The COVID-19 pandemic managed to permeate all aspects of our lives. One of the areas that businesses have found, is an increase in problem employees.
Arguably, the biggest upheaval occurred in the workplace, with employers having to suddenly implement sufficient remote options for their employees, setting up secure online systems for access and collaboration, and adjusting their businesses to a predominantly digital environment.
However, the consequences of switching to remote work are multifaceted and could lead to adverse outcomes. Indeed, previously exemplary workers could now turn into problem employees.
Having to come to grips with the current reality of social restrictions, remote work, and the constantly looming threat of new COVID variants is not easy. Each employee has to deal with a unique set of circumstances that can influence their work performance.
Identifying which employees are struggling and trying to understand the root cause of the issues they are experiencing has become an essential responsibility for managers. If the problems are left unaddressed for a prolonged time, they could lead to employees becoming disengaged and unmotivated.
In addition, other unwanted behaviours could also emerge. Struggling employees could start exhibiting absenteeism, disregard established work hours, underperform, and more.
It is up to the manager to navigate the complex external factors – COVID-19, remote work, and social and economic uncertainty, and find the appropriate strategies to help underperforming employees overcome their current struggles and return to the path to long-term success.
Identify the underlying reasons
Putting underperforming employees on performance-improvement plans could backfire by piling additional pressure on workers who are already finding it difficult to reach their previous results.
To truly help employees overcome their current slump and reignite their internal motivation to strive for ever-greater achievements, managers must take the necessary time to discern the underlying reasons.
The workplace problems could stem from a myriad of different factors based on the employee’s personality and character as well as the specific circumstances they are facing in their lives. They can range from failure to cope with remote work, feeling isolated from their colleagues, dissatisfaction with their current tasks and lack of recognition.
Also, a lack of career prospects to overwhelming stress, feelings of depression, and elevated levels of anxiety and worry about their friends, family, and loved ones amidst a pandemic.
Companies that use BPM and project management tools could more easily notice when an employee is starting to underperform. Furthermore, through a comprehensive BPM system in place, managers could quickly address some of the potential root causes of the problems without any team-wide disruptions.
Taking some tasks off employees who are starting to feel swamped or overwhelmed and spreading them to other team members with a lighter workload could be a good first step. A BPM system will also bring clarity regarding the current responsibilities and the expectations placed on each employee through increased transparency within the team.
To truly help problem employees, however, managers will need to put in the effort and get to know their team beyond the strictly professional communication. Knowing details about their work aspirations, interests, and lives outside of the company without being too unprofessional, uncomfortable, and intrusive takes time. Managers should adopt a suitable approach towards each individual employee in order to build trust and establish a relationship of mutual respect.
Don’t ignore mental wellness
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly everyone’s mental health. People are reporting increased mental health issues, while a significant portion of remote employees state that their anxiety symptoms have increased by three to four times compared to before.
Many employers, however, are still not recognising that the workplace is one of the most important environments regarding mental health and wellness. Instead, they are quick to punish underperforming employees. As a result, the work atmosphere could turn hostile or even toxic, leading to increased turnover, lack of motivation, and subpar results.
While managers are certainly not expected to be psychologists or experts in mental health, their role in supporting problem employees through empathy and a genuine attempt to understand the specific circumstances of the worker is essential.
After all, an employee that is single could be subjected to increased isolation due to the pandemic and remote work. In contrast, a single parent may have trouble balancing caring for their child, looking after their elderly parents, and delivering their previously stellar work results.
Managers can try to help employees pay attention to their mental health by reminding them to take frequent breaks, adjusting their workload, encouraging them to use their available days off to have enough free time to deal with their personal problems.
Implementing a company-wide mental wellness program through online mental health awareness training, webinars, or workshops can also greatly benefit employees under a lot of stress.
Be a leader
There are some fundamental differences between being a boss and being a leader. Bosses tend to incessantly micromanage their team in order to always be in control of what is happening. They are quick to make judgments and are reluctant to try new ideas or approaches. In many ways, leaders are the exact opposite. They lead by example, know how to inspire the team, and trust in the received feedback.
Leaders can turn underperforming employees into exemplary workers. Taking proactive steps to create an atmosphere of camaraderie between the team members ensures that no employee feels left alone to deal with their work tasks in isolation. A friendly and openly communicating team can boost each other through difficult moments.
Furthermore, leaders can clearly illustrate the importance of each employee’s work, especially those that have to deal with many repetitive tasks each day. A leader-style manager can notice that a team member has trouble adjusting to a recent change in the work environment or their work responsibilities and suggests appropriate training courses to help them acquire the skills they currently lack.
Recognise the efforts and achievements of problem employees
It is an inherent part of human nature to want your efforts to be appreciated, achievements recognised, and to feel validated in both your work and personal life. Unfortunately, it is far too common for managers to fail to give the necessary praise to employees as they feel that good results are simply expected from their team members.
On the other hand, any slip-ups are immediately pointed out, critiqued, and punished. Such a work environment fails to foster loyalty, keep employees engaged with the company’s mission, or make them willing to put their best to overcome complex challenges.
Employees who feel that their work is going unnoticed by the managers are more likely to produce unsatisfactory results and eventually quit. This is a detriment to the business as research has shown that high turnover may be costly.
The company will need to dedicate more resources to recruit, onboard, and train new employees, and it takes time for the new hires to reach their peak productivity. During that period, the other team members may need to take on additional tasks to make up for the open position or to help their new colleague.
Create a positive work environment
Companies that foster positive, inclusive, and safe work environments are far less likely to experience turnover issues, problem employees, lack of motivation in their workers, and incidents of interpersonal conflicts between team members. Managers play an integral role in creating and maintaining a positive environment.
Multiple strategies can help – being transparent, paying attention and acting upon feedback received from employees, celebrating their successes, making sure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the desired results, and more.
Employees will be far more invested in their daily tasks if they know they can trust their manager to be honest about upcoming company-wide decisions, the current obstacles and challenges that the organisation faces, and how their personal contributions impact the company’s overall state. Furthermore, a safe environment encourages workers to give feedback and suggestions even if they are critical of the current internal processes or company decisions.
Many companies recognise the value of the input coming from front-line workers who deal with customers or clients directly and thus are in a unique position to obtain first-hand knowledge about particular pain points or areas for improvement.
The company benefits both from receiving innovative ideas and, at the same time, showing that it values the opinions of its employees.
When dealing with problem employees, you may need to try several different methods because what has worked for one team member may negatively impact another. Some experienced employees may be feeling disengaged or demotivated due to their current tasks being too mundane or repetitive.
A far more challenging task could reinvigorate them and be seen as a fresh start. Other employees may be less interested in upwards mobility and instead wish to shift to a different area of the company’s business in order to acquire entirely new or further develop certain cross-functional skills.
Introducing performance confidentiality could help alleviate some unnecessary pressure that underperforming employees may be putting on themselves. Knowing that their current results will only be discussed during one-on-one meetings with the manager and will not be shared with the rest of the team could have a tremendous impact.
Offering hybrid work schedules is another essential option. Some employees may prefer spending a couple of days each week in the office where they can socialise with their colleagues. Others may simply wish to have an alternative to working from home every day.
Think about a mentorship program
Successful companies invest in the development and retainment of their workforce. Expanding the skills of their employees while keeping them motivated and eager to face new challenges are essential factors for achieving the desired business goals.
An internal mentorship program can allow the company to identify potential leaders and support employees who are underperforming due to being new, lacking knowledge in specific areas, or having a desire to switch to a different department.
Regular discussions with a mentor can push employees towards finding their true purpose within the company, remaining highly engaged, reducing burnout, and ultimately making them want to stay and continue their professional development within the organisation instead of looking for other business opportunities.
The benefits that a mentorship program can deliver are even more valuable in the wake of the pandemic, with employees now having far fewer opportunities for meaningful interpersonal communication with their colleagues.
Having regular conversations with an established expert can help alleviate the feelings of isolation and detachment from the company. A mentor could also help an underperforming employee by providing them with a wealth of knowledge and the necessary encouragement to overcome their current struggles.
Managers find themselves in the challenging positions of maintaining morale and work engagement during an exceedingly complex set of circumstances that impact our society as a whole. Understandably, during this period of global uncertainty, some employees will not be able to deliver the same outstanding results as before the pandemic.
It is up to the manager to find and proactively establish both immediate as well as long-term solutions that will help motivate the problem employee, allow them to reach their full potential, and achieve even greater success.
About the Author
Mariela Kashukeeva is a Marketing Еxecutive at SaaS BPM, a productivity process management system solution designed to manage the recurring activities of teams and entire organisations. With over 2-year experience in SEO, she is responsible for establishing collaboration opportunities with high-authority websites and creating amazing content.