How to Motivate Struggling Employees

unmotivated employees

The perfect workplace with perfect employees does not exist. Even with the best managers, there will be employees delivering substandard outputs. In a usual workplace, there are employees behind the pack who are unable to meet performance standards.

This creates a disparity between high-performing employees and underperforming ones. It brews feelings of resentment that can lead to toxic work culture. It weakens team collaboration and can deteriorate employee engagement.

However, many managers don’t deal with poor performers appropriately. Struggling employees are merely given less important responsibilities or are relegated to other departments. Sometimes, they’re abruptly given the pink slip.

Instead of doing these, you must exercise good judgment and work on an effective solution. Strive to uncover the cause of the problem and motivate struggling employees back to full productivity.

Identify Struggling Employees

Good managers can identify underperforming employees even before annual performance reviews are conducted. They actively observe their team and notice improvements or the lack thereof almost immediately.

As a manager, you must monitor your employees regularly and keep an eye out for those who may be having performance issues. They may be:

  • New hires who are not living up to expectations
  • Employees who constantly struggle with output and productivity
  • High-performing employees who suddenly don’t attain their set objectives

While underperformance can fester and negatively affect the whole team, we don’t just throw away talent the moment employees show signs of inefficiency. Instead of showing them the exit, we should help them overcome roadblocks and equip them for improved performance.

It is crucial to act immediately once you notice signs of decline in employee productivity.

Five Ways to Motivate Struggling Employees

What you do when you have employees struggling to meet performance goals reflects what kind of manager you are.

Do you fire them and hire replacements? Do you hand out warnings and impose sterner rules? Do you help them improve and take charge of their actions?

An astute manager will take time to figure out what’s wrong and formulate solutions to address problems. If this is the kind of manager you want to be, here are five steps you can take to motivate struggling employees:


1. Identify the Root Cause


You can’t solve a problem unless you know its root cause. Assess the situation by asking questions such as:

  • Are they working less hours?
  • Are they often caught staring into space?
  • Do they seem to be spending more time in the pantry than at their desk?
  • Could they have personal issues at home?
  • Are they lacking in enthusiasm when at work?
  • Do they seem to be juggling too much workload?
  • Do they lack the skills or knowledge to fulfill the tasks assigned to them?
  • Is there a palpable lack of happiness at work?

Identifying signs of shiftlessness can help you determine whether the problem is caused by internal or external issues. They help you pinpoint the exact cause of an employee’s inefficiency.

Problems may arise from internal issues such as harassment, unmanageable workload, unreasonable deadlines or inadequate knowledge or skills. They may also stem from external matters such as personal ill-health or family disputes.

Take note though that you must avoid asking other employees about why someone in the team is struggling. Doing this would be detrimental to employee morale and can negatively affect company morale too.

Don’t second guess and try to go straight to the source. Talk to the person involved directly. This is the best way to address the issue.


2. Communicate Openly


Communicating about a sensitive issue may be uncomfortable but it is necessary. Once you notice a dip in performance, schedule a one-on-one meeting and ensure confidentiality.

When you set a dialogue with an underperforming employee, you must assure them that you are there to help. You can point out that it is natural for everyone to struggle at some point in their career.

Provide candid feedback for self-awareness. Point out how the quality of their work has declined. Then ask them the reasons why this has happened.

Listen and empathize with them. You are there to hear them out, not to judge or criticize.

When the problem arises from a work-related incident, be objective and not defensive.

Allowing your employee to freely express themselves is crucial to identifying and understanding the root of the problem.


3. Work on a Solution


Once you have identified the cause, work on a solution together. The key word here is ‘together’. Don’t just impose a solution you crafted by yourself. Working on solutions together will yield optimal results beneficial to both parties.

For work-related problems, you can provide a coach or mentor to guide the struggling employee. You can realign performance goals or adjust deadlines. You can give guidelines on how to handle harassment at work. You can also offer specific trainings to develop necessary skills.

Problems that spring from external issues may not be that easy to resolve. You can neither intervene with family disputes nor miraculously heal a family member suffering from ill health. Nonetheless, there are measures you can still take.

You can offer vacation time if the employee is feeling burnout. If there’s sickness in the family, offer an FMLA leave. If a leave is out of the question, you can provide support in the office to alleviate the employee’s burden.

Whatever solution you come up with, set clear expectations. Lay out a plan and specify details on how the employee can achieve new goals. Remember to be realistic when setting goals.


4. Track their Progress


Don’t just put your feet up after crafting a brilliant strategy. Your duty to motivate struggling employees doesn’t end with a well-thought out solution; track their work and monitor their progress.

Tracking performance keeps an employee’s performance goals aligned with your expectations. It gives them a clear path to reach their goals.

Schedule follow-up meetings to assess progress and address new challenges. Require accountability and provide regular performance feedback until the employee achieves satisfactory work efficiency.


5. Give Positive Recognition


Finally, give positive recognition for improved performance. Reward employees with a simple gift card, movie passes, or even a handwritten note. Small tokens of appreciation make a big impact on employee morale and work motivation.

When you validate their efforts to improve, you give them the impetus to work harder and deliver optimal results. Soon, they will be back on track being the company’s top-performing employees.

Should They Stay or Should They Go

Employee turnover affects overall productivity and business growth. Therefore, managers should always aim to maintain a healthy employee retention rate. One way to do this is to help all employees perform better.

Go the extra mile and help them turn their performance around. Growth opportunities are among the most effective drivers for motivation. When you make your employees feel that the company is concerned about their personal and career growth, you boost their morale and earn employee trust.

However, if you’ve already exhausted all efforts to help struggling employees improve but still see no progress, it may be time to let them go.

Underachieving employees with no drive to improve create a toxic work culture. Their lack of desire for any career development may instead negatively impact business growth.