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Managing Underperforming Employees: A Guide for SMEs in West Sussex

A woman with her arms raised and fists clenched. She looks frustrated, perhaps how you feel when you have an underperforming employee!

As a business owner or manager in West Sussex, managing underperforming employees can be particularly challenging.

This not only distracts from your core operations but can also impact your work culture and bottom line.

Whether your HR functions are in-house or outsourced, understanding how to deal with poor-performing employees effectively is crucial.

Below, we explore common pitfalls in managing underperformance and provide practical steps to address these issues effectively.

What Goes Wrong When Managing an Underperforming Employee?

Often, the process of dealing with an underperforming employee is mishandled due to a lack of immediate action.

Managers might grow increasingly intolerant over time, yet delay taking decisive action.

This delay can culminate in a hasty decision that may not comply with the ACAS code of conduct, potentially leading to legal challenges and tribunal cases.

Understanding these pitfalls is the first step in refining your management approach, ensuring that both the employee and the company have a fair chance to address and rectify issues.

How to Manage an Underperforming Employee

Effectively managing underperforming employees requires a multifaceted approach that begins with the recruitment process and extends throughout their career at the company or organisation.

Here are detailed steps under each critical phase:


The foundation of employee performance is laid at the recruitment stage. Ensure that you are hiring candidates who not only have the required skills and experience but also fit well with the company culture. Incorporate behaviour-based interviewing techniques to assess potential performance issues and work ethic. Thorough background and reference checks are indispensable to verifying the candiates’ credentials and claimed performance.


The probation period serves as an extended interview during which the employee’s behaviour and performance can be evaluated more deeply. Setting clear performance goals and regular checkpoints throughout this period is essential. This allows both the manager and the employee to address any concerns early on. If performance issues are detected, use this time to provide additional training or decide whether the employee is suitable for the role.


Effective management should be proactive and involve regular engagement with all team members. Set clear expectations regarding performance and behaviour from the start. Regular one-to-ones will help to monitor progress, provide feedback, and understand any underlying issues contributing to underperformance. A good manager should also be a good leader, inspiring and motivating their team to achieve their best.

Use Your Policies & Procedures

Your company’s policies and procedures are there to provide a framework for dealing with underperformance. Familiarise yourself with these policies and apply them consistently. Whether it’s a step-by-step disciplinary procedure or a structured capability process, using these tools can help ensure fairness and legality in handling underperformance issues.


Clear and consistent communication is vital in managing any employee, especially those who are underperforming. It’s important to communicate not just job expectations and feedback on performance but also to have open lines of communication where employees feel comfortable discussing issues that may affect their performance. This two-way communication can lead to quicker resolutions and a more positive work environment. Good communication also helps prevent any nasty or costly shocks for the employee and/or employer.

Command Respect

Respect is a crucial element of effective management. Leaders should command respect through integrity, fairness, and competence. This involves respecting employees’ contributions, valuing their feedback, and recognising their achievements. Respectful treatment helps build a loyal and committed workforce.

Prompt Action

Addressing underperformance promptly is crucial to prevent the issue from escalating and affecting the team or project outcomes. Quick interventions demonstrate to the team that performance matters and helps to maintain high standards. Early actions also allow for easier correction of issues before habits become entrenched.

By following these guidelines, you can effectively manage underperforming employees, helping them to improve their performance or making timely decisions when necessary. This approach not only supports the individual employee’s growth but also enhances overall team productivity and morale.

Managing Underperforming Employees: Conclusion

Handling poor-performing employees is an integral part of management that requires a proactive and structured approach.

By understanding what often goes wrong and implementing the steps outlined above, you can manage underperformance effectively, leading to a healthier, more productive workplace.

For further guidance tailored to your specific situation in West Sussex, consider reaching out to HR Smart.

We’re here to support your business with expert HR consultancy and management solutions.

We offer HR training as well as a manager service.

Contact us today at 01903 754 107 or email

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