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One of my employees has low production for the past two months, not achieving goals, and is disengaged in team meetings. I also noticed he is up out of his seat a lot recently. What do managers here normally do to address that issue to him and also ask him to focus on his job? This is my first time managing so any feedback is appreciated. Thanks.

closed as too broad by DJClayworth, Jan Doggen, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Jim G., gnat Sep 16 '14 at 7:22

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    Well, why are they doing poorly? It's hard to solve a problem when you don't know what it is. – Telastyn Sep 15 '14 at 20:00
  • The answer to this quesiton is going to be specific to the person and your company. In addition this is a core job function of a manager not about navigating the workplace. That also makes it off topic. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 15 '14 at 20:57
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First, the sooner you talk to this person the better. When this behavior has gone on a long time it becomes harder to correct.

Prepare for your talk with documenting specific instances of the problems and specific expectations for future performance. You can't expect someone to fix a problem until they know what it is and what the expected performance level is.

Talk to your HR about any processes they have to deal with inadequate performance so that you will be informed before this discussion as to what steps to take and in what in order. Know what accommodations you have the authority to make if someone is having a personal problem. You can make this a general talk as this is something every manager should know.

Once you have gathered together your research, ask the person to a meeting in a private place. If you work in an office, you can use that, otherwise, schedule a conference room. Privacy is critical, you cannot have this discussion in the open for others to hear.

Start by telling him that you have notice a drop in performance and a disengagement and ask him the reason. He may or may not choose to tell you.

If the reason is his child has been diagnosed with cancer or some other major life issue, help him with some time off and a trip to HR to help him with insurance issues and possibly point him to a company EAP (employee assistance program) where he can get counseling. Talk to him about possibly adjusting his schedule to get through the treatments, etc. Your steps may vary depending on what personal issue is interfering.

If he might need to leave on little notice, make sure he understands to keep his work in a state where someone else can pick it up and check with him daily about his progress so you can help someone else take it over.

If this is something that will require a change in his workload temporarily, you might need to find out specifically what information you can tell the co-workers that you will be asking to take over some of his duties. Some people will let you tell others and some will not. Respect his privacy and if you need to remove some work from him and give it to someone else, all that you really need to say is that he has some personal/family issues and needs some time away. Others might be more willing to help out if his mother is dying or his wife is in the hospital, but you can't give that information out without his permission. Before you say anything to anyone in your group about the problem, check with HR. They will keep you out of trouble on this.

If it is a work issue, the critical thing right now is to not get defensive and have an argument. Listen to what he says and see if there really is anything you have the power to adjust or at least have the power to try to influence in the organization. There may or may not be. The steps depend on what he says. Be awre that if something has gotten to the point where performance has dropped and he hasn't come to you about the problem, it may be past the time when you can fix this. But you should at least try.

He may not answer at all and that is of course his right. It will make it harder to fix whatever is wrong or offer support. In that case, focus only on what has to change.

After listening to what he has to say, then it is time to have your say. If is is possible (and if he showed a decent attitude in the talk so far), express understanding of the problem. Then point out that acceptable performance is not optional. Clearly express to him exactly what you expect to see change in his behavior and by when. If there is an HR process by which poor performers are let go, explain to him what the process is and what he can do to avoid getting caught up in it. Be very matter of fact about this. Don't call him names, don't get angry. Set a date for a follow up meeting if you think you will need one. Consider following this up with a written copy of what you expect and when.

If the attitude is good, try to keep him out of the HR process until he has had a chance to improve. If the attitude was bad, then you might consider starting the process after this talk.

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You need to set up an appointment with him and discuss your concern about his level of productivity. If you don't ask what's up with that, you won't know. If you don't tell him about your concern, chances are that he is too disengaged to even realize that you have a concern. Best that he knows what your expectations are and that you know what his issues are, so that you can help him bring his productivity back up if that's within your power to help, short of course of doing his job for him.

As a manager, it is incumbent that your staff knows at all times what your expectations are and what they have to do to meet them. If how they do their task is important to you, spell it out - my staff fully understand that while I am a sucker for dubious explanations, I draw the line at their making a bonfire out of my office furniture :)

  • Agree that it's imperative that the staff knows your expectations. You should let them know when you're happy with their performance as well as when you're not. If you delay too long for either then it's hard to correct. – NotMe Sep 15 '14 at 21:04
  • @ChrisLively I think it's best to raise the issue early and not let the concern morph into dissatisfaction and the dissatisfaction fester to the point where smoke is coming out of our ears and we are ready to go to war :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 15 '14 at 21:09
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Ah people our single most valuable and unreliable resource.

Find the cause if possible

Before you can solve any individual's problem to get them back on track you need to figure out (if possible) what that problem is. Most of the time you can, but there are occasions that you can't.

Typically once a person is slipping to the point I truly notice it's begun to become a trend, which means it needs to be addressed. My first step is simple discovery. I'll pull the person aside in a private but unthreatening manner and just ask straight forward, I noticed recently that you seem distracted at work, is everything okay?

By approaching it in this manner you're coming across as a compassionate manager genuinely concerned about your staff (which you should be) at this point the problem may not be a red flag, but something of note.

Likely this engagement will give you the quick version of what the problem is. The employee might say something like "issues at home", or "my father is really sick" or even "I'm having problems staying motivated", etc. The employee might also say "no, everything is fine", "I'd prefer not to talk about it", or "it's personal"

This at least gives you a starting point.

How to attack the problem

Some problems are in your power to fix or mitigate where appropriate, others you can only be supportive, and you'll have to tell the person to shape up.

Generally speaking if the issues are inside the office you should be able to do something to improve the situation. (where appropriate) Did someone upset the individual? Talk to the offending party. Are the lights too bright? dim a bulb or two near that person. Getting bored of the daily grind? Try to throw something outside the norm their way if possible.

If the issue is outside the office such as marital issues, sick family member, etc you should be supportive and ask the person if there is anything you can do to help. At the least it might be worth offering them a little time off to tackle this problem. It's worth losing a day or two to retain a decent employee than watch their productivity go to hell.

If the response is a dodge "I'd rather not talk about it" or similar I wouldn't push to hard, this still isn't a red flag, perhaps it creeps into a yellow though. Often if someone is shopping this is the response you'll get, it's just as possible the employee is going through something stressful they just haven't come to terms with yet though. In this case you offer to help however you can, ask if there is anything you can do to help, and gently nudge them that they do have obligations to meet.

As time goes on

If you're able to resolve the issue and things improve great! if things continue to degrade you may have to start with a gentle reminder they have obligations to meet, and escalate things slowly. (while this person might be on their way out the door, it very well could be something eating at them that once they get through they'll bounce back)

It's business

At the end of the day this is business. A person being in a funk from time to time is perfectly normally, but there is a point where you need to cut your losses. If someone is having problems that can be cleared up or mitigated, great! If it's a longer term problem, but is manageable that's fine... If the person has effectively checked out and the problem isn't improving though you do have an obligation to retain productive people and cut loose the under performers.

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