How to Get an Employee Back on Track

professional male manager counseling female employee

Read on for suggestions to help you address performance, attitude, or conduct issues.

When an employee's conduct, attitude, or performance doesn't meet expectations, it can have a significant impact on the workplace. While it may be tempting to ignore these issues and hope they resolve on their own, without intervention, they can — and often do — get worse. Here are some guidelines for helping get an employee back on track.

Set your employee up for success:

  • Clearly communicate expectations. Communicate workplace rules and procedures so employees know exactly what's expected of them and what they can expect from the company. It's a best practice to maintain an employee handbook for this purpose. In addition, confirm expectations when setting performance goals and provide employees with feedback on a regular basis.
  • Lead by example. Hold leaders accountable for demonstrating the conduct and performance you expect.
  • Set SMART goals. To the extent possible, include the employee in the goal-setting process. Goals should be SMART — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. By involving the employee in setting goals, you can help them understand the importance of their role and how it has an impact on business initiatives.
  • Foster inclusivity. Make sure your practices and decisions are free of bias, employees are paid equitably, and you take all complaints seriously. Train supervisors on all workplace policies and how to administer and enforce them consistently. During meetings, encourage all employees to share their ideas and feedback.
  • Motivate employees. Employees who are engaged and motivated are typically more successful at work. To help promote an engaged workforce, consider:
    • Employee recognition programs
    • Offering flexible work arrangements
    • Giving employees autonomy in how they complete tasks
    • Offering career development opportunities
    • Providing challenging work assignments and capitalizing on employees' skills and knowledge
  • Prepare employees for change. Give employees plenty of advance notice of upcoming changes. Take the time to explain the reasons for each change and how a new procedure may positively impact the employee's work environment.
  • Improve teamwork. While some conflict in the workplace is inevitable, you can take steps to help reduce the likelihood of it escalating. To help reduce conflict and encourage collaboration among team members, clarify rules and expectations, clearly define roles, and facilitate team-building activities.
  • Check in with employees. Schedule regular check ins with employees to see how they are doing and to solicit feedback about their experience working for your company.

Help redirect your employee:

Here are a few suggestions to help you address performance, attitude, or conduct issues:

Meet with the employee. If an employee isn't meeting performance or conduct expectations or is violating company policies, address the situation promptly. Don't wait until their annual performance review. Meet with the employee in private, express your appreciation for their contributions and be straightforward. Let them know you've noticed issues with their performance and/or attitude and give examples. Explain that you are trying to help the employee improve and give them an opportunity to respond.

During the meeting, the employee may reveal information that can trigger certain obligations. For example:

    • If the employee discloses that the reason for their change in behavior or performance is because they're a victim of sexual harassment, launch a prompt investigation into the allegations.
    • If the employee reveals they have a disability, you may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee.
    • If they reveal symptoms of burn out, offer company resources that may help, such as an Employee Assistance Program, and help them develop a plan for improving.
    • And, if they are having difficulty working with another employee, guide them through resolving workplace disagreements.

At the close of the meeting, confirm that the employee has fully understood the expectations for improvement and have them acknowledge the discussion in writing.

Document the discussion. Document the meeting, including the date and substance of the conversation, and retain a record of it in the employee's personnel file.

Follow up. Follow up with the employee to see how they're doing. If their performance/behavior hasn't improved, further intervention may be necessary.

When an employee's conduct, attitude, or performance isn't meeting expectations, address the issue promptly to help get the employee back on track.

Learn more

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This article was originally published as an "ADP HR Tip of the Week" which is a communication created for ADP's small business clients.