5 Steps to Take to Manage an Ongoing Employee Performance Problem

Jan 09, 2024
employee performance problem

Every workplace has the occasional difficult employee, whether it’s someone who feeds too much into the office drama, or the employee who is insubordinate or is rude to others in the office.

When employee performance problems don’t resolve, managers need to understand the importance of taking prompt action, even if the issue seems small to avoid the…



Performance problem.

Ongoing, unresolved issues leave other employees feeling uncomfortable, annoyed, and can even create conflict amongst teams and lower morale – resulting in decreased productivity and increase employee turnover.

All bad things.

So why do managers avoid addressing the problem in the first place and let it get so far gone?

Managers (and humans in general) often endure bad behavior of their coworkers (or family members or friends, for that matter) for weeks, months, and even years before getting the courage to do something about it. Sometimes the situation is that they tried to solve the issue on their own and had no success. Maybe it blew up in their face and they decided avoiding it was a better course of action.

In this blog, we will share 5 steps you can take to start TODAY to tackle an ongoing performance problem with an employee at work (and this just may also help you address an issue with a friend or family member too!).

Let’s dive in…

Step 1: Gather the Facts

Carve out time to note what the issue or issues are which have been ongoing. Note who else has been involved or may have additional information. Pull any related documentation you may have written down along the way of the issues happening in the past. If you don’t have documentation, note any dates to the best of your recollection when there were instances of the issue. As many specific examples that you can recall or locate more information about, the better! When you get to the point of talking with the employee, you absolutely do not want to be vague.

Some questions to ask yourself as you work through this step are:

· Did the employee’s actions go against a specific company policy?

· What specific workplace problems has their actions/behavior caused?

· Are there others involved who should also be spoken to?

If there are others you can speak with to gather more information, schedule time with them. (Be careful about simply “asking around” to find out more – only ask those who are trusted peers or other managers who may have witnessed the issues.)

And lastly, don’t rush through this step! This due diligence is so important.

Step 2: Review the Facts

Review what you gathered in Step 1. Ask yourself:

· Is this enough documentation to have the conversation with the employee about the issue(s)?

· Do you have at least 1 or 2 specific and factual supporting examples and instances you can mention when you speak with the employee?

· Do you feel good about speaking with the employee based on what information you have?

If the answers to the above questions are NO, then you may want to pause and revisit Step 1. You may also want to postpone speaking with the employee and be more intentional about capturing more documentation moving forward on the issues.

Step 3: Determine Level of Discipline (Assess Consistency)

*NOTE: At this point, the level of action will vary. As an Expedition HR Subscriber, you can reach out to us and we can guide you as to the best course of action – whether the ongoing infractions in question warrant a stern coaching or a more formal step in the Progressive Disciplinary Process.*

Here are some questions to factor in to determine appropriate disciplinary measure and if it is consistent:

· What action was taken to address similar issues with other employees?

· Is coaching customary before disciplinary action in your organization?

· If termination is a consideration, does that sound reasonable based on what other employees may have been terminated for in the past?

Be careful taking one type of action with one employee and another action with a different employee for similar work performance infractions.

Step 4: Meet with the Employee

If you feel good about moving forward after Steps 1-3, then it is time to schedule a conversation with the employee.

Eek! Hard conversations are scary, right? But they don’t need to be! Check out our past blog on our 5-step formula for having a tough conversation.

If you are nervous about having this conversation alone, enlist a trusted manager peer, HR, or we at Expedition HR can support you. (As an Expedition HR Subscriber, you have the ability to use our support in these types of meetings.)

NOTE: When addressing more serious or ongoing performance issues, when possible, it is ideal to have 3 people so there is a witness to the conversation.

Start the meeting by thanking the employee for taking the time to meet with you.

Be transparent about the issue you have concerns about and that you have not done a good job of addressing it sooner. It will build trust with them that you are being honest. (Don’t make excuses about why you haven’t spoken to them about it.)

Itemize the concerns you have and share the specific examples which you gathered in Step 1.

Share with them if any of their behaviors went against a specific company policy (as you should have also noted in Step 1). Explain how problems like these in the workplace hinder workplace productivity, and relate it to the specific behaviors of the employee. For example, if a project deadline was affected or other negative outcome from their actions.

Share with them how they are a valuable member of the team. (Unless, of course, you have decided to terminate them and this wouldn’t be appropriate to say in that case… but in this blog we are assuming termination is not the decision.)

Don’t make it personal – keep all feedback work related and professional! The intention is not to make them feel bad about themselves as a person, but rather to fix their work performance.

Ensure they know that you are there to support them with their improvement.

Ask them:

· What questions or concerns do you have about what I shared?

· Do you have anything to add?

· Do you have any questions about what is expected of you moving forward and what needs to change?

Document the meeting and share a copy with the employee whether it be a written form or via email. Be sure to include your exact expectations moving forward, in writing, on that documentation.

Depending on the severity of the issues and how many facts you were able to gather, this may be documented via email as a coaching conversation or you may choose to present a formal write-up to the employee for them and you to sign to document the conversation and expectations moving forward. Both should be placed in their employee file.

Additionally, sometimes a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) makes sense to further detail out what the exact steps are which you expect the employee to take to improve and by when.

Set high standards - if you fail to implement the consequences to the employee not improving, your employees will see this and may even use this as permission to start having their own work performance problems – or even use it as an excuse to become less efficient. (Which then creates another performance problem, and we don’t want that!)

Step 5: Follow Up and Document Improvement (or Lack Of Improvement)

Schedule a task on your calendar to follow up with the employee by a certain date. We recommend no more than 30 days later. Be sure you are being realistic with the timeframe set and expectation for change/improvement. Clearly communicate that to the employee and, as we noted above, as them what questions they have so that you know you are on the same page, so there are no surprises come that assessment date.

Enforce the consequences if certain behaviors don’t change within that follow up time period – because you don’t want these issues to continue on since that is what we were trying to address in the first place! For example, as a consequence, an employee may lose their eligibility for a promotion, receive an additional written warning, or even get demoted or terminated if things don’t change by a certain time.

If things improve after this time period, set a second follow up date to ensure continued improvement - and then continue to monitor it. Unfortunately, it is not a “one and done” situation if they show improvement. You must check in regularly to ensure they are sustaining the improvement so you don’t end up back where you started…

Even though this can be incredibly challenging at times, your perspective regarding these ongoing (and likely very frustrating!) issues should remain neutral. If you allow negative thoughts about the person in question to frequent your mind, you surely won’t be able to navigate the issue in a fair and an unbiased way. Be sincere about giving the employee the chance to redeem their ongoing bad behavior or poor work performance. (It is important to note here that some bad behavior should not be tolerated and termination should be considered. This blog is intended to be helpful, yet general in nature. Please consider learning more about being an Expedition HR Subscriber to get 1:1 on demand, expert HR support to guide you through tough ongoing performance issues like described here.)

How We Can Help 

One way to have the support and resources to improve workplace communication and resolve workplace conflict is to become an Expedition HR Subscriber or participate in the next HR Jumpstart Training Program. You can also consider having us speak at your next company event or schedule one of our Leadership Trainings. We look forward to hearing from you soon!


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As a subscriber, you...

  • Receive on-demand HR Consulting and other HR Services for a fraction of the cost to hire a full time HR employee
  • Have the support and knowledge to deal with workplace conflict
  • Know exactly what phrasing to use for tough conversations with your employees
  • Have extra time in your day because you have immediate access to the right HR forms, checklists, and tools (no more Googling HR forms!)
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