No employee left behind: When an employee is struggling

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

Take a look at your last auto repair receipt. What makes up the majority of the cost of the repair? Labor. You don’t need to ask an accountant what is often the largest expense on an income statement. Labor. Why is labor so costly? Because it’s the most valuable asset your business has.

Finding the right staff and keeping them happy and productive is one of your greatest challenges as a business owner. Your staff have an impact on your company’s image, profitability, ability to meet project deadlines and level of customer satisfaction. But their performance is also dependent on your management skills, so when an employee’s performance is suffering, ask yourself first “Could the problem be me?”

Micromanaging. Why does this sabotage productivity? Because all your employees want to feel recognized for their talents and trusted in their abilities to accomplish their tasks. When you micromanage, you’re sending the message that you aren’t confident in your staff’s capabilities. If that’s the case, why did you hire them in the first place? By implying that you have such low expectations of your staff, you’re taking away their opportunity to shine. Allow your staff to show you why you hired them by letting them do what they do best.

Lack of direction. If you find that your staff aren’t doing their work, maybe it’s because they don’t know what to do or don’t have enough to do. When you make sure they understand what work is their responsibility, when it needs to be done, and why it’s important, you’re giving your staff a sense of purpose. Check in with them during a short daily or weekly meeting to assign tasks, prioritize continuing projects and hear their progress.

Not enough communication. Rumors are often at the root of low morale. If your staff aren’t hearing the news from you first about what’s really happening, they can only guess. Don’t provide an opportunity for rumors to fester and create discontent: nip rumors in the bud by showing your staff that you’ll always be upfront and honest with them. After all, your staff are invested in your company almost as much as you–their livelihoods are dependent on it. Let them know before anyone else about major developments and involve them in making important decisions.

No positive reinforcement. It’s your responsibility to keep your staff motivated. What’s the best way to motivate them? Bring out their competitive side with contests and coveted prizes? Offer a carrot with a performance bonus? Foster ambition with promotion opportunities? It certainly won’t hurt to try any or all of those options. Or it could be as simple as making a point to regularly let your staff know that they’re doing good work and you appreciate them.

If an employee is underperforming, look to yourself first to find out the cause. Since every employee is a valuable asset to your company, are you doing enough to make sure no employee is left behind?