Mathews


Working with a struggling employee can be tricky. You don’t want to ignore the problem and risk letting their poor performance or low morale negatively affect your team—but you also don’t want to single anyone out and harm their confidence. The wrong course of action can create a toxic environment where no one feels safe from criticism. 

In this blog post, we'll go over three ways to improve your struggling employees' performance. Your people are your biggest investment, and there are various reasons someone may not be meeting standards. Whatever the reason, there are steps you can take as their manager to help them get back on track.

Why Employees Struggle

Not all struggling employees are lazy. Before you can address the needs of your underperforming team members, you need to understand what roadblocks prevent them from performing as expected. Here are three possible reasons: 

  1. Personal Issues

While your focus may be on the workplace, remember that your employees have a personal life too. If you notice a decline in performance, ask if they’re having personal issues before you consider any other action. 

Sudden life changes like death in the family, sickness, or pregnancy can affect a person’s focus and energy level. According to the American Institute of Stress, 18% of survey respondents say that juggling work and personal life causes stress. 

  1. Lack of Self-Confidence

Employees who lack self-confidence often underperform because they fear mistakes. They don’t take risks because they feel it would impact how others perceive their capabilities. 

These are the people who may not speak up much in meetings or rarely suggest new ideas. Their fear of not being supported can also cause them to avoid challenging roles within the organization. 

This lack of self-confidence can cause employees to become passive workers, which will result in low productivity, poor performance, and project delays. It’s also not great for team morale, and it can hinder collaboration and teamwork.

  1. Lack of Required Skills

It’s a given that employees will underperform if they lack the knowledge and skills to get the job done—and they may or may not be aware of the gaps in their knowledge. This leads to frustration among teams, resentment, and low morale. Unfortunately, this issue is common and is expected to take some time to resolve.

Addressing Struggling Employees’ Needs

No matter what the case may be, it’s the HR team’s job to support employees. The trick is figuring out how to turn struggling employees around as quickly as possible so they are working at their best and not hurting your company’s performance or driving away top talent in the process. Here are three ways you can improve the performance of struggling employees and keep them motivated and engaged.

  1. Communicate Openly About What is Expected

Some employees struggle because they don’t know what they’re supposed to do. Maybe they’re new to the industry, have a manager who hasn’t explained the expectations, or they have so much on their plate that it’s hard to know what work to focus on first. Whatever the issue, it’s important to communicate expectations as clearly as possible to employees. 

This can include weekly check-ins, one-on-one meetings, or a clear outline of tasks employees should focus on at any given time. Regardless of what method you choose, ensure all employees understand exactly what you’re expecting from them and how they can do their job well.

  1. Celebrate Small Wins and Provide Recognition

Sometimes struggling employees are underperforming because they don’t feel like they are moving forward. They aren’t sure about their progress and aren’t feeling rewarded for their efforts. 

Celebrate small wins with employees who are struggling. Recognition can be as simple as a smile, a thumbs up, or a comment on their work. Even small acts of appreciation can do wonders to improve the mood of struggling employees. Appreciation can keep them engaged, and help them feel motivated at work.

  1. Give Struggling Employees More Responsibility

If there’s a task that you know a struggling employee is particularly good at, consider giving them more responsibility in that area. Doing so will help them feel like they’re making an impact while also allowing them to feel confident and effective. 

Communicating with struggling employees about their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences—and asking for feedback along the way—can ensure that people are doing work they enjoy and excel at. This helps improve their commitment and performance.

A Healthy Work Environment is a Productive One

Having top performers is great, but nobody is at the top of their game all the time. When performance starts to slide, managers need to pay attention to make sure the team stays healthy and productive

This starts with helping struggling employees feel better so they can do better. Communicate expectations clearly, give struggling employees opportunities to shine, and celebrate small wins to create a positive work culture in which everyone can thrive.

Building a culture where people love to work

Some of the healthiest work environments are those where all members of the team have grown to understand each others’ tendencies, working styles, and triggers.  While this knowledge and understanding often take place naturally, they can be accelerated if the right tools are available and tapped.

Tilt365’s suite of strength assessments enables individuals to better understand themselves and their team members, and the amount of time and resources required is minimal.  The True Tilt Personality Profile™ (TTP) and the Team Agility Predictor™ (TAP) take less than 15 minutes to complete, and the insights they generate are invaluable.  

If you feel that you or your team could benefit from some of those insights, check out Tilt365's assessments.  

The Laser Coaching Masterclass is another Tilt 365 offering, and it develops the skills that managers and coaches require when faced with the issues addressed in this blog.

Guest Author, Dean Mathews Bio:
Dean Mathews is the founder and CEO of OnTheClock, an employee time tracking app that helps over 10,000 companies all around the world track time. Dean has over 20 years of experience designing and developing business apps. He views software development as a form of art. If the artist creates a masterpiece, many people’s lives are touched and changed for the better. When he is not perfecting time tracking, Dean enjoys expanding his faith, spending time with family and friends, and finding ways to make the world just a little better.