What Should You Do When an Employee Isn’t Working Out?

October 12, 2015 / Reading: 3 minutes




Small businesses can’t afford to deal with employees that create problems in the workplace. Unlike large businesses with hundreds of employees, when there’s an employee who is not giving it their best effort, it is felt almost immediately by the company’s bottom line. The immediate response for many small businesses is to simply let that person go and start fresh.

What if an employee is not intentionally trying to hurt your business and is just having a hard time keeping up? Can you pinpoint why they are underperforming? Is it salvageable? How do you get around to explaining to the employee that there is a problem? These are some questions that need answered before jumping to the decision to letting someone go. Let’s explore this further.

Diagnosing the Problem

Knowing why they are underperforming can sometimes be an obvious case of not meeting certain metrics or quotas that is expected of all employees, but other times can be difficult to pinpoint the problem. You definitely want to avoid any guesses or opinions when it comes time to discussing this with the employee.

Related: The Key to Happy Employees in 6 Steps



Some owners have gotten into sticky situations when they do a terrible job articulating the fact that an employee doesn’t fit with the workplace culture. To avoid any legal or personal backlash, it is best to have specific facts ready to explain why they are just not working out.

Doesn’t work well with others

If the situation with this employee happens to be that although they are hitting their own marks and quotas, they are holding back or interfering with their co-workers’ abilities to perform, then you must obtain some official record of said complaints to support those claims. Verbal confirmation is usually the only evidence used for larger companies, but for small businesses, there is usually more disbelief or resistance to being let go over hearsay, so gather copies of these complaints to drive the message that they are doing a poor job at working with others.

Soft, but Stern is the Way

If this problem with your employees is more of a recent issue, not something that has existed since first hiring them, you should do what you can to salvage the situation before going straight to firing them. Personal hardships or tragedies are often hidden from the workplace, but if you demonstrate that you really care about them and want to work things out, you could get them to open up to you and the affected coworkers.

Know Your Employees

Not all mistreatment is vindictive and not all rule-breaking is intentional. You won’t know until you ask the right questions. Asking if they are “alright” is usually not enough to get them to open up, that’s why it is a good idea to investigate their behavior first and lay out reasons why they need to talk and figuring out ways to help them, so that in the end they will help you improve your bottom line. Touching base with employees that are struggling is important. It takes much less investment from you to spend a few minutes each day talking with them than it does to retrain a brand new employee again from scratch.