How to Identify Underperformance & Deal With It | Glassdoor for Employers
illustrated of concept: man sitting at computer smiling

How To Identify Underperformance and Deal With It The Right Way

Underperformance can crop up slowly and silently among employees, especially with many people still working remote. Underperformance in employees can have a huge domino effect if it's not dealt with swiftly and could result in significant issues such as profit loss and even decreased team morale.

At Glassdoor, we investigated what constitutes underperformance, including what causes it, how to identify an underperforming employee, and the necessary steps to help resolve the issue.

What Is Underperformance?

Underperformance is when an employee is performing their duties below the required level that has been set and is expected of them. The following points underline some of the many examples that would classify as underperformance:

  • Failing to perform duties to a high standard, or not performing their tasks at all (e.g. submitting a report with blatant errors or not submitting it) 
  • Non-compliance of work policies and procedures (e.g. repeatedly not logging their time properly or at all)
  • Poor behavior that negatively impacts others in the workplace or team (e.g. showing up to meetings late, gossiping, not communicating with their team if they'll miss a deadline, leaving them in a tough position) 

What Causes Underperformance in Employees?

There are many reasons why an employee might be underperforming. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people began working remotely causing some employees to feel stressed, anxious, or burned out. It's important to note that not all underperformance is due to the employee rebelling, being lazy, or simply being insubordinate. Below are some reasons why an employee might be underperforming. 

Lack of growth opportunities or incentives

Employee goals vary - some may just be after job stability, while others may want to grow within an organization. The reassurance of growth opportunities is imperative to drive motivation in some employees. If there's no clear path for them to progress within the company, then some employees may display attributes of underperformance.

It's also important that incentives are in place to encourage employees to deliver quality work. This could include raises, bonuses, or promotions, all of which should be explained clearly in performance reviews and in company policies.  

Lack of variety or challenges

Lack of variety in the job can lead to everyday tasks becoming mundane. This, in turn, can cause a lack of motivation which can affect the standard of work that's delivered. It could also lead to the employee resigning altogether. 

Moreover, if duties are monotonous, it can be easy for employees to slip into autopilot. This means work output can take a serious hit and appear lackluster.

Lack of communication

Workplace transparency is highly valued by today's workforce, especially with remote working situations, where people expect to be updated by management regardless of their working location. If they feel they're not receiving the right communication, whether it's related to their job performance or critical HR updates, they may begin to feel stressed or that their goals are unclear.

Related: How Being on Glassdoor's Best Places to Work List Pays Off

Work-related stress

Stress and burnout have always been prominent in the workforce, but the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly brought this issue to the forefront. Roughly 25% of workers are experiencing burnout as a result of the pandemic, while another 19% are feeling burnout for other reasons, according to a study by Eagle Hill Consulting.

When employees feel immense anxiety or burnout, they are understandably unable to work properly due to the impact it can have on them physically and mentally, affecting their overall job performance and ability to deliver high-quality work.

Lack of settling-in period

The onboarding process in a new job is critical for both on-site and remote workers. Time constraints and busy seasons can affect how much time and care goes into getting employees settled, but shortening this process for the sake of short-term gains (having them be immediately productive) can damage their ability to perform tasks in the long run. 

Personal issues

Some issues can be so serious that they impact our ability to perform day-to-day tasks. When employees feel down due to personal issues outside of work, these personal issues can seriously affect their ability to concentrate, especially when they feel like there's no support system in place. It's important to be considerate of your employee's mental health

Related: 3 Ways to Encourage Your Employees to Be Themselves At the Office

Poor working environment

This isn't usually tied to the aesthetics of your workplace - if the general tone of the office is negative and highly pressured, it can have a serious impact on an employee's ability to work with the team and get their tasks done. A poor work environment could stem from a toxic employee to overburdening the employee with unrealistic standards or tight deadlines. 

Unclear goals or a lack of direction

Expectations of the position should be highlighted both in your interviews and on the job. If changes need to be made to the job, they must be clearly communicated rather than be an implied change. There should be no room for confusion related to someone's role, as this can cause significant confusion and stress.

Lack of on-the-job resources

Not being able to perform the job properly can increase pessimism. It's important that companies take the time to show employees that they are valued by training them, and making sure they have the tools they need to do their jobs seamlessly.  

Related: How to Capitalize on Employees' First Quarter Itch

Developing a Plan With an Underperforming Employee

Each scenario will require you to adapt how you address the underperforming employee. Take the following steps to ensure fair treatment of all people at your organization:

  • Approach the employee in question and ask how things have been going for them and if they have anything they'd like to discuss.
    • Some employees will feel comfortable disclosing any issues if approached with concern, which makes developing a plan much easier.
    • This would be the right time to bring up a few concerns and strategize a plan for employees who are unaware that their actions are impacting the business or team. 
  • Write down the issues and agree on a plan together. SMART targets are a great approach to setting goals.
  • Should any of the issues be rooted in personal problems, offer to be a source of support, and advise them how your company's HR department can help. 
  • Ensure every conversation thereafter is kept positive and constructive. 

Related: 8 Employee Engagement Templates to Improve Your Employer Brand

How to Provide Feedback to an Underperforming Employee

Addressing underperformance swiftly and head-on is key to resolving the issue, and feedback must be constructive to help the employee's development.

Below are some dos and don'ts of giving feedback to an underperforming employee:


  • Be specific and constructive with feedback (i.e. give concrete examples).
  • Be observant of any patterns that lead to underperforming behavior.
  • Be encouraging and explain how making positive changes will improve their overall development and growth within the company.
  • Be kind and compassionate in your delivery.


  • Pile on everything that needs improvement. Focus on one or two manageable issues at a time.
  • Show negative emotions. It's easy to feel frustration, however, as this exudes too much pressure.
  • Use ultimatums or absolutes such as "if you can't get this to me by the end of the day, then there's no point in doing it at all".

Steps to Take If No Improvements Are Made

Unfortunately, there are cases where an employee won't make progress despite a plan and support system being put in place. If this is the case, a formal plan will need to be actioned.

It's important to make the employee aware that disciplinary action can be taken if no improvements are made. To be certain you're dealing with your employee fairly, ensure you comply with employment law. 

Consult with your HR department on how you should go about any formal procedures. Generally, the following pattern is good to follow:

  • Invite your employee to a meeting in writing, ensuring you give them enough notice before the meeting.
  • State in writing that the employee has the right to be accompanied by a witness.
  • Ensure you list the reasons why the disciplinary meeting is taking place, using dates of past specific events if necessary, to back up your decision.
  • During the disciplinary hearing, give the employee the opportunity to defend themselves and provide evidence as to why a warning or dismissal is unwarranted.
  • Let the employee know they can appeal the decision in writing if they feel it is unjust.

Building better relationships with your employees starts with joining the conversation. Unlock your Free Employer Profile today to get involved in your organization's conversation on Glassdoor and start managing and promoting your employer brand reputation.

Christina Attrah is a Copywriter for The Hub Events - a leading provider of management and leadership courses across the UK.