Staff Underperformance: Cause, Effect and Solution

Staff underperformance can be a costly issue and organisations often fail to address the problem effectively. Here, we explore 15 common reasons for underperformance and how the problem can be turned around.

Staff underperformance has a wide-spread knock on effect within any organisation; from decreasing team morale to losing business and ultimately money.

The simplest of reasons could be causing staff underperformance and sometimes the simplest of solutions can make all the difference.

I confess, I‘ve been an underperformer at certain points during my career

I confess, I‘ve been an underperformer at certain points during my career and after taking time to look back and assess what caused me to underperform allowed me to identify the problems – my underperformance trigger usually occurred during times of feeling unsure of the parameters of my role or during times where I had lack of challenges to keep my mind stimulated.

Both of these issues were easily resolved by management enforcing the correct practices to boost my motivation again.

We decided to take a look at some of the main causes for underperformance, the effect it has on a multitude of areas within an organisation and what solutions can be implemented to get your staff performing up to standard again.

#1 – Ineffective On-Boarding Systems

From day one, how an organisation manages its practices and processes has a lasting effect on staff performance going forward.

With time restraints and high costs of implementing an effective on-boarding system, organisations try to shortcut the process when they don’t understand the overall benefits.

Investing in quality induction and pre-training will aid learning, decrease employee turnover and with support from HR on-boarding technology, time and costs can be significantly reduced which is a win-win situation for everyone!

#2 – No Room to Grow

Some employees don’t want progression in a role, they just want stability and are happy to come to work, do their job and go home.

Others, however, need to know that they have the option to grow within an organisation and can progress up the corporate ladder.

Having no ability to be promoted can have a huge negative impact on an employee’s overall performance due to not knowing what they are working so hard towards.

There are other ways to help your staff grow within the same post

Some organisations just don’t have the positions available for promotion, the senior management are long-standing or maybe there is too big a jump in the roles of junior to senior.

Whatever the reasons, there are other ways to help your staff grow within the same post which could be as simple as offering further training opportunities for personal development or setting regular objectives so there are performance goals to achieve.

#3 – Motivation

Staff motivation is an on-going challenge at work and there are many factors that can contribute to staff underperformance such as job security, lack of company benefits, lack of incentives, poor communication, organisational change, lack of training… the list goes on.

By taking daily actions to boost employee satisfaction will in turn increase overall motivation and performance will rise.

#4 – Uninspired

If staff aren’t inspired then how can they be expected to perform to a high standard?

Inspired staff stem from having inspiring leadership and so organisations need to ensure their leaders are passionate, encouraging, committed and communicative to bring the most out of their employees.

#5 – No Challenge, No Brainer

Some roles can be dull and monotonous with no real requirement for brain work once the employee has exhausted learning the aspects of the job.

Staff performance can easily take a hit in these types of roles but there are ways to get performance back on track.

Achievable objectives could be set, such as meeting certain targets within a set timeframe or giving employees the opportunity to look at areas of improvement or even cost saving exercises to engage them further in the role.

#6 – Lack of Incentives

Employees are set objectives; they go above and beyond to meet the targets and then what?

If no incentives are in place, you can bet that performance will gradually decrease or employees will simply leave in search of a more rewarding Company.

Incentives don’t have to be costly to an organisation and a lot of times recognition in the form of a ‘thank you’ can seriously go a long way.  If you are in need of some ideas for incentives to increase staff performance, this article provided by Forbes has some cheap and effective solutions.

#7 –Disengaged Management

When management’s efforts and contributions go unrecognised, it’s natural for them to feel they are making little impact on the organisation.

If management feel disengaged, they are unlikely to be promoting a healthy work environment which would highly impact overall staff performance within their teams.

However, being disengaged doesn’t have to be a long term situation and by implementing small changes, reengagement can happen quickly.

Recognition, having a voice for opinion, developmental training and even strong management to employee relationships all contribute to engagement.

#8 – Boredom

Work should be fulfilling for every employee and boredom accounts for high levels of decreased productivity and performance.

By allowing variety and room for creative input, staff underperformance should decrease and employees will feel that they are contributing to the success of the organisation.

#9 – Lack of Resources

As simple as it sounds; without proper resources to enable staff to conduct their jobs then of course underperformance is going to occur!

I have worked within Companies where some of the methods they use are still in place from the Dark Ages and not only does this delay the development of an employee’s skillset, it makes processes much slower, targets harder to meet and in-turn staff performance suffers.

#10 – Work Related Stress

Work related stress is an all-consuming illness that develops when an employee is unable to cope with the demands being placed on them.

When insufficient job design, organisation or management has taken place it can result in stress and is linked to underperformance, high levels of sickness absence and staff turnover.

Work related stress also has an impact on fellow workers as their stress levels can rise having to cover for those unable to perform their jobs properly.

Some of the best ways to manage this situation include performing a HSE assessment on the role, have transparent and open communication so staff feel able to talk about concerns before they get too much and make sure the requirements of the role are clearly understood.

#11 – Unclear Expectations

The expectations of a role should be clearly defined prior to an interview even taking place by means of the recruitment advert and job description.

Once an employee is hired, the job description should be honoured (unless the role needs to change significantly, then that’s another matter) and executive leadership should clearly communicate its expectations for the performance of its employee’s which align with the organisations overall goals.

Failure to correctly set up and continuously support expectations is a main cause of staff underperformance.

There are many ways to manage this issue, which are inclusive of ensuring the job design is in-line with the job description and having effective performance appraisal management in place which can be supported by a HR system.

#12 – Communication

According to XpertHR, ‘communication is key’ – I think it would be fair to say this is true in most issues in working life!

Providing regular, informal feedback and guidance is an effective method of dealing with staff underperformance and having approachable management who are accessible allows the employee to discuss concerns also.

#13 – Personal Issues

We all have our problems outside of the workplace and unfortunately, not everyone is able to leave their personal issues at the door.

When people are feeling down or negative and bring this attitude to their work environment, not only does this negatively impact the employee’s performance, it has a knock on impact on the rest of the team and overall performance deteriorates.

The best solution is to address the issue immediately and provide an open door policy to give employees the opportunity to discuss what is going on.

Employees may need to utilise workplace counselling services, personal days of leave or sick leave depending on Company policy.

An improvement plan could be developed to ensure job requirements are still met, with any additional information the employee chooses to disclose, taken into consideration.

#14 – Work Environment

How well a work environment engages an employee impacts their desire to develop skills and their level of motivation which in-turn influences an employee’s performance.

The work environment encompasses a number of factors which are inclusive of working relationships, organisational culture, personal development etc.

Promoting a positive work environment engages and motivates staff to perform to the best of their ability.

To learn more about a positive work environment, take a look at this blog for some inspiration.

#15 – Off-Boarding Processes

Employers may not even consider the off-boarding process as a factor in staff underperformance but they really should.

In fact, off-boarding should be one of the main priorities!

Conducting an effective off-boarding process with support from HR technology (such as a talent management system) can include gathering data in an exit survey which could be used to highlight issues in the workplace that are having a detrimental effect on staff performance.

Off-boarding should be one of the main priorities

Another angle to be considered during off-boarding is how current employees view the process in which ex-employees have left the company and how it may leave employees feeling their job security is at risk; tackle this issue head on with open communication.

So there you have it -15 reasons for staff underperformance.  Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of staff underperformance issues or solutions, it highlights some of the main factors to take into consideration.

To recap, staff underperformance is a big, on-going issue in many organisations but there are plenty of solutions to consider before you decide to throw in the towel!

The top underperformance solutions to take away from this article are:

  1. Communication between management and employees needs to be transparent and open to allow both parties to discuss performance in a more informal manner before it gets too late.
  1. Performance appraisal management can provide fast, measurable results for underperformance issues.
  1. Effective on-boarding and off-boarding processes need to be conducted so underperformance is dealt with from the get go.


Written By

Robyn South

Robyn is a HR professional with over 7 years experience in generalist and complex employee relations matters. A newly established Virtual HR Assistant offering a range of HR services online, who loves to travel and part of the content management team at CakeHR.