What Causes Employee Performance Problems?
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
When you're having employee performance problems and issues and need to determine the cause, remember that the cause may lie with management or with the employee, or with both. As you'll read below, often the cause is not the employee but the work situation/environment. Most performance problems, research shows, arise from the following basic causes:
1. Lack of knowledge or training
All employees need training, orientation or instruction in their jobs. That is true regardless of how experienced they are in similar jobs. . Every job in every organization requires not only specific skills, but also knowledge of such things as organization culture, interdepartmental relationships, other employees' vulnerabilities, how the last person did the job, and what the boss expects. For example, an employee may be well-versed in the specific skills necessary to do the work, but may not know that it is necessary to coordinate some of his functions with another department or how to do so.
Do you have some sort of "user manual" for each job -- perhaps verbal, if not in print? Does the employee get some kind of on-the-job training or mentoring in that specific job? Do you or does anyone in your organization know what the employee needs to know?
2. External interference or obstruction
There are many factors over which the employee has no control. They include such things as equipment failure or inadequacy, wrong or insufficient materials, incorrect information, unreasonable scheduling and interference from other employees.
Sometimes management knows that such obstacles exist. If so, your policy should be one of "no blame" to the employee who has adequately informed you about them as the causes of performance difficulties. You should also have a policy that requires the affected employee to report the obstacles.
Sometimes management doesn't know about the obstacles. In that case it is doubly important that the employee reports the difficulties, and failure to do so is a performance problem in itself. (And if the employee has reported the problem but the supervisor hasn't passed it on up, that is also a performance failure for the supervisor.)
3. Lack of desire
Perhaps an employee just doesn't want to do it. He may be burned out. He may feel unappreciated. He may be overwhelmed by unreasonable expectations. He may hate his boss. It may be a nasty job that no one wants to do. It may be a job that no one can do, at least at the performance level expected.
Before you write off an employee as a "Bad Attitude Bob," take a look at his record to see if there's an indication of good performance that has declined or even suddenly changed. See if anything happened just preceding that change that might explain it. Did he get a new boss? Was there a reduction in force, requiring him to take on a good deal more work? Was he assigned to a new job that most consider the equivalent of "Siberia?" Does he work for someone known to give little feedback or encouragement or even to be critical and intimidating? Study after study shows that the immediate supervisor has the greatest impact on an employee's job satisfaction, and therefore on performance.
And don't forget to simply ask the employee what he thinks.