How to deal with unproductive staff

By: Leigh Goessl
01 December, 2009

Dealing with an unproductive staff can be a challenge for even the most experienced leader. There could be many reasons that are feeding the productivity problem, and once the issue gets hold, it could be difficult to unravel.

Even one unproductive staff member can lead to a significant issue. If you discover any member of your team is not meeting their normal standards for productivity, this is a situation which has potential to spread like wildfire across the organisation if the underlying problems go unaddressed.

The way to deal with unproductive staff members will vary depending on the reasons leading to the unproductive behaviour.

Here are some good tips to use when trying to address the problem:

Get to the Root of the Situation
This should be the first step to resolving an unproductive staff problem. If the problem is only afflicting one or a handful of staff members, then the reasons may vary. An employee could be having personal problems, or there could be inner conflict amongst a few colleagues, and these issues are leading them to become unmotivated or discouraged in their jobs.

If the problem is with several staff members, this generally means there is a common root cause that is leading employees to feel lack of motivation. In this case, if there is an organisational issue that is a part of the overall problem, you'll need to tackle and fix the foundational issue.

Other problems which may be related to motivation, are individual job related ones. Occasionally someone is hired and the job is a poor fit or the employee's skill set doesn't quite pan out to meet the requirements related to the job; either of these reasons could impact an employee's performance.

The motivation problem could be related to any number of reasons, but once the problem is identified, you can move forward and decide which course of action to take in order to come to a resolution.

Resolution Approaches
One approach, is to get together with the team members having issues, and have a private conversation. Often resolution comes in the form of opening the doors to communication; once communication takes place, more is learned and you can better identify a solution through learning more about the root of the problem.

If the unproductive behavior is caused by personal problems, you can lend an ear and some moral support, of if your organisation has one, the employee assistance program (often referred to as EAP). Support can go a long way for improving morale and, as a result, productivity.

Good managers go out of their way to determine exactly what it is that motivates each individual employee. Some staff members like recognition, more responsibility, less micromanaging, or other intrinsic rewards; whereas others prefer the tangible rewards such as time off, raises, bonuses or even luncheons.

Incentives are another motivational tool you can try. For instance, for every benchmark met, some other kind of reward or recognition is offered.

Rewards are a high motivator, but it is important to match the reward to the employee or else you may not find much resolution. Once you effectively figure out what helps motivate, put them to work and then see if the unproductive problem comes to an end.

Other Approaches
If even after identifying the problem, and trying to offer rewards, productivity doesn't increase, then it may be time to take more drastic measures. Some managers begin to give performance reviews and link this to the permanent employee record. When staff realises their performance is being monitored, this could quickly resolve the problem.

It is important to make every effort possible to reach out to unproductive staff and come to a resolution. While taking proactive steps is more than likely going to fix the problem, chances are you won't get success 100% of the time.

If that is the case, it is important to document the process in case the situation escalates to one that may end up in outright subordination or other bad outcomes. No boss typically likes to fire an employee, but unfortunately this is sometimes a necessary course of action to take, and if this occurs, it will be important to have solid documentation to avoid potential legal problems.

Dealing with staff members who are unproductive is a necessary action. It is best to try and resolve the problem through communication and proactive efforts before taking more drastic measures. Lower production is not a statistic any manager or company wants to see, but the reality is that it does happen from time to time.

When unproductive behavior does occur with staff, the situation has to be dealt with and resolved or else profitability and overall staff morale will be impacted.