How to manage underperforming employees

Every employer wants to build a team that gels well and works towards growing the business. Doing that can take a long time and requires everyone to be at the top of their game around the clock.

Still, it’s not uncommon for an employee or employees to experience a dip in performance. This can be down to many reasons, such as personal issues or a sense of disinterest in the role.

When employee engagement and performance dips, it’s important that you address it before it affects the wider business. So, what can you do as an employer to help struggling employees? And what kind of employee performance strategy can you implement?

Poor employee performance examples

First things first, what constitutes poor employee performance? Well, there are several examples, including:

  • Showing up late for work on a regular basis.
  • Persistent absenteeism.
  • Poor use of use or time-wasting (smartphone use, taking an extended break, etc.)
  • Poor quality of work or not finishing it on time.
  • Causing avoidable accidents.
  • Arguing or causing conflict with other employees.

Something that’s a little trickier to pinpoint, on the surface at least, is how each of these issues affect your business. That’s because it may take some time for the cracks to appear…

Employee performance management

When it becomes apparent that an employee is underperforming, take steps to manage the issue before taking serious action. Remember that an employee may be suffering poor productivity for a number of reasons and approach the issue carefully.

If, for example, an employee has ongoing health issues, try to provide support rather than accusing them of deliberately underperforming. You can also give the employee time to improve their performance once you’ve given them feedback. You may even consider writing a performance review for the employee to work off.

If it happens that the employee shows no signs of improved performance, issue them with a capability warning in line with your disciplinary procedures.

Disciplinary procedures when dealing with underperforming employees

Disciplinary action is a last resort, but in certain situations it’s necessary. To ensure consistency and avoid any unwanted claims, put detailed capability and disciplinary procedures in place.

When the time comes to begin disciplinary action, document each step of the process. For instance, if the first step of the disciplinary procedure is to issue a verbal warning after a capability investigation, a poor employee performance review sample letter should be issued.

In the event the situation is unsalvageable, you may need to terminate the employee’s employment. The crucial point here is that you must dismiss the employee fairly, e.g., without breaching unfair dismissals legislation. Unfair dismissals tend to happen when an employer doesn’t adhere to the principles of natural justice and fair procedures.

So, whether the performance issue is based on misconduct or capability, you must follow fair procedures before taking disciplinary action.

Dismissal due to misconduct

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) will look at the following questions in a misconduct case:

  • Did the business believe that the employee misconducted himself as alleged?
  • If so, did the business have reasonable grounds to sustain that belief?
  • Did the employer carry out as much investigation into the matter as was reasonable before dismissing the employee?
  • If so, was the penalty of dismissal proportionate to the alleged misconduct?

If you find yourself dealing with a case of misconduct, explain the unacceptable behaviour to the employee and give them an opportunity to cease that behaviour.

Dismissal due to capability

If it’s a dismissal based on capability, the WRC will consider the following questions:

  • Does the employer have an honest belief that the employee is incapable of doing the job they were employed to do?
  • If yes, does the employer have reasonable grounds to sustain that belief?

The difference between capability and misconduct procedures is that in capability scenarios, you must try to support the employee in bettering their performance. This has to happen before you make a final assessment of their capability to do the job.

Article: What exactly does a disciplinary procedure consist of?

Our HR consultants can help with employee performance

If you want further guidance on how to manage a poor-performing employee or advice on how to discuss poor performance with an employee, our HR consultants can help. Call today on 01 886 0350.

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Nora Cashe


Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.