Managers often find themselves with the difficult task of motivating underperforming employees. This can be a daunting and time-consuming process that leaves managers feeling worse than when they started. But there are ways to motivate your employees using techniques such as rewards, recognition, and goal setting.

Employees can be classified in three categories:

  1. The underperforming employee – who is not meeting expectations and needs to improve
  2. The disengaged employee – who is not only underperforming but also doesn’t care about their work or company
  3. The engaged employees – those that are performing at a high level and care about the organization they work for

The first step to motivating an underperforming employee is understanding why they are struggling. There could be many different reasons, such as lack of interest in the job, poor performance due to personal issues, or even just having too much on his/her plate. Once you figure out what the root cause might be, it’s time to address it by coming up with solutions.

Any employee can become an underperformer at any time, for a variety of reasons. Your underperforming employee may be overwhelmed with responsibilities at home, burned out or bored with the job, or frustrated by office routines and culture. Instead of making assumptions or addressing the problem without offering room for a dialogue, use these tips to motivate underperforming employees:

Conduct regular informal pep talks

Give performance evaluations on a regular basis, but include one-on-one conversations. They go a long way toward understanding poor performance in the workplace. Stop by employee offices at the end of the day for a non-work-related chat or have lunch together sometime during the week.

Conversations will give you clues into employee behaviors and help you more efficiently address root causes of underperformance instead of merely the symptoms. This personal connection will also improve respect and employee loyalty.

Address the situation honestly

Some managers may skirt around performance issues until it becomes a problem too big to deal with. Instead of waiting until you have to address a behavior, point it out as it happens. Say, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been doing as well lately with x, y, or z.” Ask your employee if there is anything you could do to help them get back on track.

This type of solution-based notification is nonthreatening and allows an employee to provide feedback about performance. Stress, burnout, or another factor could influence employee behavior, and together you can work toward a reasonable solution.

Find the right motivating factors

A company doesn’t have to spend much money to help employees stay motivated about work. Instead of focusing only on the task at hand, focus on balance in the workplace. Reward positive results, provide support for employees going through a rough time, and give employees a non-related free pass occasionally.

For instance, have an afternoon at the park on a slow day or give your team the afternoon off. These little concessions make employees feel respected and may provide them with the boost they need to keep performing at a high level.

Use performance reviews to create actionable plans

For the chronic underperforming worker, a performance review may offer the insight an employee and a manager need to develop an actionable plan moving forward. Work together to create small, incremental goals, and then schedule follow-up meetings for individuals who are truly struggling. Let them know you’re there to provide support and direction, and set rewards in place for accomplishments along the way.

The constructive criticism part of a review should offer hope to overwhelmed and underperforming employees, not make them feel worse. Keep detailed employee performance logs to help you point out examples of positive and negative performance, and use a review template to streamline the review writing and evaluation meeting process.

Underperforming employees need personalized attention and guidance. Understanding the cause of the behavior and creating an action plan in a supportive environment can make the difference in improving or worsening certain behaviors. Find the right performance review template for your team today.