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5 Signs of an Underperforming Employee


Every entrepreneur wants to find great employees that will help them grow the business. However, as many leaders know, good employees can be hard to find. When you do find the employees you were seeking, managing them is another task. Although there are many productivity tracking tools available, it is still sometimes difficult to truly evaluate a team member’s output and contribution to the business. This is made even more difficult when more workers are working remotely.

Having clear metrics, goals, and objectives can help you understand which of your employees are performing well. However, these things do not always help you track how well the employee is interacting with customers, engaging with the team, or representing the brand. This is why, as a leader, you need to identify the signs that an employee is underperforming. In this article, we will look at what you should look out for if you suspect a team member has been underperforming.


Common Causes of Underperformance at Work

Whether an employee is preparing to quit or has simply lost their motivation to succeed, underperformance in the workplace is an insidious problem that must be addressed quickly and tactfully. If left unchecked, declines in employee performance can seriously hurt your business. Not all of the causes of underperformance should be blamed on the employee, however. Often, there is a gap in understanding or a disconnect between staff and management.

Some common causes of underperformance at work include:

  • Feeling undervalued
  • Stress
  • Changes in personal life
  • Feeling inadequately compensated
  • No support from management
  • Mental health issues
  • Goals are unattainable
  • Burnout

Regardless of an employee’s reason for failing to meet company standards, slacking off hurts everyone in the workplace. And it is unacceptable if you want to grow your business and create a winning culture. Communicating with your employee can help you identify and resolve the root of the problem. Below, you’ll learn some telltale signs that an employee isn’t doing their best at work.

1. Complaints from Peers

One of the first things you’ll notice when an employee is underperforming is an increase in complaints made by their coworkers. In small amounts, workplace gossip is somewhat inevitable. But, if other employees consistently make unhappy remarks about the same individual, it’s a sign that something isn’t quite right.

When one employee underperforms, it creates a slippery slope for their coworkers. If one cog in a machine ceases to run properly, the others have to pick up the slack. That same philosophy applies to the workplace.

Constantly covering for an underperforming coworker can also create resentment and conflict among employees. Good employees eventually get tired from carrying out the responsibilities of others, and this can lead to burnout. One underperforming employee creates a domino effect among their peers.


2. A Decline in Work Quality

One of the most obvious and common signs of an underachieving employee is a distinct decline in the quality of their work. If they used to complete tasks diligently and according to standard, but lately they’ve been slipping up, it’s time to start a conversation about workplace performance.

One of the qualities of great employees is high quality work. When an employee consistently does their best to deliver results for the company and quality service to their customers, it is a sign that employee truly cares. A dip in work quality may be a sign that an employee has stop caring about their work and their job.


3. Customer Complaints

In more severe cases of employee underperformance, customers may pick up on their lack of energy. When an employee comes to work drained, disinterested or unmotivated, customers pick up on that, and it affects their experience with your business.

One way to keep track of customer responses to employees is to offer an after-purchase survey opportunity. Create some simple cards where customers can jot down how they felt about their experience and drop a name if they feel so inclined. 

You can keep the completed cards together and assess the feedback on a regular basis to make sure everyone is performing well. Additionally, keep an eye out for customer complaints on Yelp or Google reviews.


4. Attitude Changes

There is nothing like a coworker that has a great attitude. An attitude of gratitude, resolve, and commitment to their position can lift the spirits of those around them. Many times, your best employees also have the best attitudes. However, if you notice that a once enthusiastic employee is becoming cynical or negative, it may be a sign that performance issues are on the horizon.

There are many reasons why an employee might have a negative attitude at work. Workplace dissatisfaction is becoming increasingly common. Not everyone has an easy time leaving their troubles at the door. An employee that frequently comes to work tired, complaining, or otherwise unhappy can be a red flag.

Negativity is unfortunately contagious. An employee with a bad attitude might influence the energy level and feelings of their coworkers, or prevent the rest of the team from performing optimally.


5. Engagement & Communication Drops

Employees that underperform will sometimes try to “fly under the radar” at work. They may distance themselves from coworkers or refuse to attend company events. This can be a sign that they’re trying to work only as much as they have to in order to keep their job without making waves or being called out.

Additionally, employees experiencing burnout or stress at work might be less likely to communicate those feelings if they fear it will get them in trouble. Creating a space where open communication is rewarded can help prevent this. You should also be on the lookout for signs of employee burnout.

One of the most important things to do when an employee starts communicating less frequently is to reach out first. Speaking with the employee one-on-one in a private area can create a more personal connection. They might also feel more comfortable talking about what’s got them out of touch with work.


What You Can Do

The good news is there are several things you can do to help an underperforming employee. When an employee starts drifting and their performance declines, your first instinct might be to express your frustration or enact a form of company discipline. However, taking the time to communicate patiently with your employees can help you solve the problem together.

Make sure that your hard-working employees are rewarded and well paid for their efforts. This is to prevent workers from feeling unappreciated. 93% of employees who feel valued at work say they’re motivated to do their best on the job. However, many companies lose employees when they fail to appreciate their work.

Also, be sure to keep employee records. If you do have a method of tracking performance, these records will help better evaluate the problem areas. If the reason why the employee is struggling is that they are unable to handle the workload, work with them to offer them the support they need. 

Remember, as a leader, it is important that you learn how to help your team succeed. When each individual employee succeeds, so does your business.


Although there are many opportunities to turn a slacking employee’s behavior around, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. If your efforts to help a worker succeed fail time and time again, they might just be a poor fit for the company. Use your best judgment to determine whether an underperforming employee can be saved or if it’s time to let them go.

Ari Bratsis
Team Writer: Ari is a writer, blogger and small business owner based in Washington state.

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Team Writer: Ari is a writer, blogger and small business owner based in Washington state.

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