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BFS Capital Blog

How to Handle Unproductive Employees

June 20, 2017

Faked enthusiasm is a dangerous thing.

While some of your employees might pretend to love where they work, there’s a good chance at least a few of them have completely checked out mentally.

The problem with this is that it creates an issue for you, forcing you to figure out how to deal with unproductive employees. Just how widespread is this type of problem?

A study from Gallup found that less than one-third of workers are engaged with their work. And while that may not be an epidemic at your company, chances are that you’ve got a few employees who just don’t care enough to pull their weight.

One option for dealing with unproductive employees like this is simply to let them go. However, as a business owner, you know that firing people is expensive and training new employees costs even more. So how do you get workers who seem unmotivated to be more productive? There’s no sure fire way, but here are some helpful hints on how to handle unproductive employees.


Address Unproductive Employee Issues Immediately and in Person

You might be tempted to wait until it’s time for your employee’s review to address the lack of productivity or other issues, but putting off this discussion never solves anything. Address the problems as soon as you recognize them.

Additionally, when possible, schedule a meeting to discuss issues in person instead of addressing the issues via email. If an in-person meeting is impossible – like with a remote employee or road-bound salesperson – schedule a phone call instead. Video-based applications work great for this purpose as well, enabling you to have some face-to-face interaction even if the unproductive employee is actually hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Get to the Root of the Unproductive Employee’s Problem

During your meeting with said problematic employee, before anything else find the root of their unproductivity. There may be a reasonable reason why your employee is unproductive and, in fairness, you should give them the benefit of the doubt. This issue may be organizational, which means it’s something you need to fix. Or they may be unmotivated by their current assignments, or may just be plain lazy. And once you’ve identified the root of the problem, spend time with your employee to figure out the appropriate solution.

Keep in mind that the root of your unproductive employee’s problem may actually be non-work related. For instance, the person may be struggling with a dying parent, a sick child, a pending divorce, or any other number of home issues, rendering him or her to care less about the job than normal. In cases like this, a little understanding may go a long way.

Plus, if you offer additional employee benefits such as reduced costs associated with counseling or therapy, this would be a great time to share this with your employee. Remind him or her that these services are a benefit of employment. If they choose to take them, this could help with their productivity issues. At a minimum, knowing you’re on their side may just boost their productivity, too.

Make Changes to Your Business If Needed

After you’ve met with the employee – and presumably agreed to keep them on – you’ll likely need to make some changes on your end as well. If you found out that your employee thought his or her talents weren’t being used appropriately, you may need to reassign some tasks, or restructure roles around the office. Take some time to assess who in your organization has the best skill sets and assign tasks accordingly.

Another option is to provide him or her with a mentor from within your company, someone who can offer valuable tips and tricks for getting more done in less time. Dealing with unproductive employees in this manner enables them to get the help they need while still allowing you to boost your productivity, making it a win/win.

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate Your Unproductive Employee

If you found your unproductive employee felt overwhelmed, break their tasks down into smaller, more manageable tasks so they can complete them more quickly and feel more productive. Beyond that, work with the employee to set achievable goals so he or she gains an even greater sense of accomplishment. And as they reach more of those goals employees will be motivated to stretch even further.

Obviously, you’ll want to offer rewards for these goals too. But don’t just set them for the unproductive employee, set them for the entire company. If the employee doesn’t reach those goals, he or she will see others receiving incentives for their productivity, and should be even further motivated to work harder.

Additionally, do what you can to create an enjoyable work environment. Whether this means frequent company outings or just a light-hearted corporate culture, employees will be far more motivated to be productive if they like where they work.

Finally, once you’ve identified the problems, set goals, and adjusted your organization accordingly, sit back and see if things get any better—and if your unproductive employee starts to step up to the plate. If the changes made don’t improve productivity, it may be time to cut your losses and look elsewhere.

Unproductive employees aren’t always fixable, but they’re not lost causes either. Following these guidelines should help you manage them as best you can, and hopefully one day you’ll find that once-disengaged employee is now your biggest star. This will turn your question from one of, “How do I deal with unproductive employees?” to “How do I reward my staff for a job well done?” That’s a great thought, isn’t it?