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10 Best Ways to Deal With An Underachiever

10 Best Ways to Deal With An Underachiever

From having a conversation to being clear about what needs to improve, here are 10 answers to the question, “What are your best tips for dealing with an underachiever at work?”

  • Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt
  • Set Them Up to Succeed
  • Encourage Underachievers to Strive for the Best
  • Evaluate Leadership Issues
  • Determine the Root Cause
  • Bring Out Their Hidden Genius
  • Verify Their Perspective
  • Differentiate Skill Gaps From Motivation
  • Create an Environment of Accountability
  • Provide Clear Feedback and Support

Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt

Before jumping to conclusions or making decisions about an underachiever at work, have a conversation. For example, have an informal one-on-one with the underachiever to see where they’re at, both professionally and personally. 

informal one-on-one conversation with underachiever employee

Maybe they’re feeling unmotivated at work or maybe there’s something distracting going on at home. Give an underachiever the chance to express and explain themselves before acting hastily.

Set Them Up to Succeed

Own your part in their lack of success. Often, high achievers are ambitious types that will do well with little direction, but they outgrow roles that don’t invest in them. 

On the flip side, an underachiever is often someone completely capable of success, but an organization has not set them up to succeed.

Juan Kingsbury, Talent Strategist, Career Blindspot

Encourage Underachievers to Strive for the Best

My best tip for dealing with an underachiever at work is to encourage them to reach their highest potential.

Underachievers often find themselves in a negative mindset, believing they don’t have the capability or resources necessary to achieve better results. 

It’s important to help them recognize what skills and abilities they possess which can help them excel in their role, as well as create a supportive environment that gives them the confidence needed to strive for success. 

To start, try making sure that your underachieving employee has access to the resources they need in order to excel.

Provide any guidance and assistance they may require along the way—this could include anything from offering technical advice on how best to tackle new tasks or connecting them with specialist mentors who are experienced in the field of their expertise. 

Also, set manageable goals tailored specifically toward helping your underachieving employee reach their full potential.

Travis Lindemoen, Managing Director, nexus IT group

Evaluate Leadership Issues

Self-awareness and accountability are key. It’s possible that you’re the problem. The best leaders routinely discuss results, goals, objectives, and other notable aspects of a productive employee openly in a team environment.

Acknowledge the team members who are performing well and encourage everyone to up their game. Help underachievers understand what they need to improve to boost their performance and help the team be as strong as possible.

Andrew Chen, Chief Product Officer, Videeo

Determine the Root Cause

Try to understand the root cause or underlying reasons for the underachiever’s performance issues.

Are they lacking the necessary skills or resources and do they need more guidance and support? There could be a personal issue affecting their work. By identifying the root cause, you can develop a more effective plan to help them improve.

Also, be sure to let them know they can trust you with the truth. It will be difficult to identify the root cause of the problem if the employee doesn’t trust you.

Kelli Anderson, Career Coach, Resume Seed

Bring Out Their Hidden Genius

Underachievers may not be excited about the work they are doing and, therefore, will deliver the minimum. A good leader will work with them to find out what they are passionate about. 

One on one meeting with underachiever employee

If leaders focus on the negative with no interest in digging or mentoring, they will continue to see less-than-optimal results. 

When an employee comes to work, bosses, and teammates may only see one side of the individual. There could be other things going on in their lives that are impacting their performance in the workplace. 

Without getting too personal, a good tip is to sit with the employee and find out what they like and don’t like about their job. Set goals and get them to agree to the goals that are mutually set.

Verify Their Perspective

Does the employee clearly know what their performance metrics are? How do they regard their performance? 

Use open-ended questions to determine if he or she understands their role and what’s expected quantitatively. You may come to realize that they are doing as much or more than others already.

Dakota McDaniels, Chief Product Officer, Pluto

Differentiate Skill Gaps From Motivation

It starts with leadership accountability for the performance of their team, and the first thing is to look at whether the team member is dealing with skills or a motivation gap in their performance. 

Skills gaps are where the work is not aligned with their capabilities. This is easily addressed proactively by analyzing future needs and empowering the team member to address gaps.

Strength-based leadership is critical, where instead of forcing someone to work on their weaknesses and penalizing them, we clearly define their strengths and leverage them. 

Team leader explaining skill gaps

Motivation gaps occur when the team member has the right skills but the performance is sub-optimal. This is often due to poor organizational effectiveness, constantly changing requirements and other chaos at work.

Home-life implications mean we should address the personal as well as the professional to achieve the best outcomes. 

Both skills and motivation need to be addressed with proactive, empowering leadership, not penalizing and reactive.

Michael Woudenberg, Chief Innovation Officer, Polymathic Disciplines

Create an Environment of Accountability

Set expectations, and provide support and resources to help, but don’t try to “fix” the underachiever yourself. The best way to handle an underachiever is to create an environment of accountability. 

Establish clear goals and metrics, provide feedback on progress, and hold them accountable for meeting their goals. If they aren’t making progress, and you have done everything in your capacity to assist them in reaching their goals, it may be time to part ways.

Provide Clear Feedback and Support

Dealing with an underachiever at work can be challenging, but my best tip is to provide clear feedback and support.

It’s important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding and to help this person understand the impact of their actions on the team and the company.

Manager sharing feedback with junior employee

Talk to the underachiever to understand why they are not meeting expectations. Is it a lack of skills, motivation, or resources? Be clear and specific about what needs to improve. Avoid vague or general feedback that can be difficult to act on.

Provide the underachiever with the support and resources they need to succeed. Let them know that you are invested in their success and are there to support them. Check in regularly with them to track their progress and offer additional support.