Uncovering the Hidden Causes of Poor Employee Performance

This is a writing sample from Scripted writer Tess Taylor

According to PayScale's Compensation Best Practices Report, 69 percent of all employers are deeply concerned about losing their best people. People truly are the best assets of any organization, therefore it's critical to weed out any potential causes of poor performance and retention as early as possible. For experienced human resource professionals, the management of employee performance should be a piece of cake. But, in many cases, the causes that lead to a breakdown in employee performance are not so easy to recognize. These hidden issues can creep up without warning and transform an ordinarily high-functioning team into a poorly performing train wreck. What are the hidden causes of poor performance? Before any effort can be made to improve employee performance, the root cause of poor performance need to be diagnosed. Just like a physician with a difficult patient case may approach things, the HR department needs to use a similar approach. The outward acute symptoms of a performance problem may be evident, but the underlying causes go much deeper. According to Bernard Marr, Author of Key Performance Indicators for Dummies, "performance is the confluence of ability and motivation. An employee needs to have the ability to perform the task as well as the motivation to do so." Identifying the hidden causes of low employee performance can come down to spotting factors that de-motivate and stand in the way of normal performance on the job. In many situations, there may be a single or a small group of employees who are dragging the rest of the team down. Therefore, the sooner that the cause can be understood, the sooner performance matters can be resolved. The hidden causes of poor performance can be attributed to: Overwhelm, burnout and resentment felt by employees Some workplaces are tougher than others, but when employees begin to experience the squeeze of too much work and too little time to enjoy life, the balance is off. This sense of overwhelm rapidly leads to employee burnout and resentment grows. This cause is most often identified by employees grumbling about tasks, not looking forward to new projects, and a general mood of frustration. Lack of motivation due to below average compensation Employees know how to research the salaries for their job types and industry, especially if they are already looking around for a better job or are anticipating a raise. Poor performance can stem from an attitude that if their current employer doesn't care enough to compensate them enough for the work they do, why bother? Look for employees who have dropped their previous productivity rates or just don't get excited anymore about their work. Obstacles to successful completion of work tasks In any workplace, a number of obstacles can crop up at any time that can cause obstacles to the normal productivity of employees. These can include technology barriers, interpersonal issues, equipment problems, information blocks, accessibility obstacles and more. It's important to find out if this is the cause of lower than normal productivity simply by asking employees on a regular basis if they are having obstacles in their way. Unclear expectations of employees and managers The problem with managing people and processes is that no two people will ever comprehend and communicate in the same way. This is why it's critical to have a method for clearly communicating job role expectations from the start with all employees. It's important that managers know what their employees expect from them too. Most often, the symptoms of this cause are not as evident, but look for telltale signs that communication has broken down between team members. Zero performance, incentives and disciplinary measures A productivity buster that occurs in workplaces is when there is little to no employee recognition being practiced, coupled with no action taken when a worker fails to meet expectations. This lackadaisical attitude will only create distant and non-interested employees. Instead, find ways to boost productivity with meaningful incentives, incremental pay increases, and disciplinary steps taken to eliminate slackers. By paying attention to the symptoms of poor performance and then proactively working through them, the workplace can be a better, more productive environment for all.

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Tess Taylor
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Tess C. Taylor, SHRM-CP, CCC, CPC, founder of HR Knows, is a seasoned human resource and career coaching professional with nearly 2 decades of corporate experience. She regular contributes to About.com, Forbes, HRDive, Payscale.com Compensation Today, HR Gazette, US News Careers, and other respected websites in this space. She has been published in HR Magazine, and is voted a "Top 100 HR Expert to Follow' on Twitter for multiple years.
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