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If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes”.Henry Cloud

The quality of employees can make or break a company. Studies show that the work output of good employees is more than 3 times that of underperforming employees. With the cost of hiring and training being very high, most companies tend to ignore these underperforming employees without realizing the damage they can do. Most importantly, they affect the success of the business given that the quality of the work is below average and customers receive shoddy service. Over time, the company’s repute and image take a severe beating as customer dissatisfaction rises and they begin leaving the company. Moreover, the situation internally too worsens as top performers become dissatisfied with having to take on excessive workload, to make up for the laxity of the underperforming employees, without added compensation.

Disengaged, lazy and underperforming employees can ruin the work environment and be the cause of unnecessary stress resulting in conflicts. Employees should ideally be the most important assets of the company but if a company does not manage its underperforming employees, they can prove to be serious liabilities. Good leaders and customer centric companies recognize the importance of employee behaviour and performance on the overall success or failure of the business. Managing employee conduct is the joint responsibility of the company and the individual employee.

Underperforming employees, obviously, were not always so. Your company would have hired them for their skills, knowledge base and experience and if they have turned into underperforming employees, it would behove the company to understand why. It is possible, most often, to re-engage and help such employees to ‘turn over a new leaf’ by proper management, coaching and guidance. Your company’s policies, the employees’ job or manager, co-workers or other such aspects could be the cause of a good employee becoming a disengaged and underperforming one.

The truth is unless the manager / leader notice such behaviour; they cannot possibly help the employee or the business. Often providing feedback is uncomfortable and many managers would rather ignore underperformance than address it. It is only when the team’s performance begins to suffer and in turn, other aspects of the business begin to fail, does anyone take any action. By such time, the employees that are outperforming and even those that are meeting the requirements of their job, begin to feel burdened, frustrated and disillusioned. This translates to widespread underperformance and would certainly have a negative affect the business and the service customers receive.

Poor customer service and lack of innovative products would be very apparent, since the workforce would be dull, lacking energy and continually stressed. The message that customers, employees and other stakeholders get is that the company is poorly managed and unable to hire and retain the correct employees. The assumption would be that a company that continues to retain demotivated and underperforming employees would not be in business for the long haul and there would soon be customer churn and employee attrition. The top performers of the company remain motivated and challenged when they compete (in a non-combative manner) with their colleagues. Underperforming employees are colleagues that have the opposite reaction on the good performers and the company becomes weaker and mediocre over time.

In a hitherto energized and top performing team, most employees would pull their weight to achieve the team and company goals. However, even one weak and below average employee can adversely affect the cohesiveness, productivity and morale of the team. The underperforming employees would be unable to keep pace with the team and if there is no action taken to improve their behaviour the company could end up losing their top performers. These good performers would be able to find employment anywhere, which would mean that they would not hesitate to leave the company and use their expertise for a competitor. Underperforming employees would also portray a poor image of the company and soon customers would perceive poor service and experiences and with such an image of the company, it is unlikely that they would stay with the company. Not only would customers leave, they would also let others know about the shabby ‘treatment’ they received, thereby pushing away prospective customers as well.

On the one hand, companies emphasize good quality and high performance and on the other if they continue to employ underperforming employees, they would be giving out conflicting messages. Below average employees are emboldened by this lack of remedial measures, top performers are disillusioned and new recruits would much rather follow the path which leads to less work but equal pay and the result of all this – a company in disarray, shabbily run and with highly disgruntled customers – a sure recipe for disaster.

Retaining underperforming employees also has indirect and long-standing costs for a company. While it is true that hiring and training employees is a time and money consuming affair but keeping underperforming employees is probably as costly. A person employed for a particular role would need to fulfil the requirements of the job and provide adequate ROI for the company. However, underperforming employees take up a position and are paid all the basic compensations of an employee but do not meet the requirements of the job. Most of the time, the work done by them is either incomplete or so bad, that it must be re-done or completed by someone else. In addition, underperforming employees require more supervision, ‘hand-holding’ and time, which is a huge strain on the time and resources of the company. The team manager would remain preoccupied with managing these employees rather than focusing on the overall team performance and goals.

Underperforming employees are neither motivated nor interested in being creative nor come up with ideas that would add to the quality of products and or customer service. They contribute a negligible amount to the company in this regard and given the current business environment, it is essential that each member of a company is able to contribute consistently. Underperforming employees also require a lot more training and coaching. This would mean that the additional hours they spend training, their portion of the workload would remain unattended. It then becomes the responsibility of the other members of the team to carry this additional workload- without extra compensation or benefits, leading to dissatisfaction. Managers too that may be underperforming would much rather support the ‘weaker’ members of the team rather than the top performers, so that their position is not questioned.

As the company becomes weaker with infighting and poor performance, there is an adverse effect on their reputation and not only customers, but also investors, vendors and other partners would sever ties with the company. Without such external support and partners, a company cannot hope to survive for too long.

Every company has underperforming employees – the key is to recognize them, try to motivate and help them and if they do not improve their work performance it is best to let them go. A company is better off with fewer top performers, than with an army of shoddy and lazy workers. By helping underperforming employees to succeed and encouraging top performers, a company would send out a message that they care for their employees and view them as critical to its success. However, even after the best efforts if an underperformer shows no sign of improvement, it would be best for everyone to let the employee go. The good performance of a company through its employees today, would pave the way for excellence for the future.

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