How to help struggling employees

By BenefitsPro

By Amanda McGrory-Dixon

When an employee struggles, the entire business can suffer, as well. What starts as a single issue impacting one employee can taint the whole department, only to trickle throughout the entire business unit, and managers must be prepared to handle these issues.

Often, the problems facing struggling employees stem from a lack of management, says Jason Carney, director of human resources at WorkSmart Systems Inc., a professional employer organization in Indianapolis. Many managers are overworked, and some do not have strong management skills. While managers rose to their positions because they of their strong practitioner skills, they are not necessarily effective leaders. In order to lead a group, managers must understand what motivates each individual employee.

“Every employee operates differently,” Carney says. “Some are self-motivated, some are motivated by coaching and development, and some of motivated by emotional needs.”

Before a problem even arises, managers should regularly meet with their employees to ensure they have everything they need to do their jobs properly, Carney recommends. This could be a weekly or monthly meeting, depending on the employee and position.

Additional training is another option for a struggling employee, Carney says. While the particular training direction is different for each situation, it shows the employee that he or she has support from the organization.

“Making sure they feel they’re getting the support they need from their managers is absolutely key,” Carney says. “If you can know for certain as a manager that the employee has been given all the support and training they need, then it very well may be a performance issue. It’s a matter of categorizing what the issue may be. Is it a coaching thing, is it a reset conversation, or is it that we need a course of discipline?”

Once a manager sees an employee struggling, sometimes a simple conversation can improve the situation, Carney says. This gives the employee the chance to address any concerns he or she is having, whether it be lack of training, management style or any other issue.

“I’ve seen time and time again just having a reset conversation is going to do one of two things,” Carney says. “It will either fix things moving forward, and you’ll have a whole different relationship with that employee and understand what their issue is and deal with it, or it’s going to make you realize they’re probably not in the right spot in the first place and you need to start a disciplinary course.”

If discipline is necessary, Carney advises against giving the employee a timeline. When timelines are involved, some struggling employees have a tendency to fix the issue by the specified date but fall back into poor habits when they have been cleared. Instead, the manager needs to focus on correcting the root of the problem.

Giving written warnings is an effective way to resolve the issue, Carney says. With a written warning, the problems are clearly defined to the employee and the manager, and this often puts the employee back on track. The written warning should note that further disciplinary action up to and including termination can be expected if performance does not improve, which can protect the employer from legal liabilities when done correctly.

“Disciplining is hard to do sometimes because we have our personal feelings and biases, but you have to make sure you are focusing on their behavior and how their performance affects the business,” Carney says.

Originally published on