The role of supervising employees presents a number of challenges. High on the list of those challenges is knowing what to do to help employees who have work performance problems. There are a number of helpful strategies and resources available to supervisors to assist them in helping employees succeed in correcting work problems.

Strategies for Identifying and Describing Performance Problems

Prepare to address employee performance problems

  • Define the problem using specific and objective terms
  • Think through some possible causes of the problem
  • Be aware of your organizational supports to help you in this task

Define the problem

It is important to define the problem using objective terms, not emotional terms.

  • Objective Descriptors:
    • Yelled at a patient, coworker, or supervisor
    • Missed 8 out of 12 meetings
    • Took a personal phone call instead of assisting a patient
    • Missed the deadline on three assignments in a one-month period
  • Emotional Descriptors:
    • Attitude
    • Unprofessional behavior

Possible Contributors to Performance Problems

Understanding possible causes may help with solutions. You are not expected to diagnose your employee, but it helps to identify any work-related causes of the problem. Consider this checklist of six possible contributors to performance problems:

  • Aptitude - does the employee have the ability to perform the task?
  • Skill - has the employee had the opportunity to learn the task?
  • Comprehension - does the employee understand the nature of the task?
  • Degree of effort - how much effort is the employee willing to give to the task?
  • Persistence - how sustained is the effort?
  • Outside factors - are there factors beyond the control of the employee?

Resources to Help Supervisors in Addressing Employee Performance Problems

Utilize tools that can help you be effective in this task:

  • Be certain the employee's job description accurately reflects what's expected of them now
  • Be certain that as a supervisor you have the support of your manager to address employee performance problems
  • View your Human Resource/Staff and Labor professional as a valuable consultant
  • Rely on Personal Assistance Service (PAS) to help you think through options
    • Persistent performance and attendance problems may suggest underlying personal difficulties
    • PAS can offer assistance on how to refer your employee to PAS for assessment and counseling
    • Consider that the employee may be impaired
  • Accurate documentation of performance failures should be in place

Tools to Use When Addressing Employee Performance Problems

Skills used in helping employees address work problems:

  • Put your feelings aside and deal with the objective facts
  • Identify ahead of time possible options to help the employee improve (e.g. coaching, retraining, and/or mentoring)
  • Practice what you will say...remember practice increases your confidence
  • Be prepared to give specific examples when asked, "What do you mean?" or "When did this occur?"

Setting the stage for a positive outcome:

  • Consider the optimal time to discuss performance problems with the employee (e.g., end of the day, end of the week, or beginning of the week)
  • Select a private place for the discussion
  • Allow enough time to express your concerns and to get feedback from the employee
  • Pause occasionally to get confirmation that the employee understands the problem
  • Be clear about what your expectations are for improved performance
  • Be clear about the consequences if performance does not improve
  • Remember, the desired outcome is that the employee understands what the problem is, how to correct it, and what the consequences will be if the problem is not corrected

Documentation is a safeguard for you, the employee, and the organization:

  • Be clear, specific, and objective in what you write
  • Make notes on the problems and issues discussed
  • Record the date of the discussion
  • Record the action plan and agreements reached

Follow-up is Important

Following up with what was agreed upon is an essential part of helping the employee succeed in addressing performance problems. Consider using these Duke resources:

  • PAS at 919-416-1727
  • Learning & Organization Development at 919-613-7600
  • Staff and Labor Relations:
    • Medical Center: 919-684-5557
    • Campus: 919-684-2808