3 types of underperformers who taint your workplace

My Three Slugs

It would be great if every one of your employees did everything he or she could in the name of productivity, efficiency and harmony.

That would make your job as a boss much easier.

But the real workplace isn’t much like that. These are people you hired, and people have a propensity to sell you a bill of goods during the interview. They yakked a good game and told you about their initiatives, their drives, goals, strengths (and weaknesses that are really super-strengths), and of course, that little extra something they can do for your organization.

But in time you see some of those workers are falling a bit short. They’ve grown listless.

All is not lost, however. The underperformers really come in only three varieties, and most of them can be repaired, but more easily, prevented from becoming one in the first place.

Your three slugs:

1. Those who can do, but won’t.

The bulk of your sloths fall in this category. Your staff, for the most part, is skilled. You knew what you were looking for when you were hiring, and you made sure their experience, skills, accomplishments and references all checked out. You may even have run a test to identify certain proficiencies or to weed out the weaklings. So you welcomed aboard those whom you thought were the cream. In the infancy of their employment, they seemed like rising stars. They would come early and stay till they got things right. They cared.

What happened? Most employees start out with wagging tails and not knowing which corners can be cut. But eventually they catch on. They find a niche and get comfortable. No need to bust a hump anymore.

Sorry to say, this problem was mostly brought on by you. So in essence, you can fix it. Somewhere along the line, your communication with these employees broke down. Maybe your feedback has been sketchy or nonexistent. Or perhaps performance goalposts have been ignored or torn down altogether. You let the fire go out, so now you need to get serious with these folks. It’s time for a one-on-one meeting with each one these slackers to put them back on track. Failure to correct this problem will undermine morale for those who do work hard.

2. Those who can’t do, but don’t do anything about it.

It can happen to any well-meaning employee: New technologies, equipment or processes aren’t digested well. The result is an employee who pines for the way things were and begins to fall behind and ceases to care about his or her work. They feel they’re in over their heads and the system is running away from them. Whether it’s out of embarrassment of asking for help, or just plain apathy, these employees retreat into a burrow of mediocrity. Hiding is an attractive defense.

What happened? Your organization needs to change with the times, so by all means change. Updates are imminent. Good workers can catch on or seek out guidance in complex areas. But there is always a handful unwilling to chase and catch the bus. Now they’re a problem.

Early intervention is a must. Managers need to anticipate that employees embrace change at their own pace. Some are going to need help and it’s up to you to let them know that it’s there for them: extra training, a tutor, a little more time. Allowing confused employees to flounder in perceived hopelessness, like seventh-graders in a fast-moving algebra class, will only alienate them and turn them into deadwood—something you’ll need to get rid of down the road.

3. Those who do, but only what’s required.

These are your spiteful slugs. They are analytical and quick to size up how the work is distributed, who’s doing what and how everyone is compensated or let off the hook. You need a little more out of them (Didn’t they promise you something like that in the interview?) but, hey, why should they? Most others perform only within the framework of their job descriptions. Or even less.

What happened? You’ve allowed Nos. 1 and 2 to overrun the workplace.

Oh, the power of prevention.


Cal Butera is the editor of Business Management Daily’s Office Manager Today, Manager’s Legal Bulletin, Managing People at Work and Communication Briefings newsletters. He has been with Business Management Daily since 2007 and worked 22 years for midsize daily newspapers as sports writer, news reporter, layout and design editor, copy editor and city editor.