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Being a boss is stressful, especially when it comes to situations that might paint you as the “bad guy” in the eyes of your employees. Dealing with someone who isn’t fulfilling their role responsibilities is one such situation. However, it is perfectly fair to expect quality work, meaning discussions about the reason behind the poor performance and plans to improve are necessary steps. But how do you manage an underperforming employee with empathy through this process? Read on for helpful advice.

Evaluate and Control Your Feelings and Stress

Before initiating a conversation with an underperforming employee, take a moment to evaluate your feelings and stress levels. As we said, you might be worried about the conversation and how it will reflect on you. Likewise, you might feel anger toward the employee, especially if this is not their first time falling short of expectations.

Still, anger management is an essential workplace skill, and that encompasses everything that leads to anger, such as stress. If you come into the conversation with a calm mindset and controlled emotions, you set a constructive tone for the interaction.

Assume the Best of the Employee

Start from the premise that the employee wants to do their job well—it’s probably true, even if it doesn’t seem like it. This assumption lays the groundwork for a compassionate dialogue where the employee feels supported and understood.

Approaching the situation with kindness reinforces their value to the team and motivates them toward improvement. Plus, this kind of positive thinking does wonders to support employee mental health.

Listen Before Accusing

Empathy requires listening as much as it does speaking. Before you lay out the perceived problems, give the employee a chance to share their perspective. They might be facing challenges you are unaware of, and this step can uncover underlying issues contributing to their performance, such as mental health concerns or personal life emergencies. Though you cannot resolve these problems for the employee, you can offer your support and understanding.

Offer Resources and Help

On the topic of offering support and understanding, offering resources is also essential. Identifying areas of underperformance and their cause is only half the battle; the next step is to offer specific help.

This might include additional training, a mentorship program, or adjusting the workload to fit their capabilities better. By providing support, you send a clear message that the company has a vested interest in their success.

Co-Create a Specific Action Plan for Improvement

Resources and understanding only go so far if there is no detailed plan for improvement to accompany them. Here’s what this plan should probably include:

  • Achievable milestones
  • Regular feedback sessions
  • Clear expectations

Make sure you work together with your employee to create this plan. Making it a two-way conversation is a great way to improve your constructive feedback and empower the employee in their efforts. Additionally, it makes them accountable for their progress.

Final Thoughts

The best employers lead with empathy in everything they do. Not only do your employees deserve to feel safe working for you, but you’ll also encourage better performance by being empathetic. Now that you know how to manage an underperforming employee with empathy, you can be a better leader in this area and foster your employees’ growth and happiness in your company.

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