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Unproductive EmployeesNo one ever hires an employee expecting that he or she won’t perform up to standards. After going to all of the trouble to find someone who has the ideal mix of experience, skills and personal characteristics, it’s disheartening to say the least to discover that he or she cannot or will not meet your expectations in terms of productivity.

When you discover a productivity issue on your team, it’s important to address the issue quickly and effectively. Ignoring it, making assumptions or threatening the employee is only going to make the problem worse. Instead, take these steps to get everyone back up to speed and working toward your shared goals.

Do: Find the Root Cause

The first step to solving any productivity problems is to find the cause. Schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss the productivity issues, and be prepared to offer specific examples. Simply announcing, “You aren’t working hard enough” will only put the employee on the defensive and lead to excuses and finger pointing.

Instead, offer specific examples of performance issues, and ask questions to pinpoint the cause. The issue might be personal: Perhaps the employee is having trouble with a spouse, children or illness, in which case a referral to EAP might be in order. Other times, it could be an equipment or resource issue, or a personality conflict that’s affecting performance. In any case, it’s best to approach the conversation from a helpful, not accusatory, stance. You will get a more honest response and be more likely to develop an effective solution.

Do: Evaluate the Employee’s Fit in the Job and Your Organization

In some cases, there is no immediately assignable cause to the low productivity, and it appears that the reason is simply a lack of individual motivation. It may be that the employee simply isn’t a good fit with the job or your organization. While many managers are reluctant to let qualified employees go, sometimes the only solution to a productivity problem is for the employee to move on.

However, if the employee has a lot to offer your organization, evaluate whether a reassignment or adjustment could help improve productivity. Assess whether the employee is actually doing the job as described in the job description or something entirely different, and look for ways to restructure the job or working environment. If you make the work meaningful, the employee is likely to re-engage and improve.

Do: Set Goals

Simply telling an employee to “shape up or ship out” is probably not going to garner the results you want. For lasting improvement, set achievable and measurable goals and a timeframe for meeting them. Schedule periodic check-ins to evaluate progress and make adjustments as necessary. Don’t forget to define the consequences should there be little to no progress toward the goals; in some cases, the consequences could be as severe as job loss, or you may decide to enact less drastic measures, such as job shadowing, retraining or closer supervision.

Do: Offer Incentives

Humans, by nature, need a reason to work hard and achieve goals. While some might argue that the opportunity to keep one’s job is incentive enough to improve, it’s not always that simple. If you want to improve employee productivity, you need to provide a compelling reward for it. Monetary rewards are always welcome, but if that’s not in the budget, you can provide incentive in other ways. Employee recognition programs that publicly acknowledge top performers, paid time off, employee celebration or even small gifts can all provide the boost an employee needs to do better. Avoid resorting to negativity — “Improve or else!” — and keep incentives positive, not punitive.

Do: Provide Encouragement

Employees often struggle because they feel that their efforts don’t matter, or that no one cares whether they succeed or not. Don’t just send an unproductive employee back out into the trenches with a plan and expect him or her to turn around in a few days or weeks. Offer support and encouragement, offer resources and training when necessary, and make it clear that you’re invested in his or her success.

Don’t: Immediately Fire SomeoneDealing with unproductive employees

Few offenses warrant immediate termination, and unproductivity isn’t one of them. You might be frustrated with an employee’s performance, but don’t cut the cord without first getting to the bottom of the problem. You could unnecessarily lose a good employee, and if the problem is organizational, the problem will most likely recur.

Don’t: Embarrass the Employee

Calling out an unproductive employee on his or her issues in a public forum is likely to backfire. You might think that making an example of someone will keep everyone in line, but it will only make you look like a tyrant. Because low productivity may be related to personal issues, it’s best to keep the discussions private and work with employees one-on-one.

Don’t: Ignore the problem

Above all, if your team has a productivity issue, don’t ignore it. Gone unchecked, low productivity hurts the bottom line and damages morale.

Maintaining employee productivity should be every manager’s priority. Promptly addressing the issue and making changes keeps everyone on track toward your goals. And in the case that performance doesn’t improve, you can let an employee go, knowing you did everything you could to keep him or her on board.

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