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Ideally, you’d want all of your employees to have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, the resources they need to accomplish tasks, and the drive and motivation to perform to expectations. But every manager knows this isn’t always the case — and you must be able to deal with workplace performance issues.

Poor performance typically falls under one of three basic types:

  • Unsatisfactory work, in terms of quality, quantity, or other measurements of performance expectations
  • Breaches of work procedures, practices, and rules, such as excessive absences, workplace theft, health and safety violations, or harassment of other employees
  • Underperformance related to employees’ personal problems

The causes of poor workplace performance

There are a number of reasons performance issues can happen. While some problems are related to individual employees’ attitudes or levels of motivation, many are due to a lack of skills, knowledge, or resources, or a poor workplace environment.

For managers, it’s important to distinguish between problems that are caused by workplace environment factors, and those that result from employee-specific issues. Addressing performance problems caused by the work environment often requires a review of workplace conditions, changes in policies, and an investment in resources that can help employees improve their performance. For performance problems tied to employee issues, manager may need to take individual, remedial actions.

Common performance issues caused by the workplace

Some of the most frequently occurring performance problems that stem from issues with the workplace include:

  • Work environment: Poor working conditions, inadequate resources and/or equipment, or health and safety issues will affect general employee performance.
  • Work organization: Management or supervision issues, mistakes that are not corrected, and workflow issues like shortcuts, bottlenecks, and procedure breaches can slow performance in affected areas.
  • Employment conditions: Employees who are struggling with insufficient salaries, excessive workloads or overtime, or work/life balance issues will typically perform poorly.
  • Communication issues: Unclear job roles, conflicts over who does what, and issues with the division of responsibilities can create resentful employees who are not productive.

Common performance issues caused by employees

In some cases, performance problems can stem from the actions, attitudes, or situations of individual employees. A few of the most common include:

  • Recruitment and selection: Employees who are mismatched to their jobs, overqualified employees, or HR “overselling” a position to candidates can result in expectations not being met, leading the employee to boredom or frustration and poor productivity.
  • Employee stress: Issues in the workplace or personal problems that cause stress can lead to the deterioration of an employee’s performance, as well as behavioral problems.
  • Team issues: Workplace harassment, personality conflicts, poor team management, conflicting cultural values, and unhealthy competition can lead to employees disengaging from the team and performing poorly on the job.
  • Promotions: If an employee is promoted too soon, beyond their abilities, or into an unwanted or unsuitable role, it will impact not only their performance, but the performance of the employees they are responsible for leading.

Tips for identifying workplace performance problems

In order to determine the cause of performance issues, there are several steps you can take. The first step should be to have parameters in place for measuring employee performance — whether they’re general goals or specific targets. When employees fail to meet goals or targets, you’ll need to identify the reasons for poor performance.

Once you know performance is being affected, seek input from your team leaders and supervisors about the problem. They’ll often have insight or suggestions that can help you further pinpoint the cause. You should also solicit feedback directly from employees, for both individual and widespread performance issues.

Remember that when you’re discussing poor performance with employees, the best approach is to talk about the performance itself, rather than the person. Making a workplace performance problem personal can lead to resentment — and instead of improving performance, you may end up losing employees.

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