Why an Employee’s Poor Performance May Not Be Their Fault

Jason Hanold
4 min readOct 2, 2019


Recruiters and HR professionals aren’t only involved in finding the right employees for a company. In many instances, they’re also involved in helping managers understand what they can do to help employees achieve their full potential.

That’s why it’s important for HR professionals to know the reasons why employees underperform. While there are plenty of cases when an employee’s poor performance is their fault, there are also several instances when a worker isn’t meeting expectations because the organization is failing them. Knowing why this might happen is the key to resolving the problem.

The following are some of the more common reasons otherwise talented employees, especially new hires, may underperform:

Lack of Training or Tools

Potential is important; new hires need to have the ability to succeed on the job. That being said, potential must be unlocked, and this requires proper training. Even the most capable, intelligent employee will work inefficiently, make more mistakes, and generally underperform if they don’t receive adequate training. Additionally, it’s important to ensure that workers have all the tools they need to perform their job responsibilities. Depending on the particular job, this might include access to software applications and other technologies, proper safety gear, or even just enough physical space to get work done.

stress worker

Providing the right training and tools boosts employee engagement; failing to provide these essentials makes employees feel frustrated and unappreciated. Workers are more productive and satisfied when they know they have what they need to complete their work successfully. And obviously, if you don’t give your workers the appropriate tools and resources, how can you expect them to do the jobs you hired them to do? Additionally, in some instances, failing to provide training or tools can create an unsafe work environment or violate industry regulations.

One way to determine if your company is lacking in this respect is to distribute anonymous employee surveys asking workers how satisfied they are with the training and tools the company provides. If a substantial number of survey responses indicate that employees aren’t satisfied, work with managers to identify how training programs can be improved and what tools could boost employee performance.

Just remember to keep any surveys anonymous. That’s the best way to get valuable information. If they aren’t anonymous, employees might fear they can’t answer honestly.

Lack of Purpose

To an increasing degree, employees today don’t just want jobs — they want their work to provide a sense of purpose and meaning. They are motivated to perform their best when they know their work has real value.

It’s crucial that organizations find ways to provide that experience. A good way to start doing so is by identifying how your company’s work benefits people. Keep in mind that you don’t have to run a humanitarian-focused nonprofit to help people. For instance, maybe your company sells healthcare software. You could frequently emphasize to employees (through mission statements in the employee handbook, speeches at corporate events, company newsletters, staff meetings, etc.) that your software helps healthcare organizations save time and money, so they can concentrate on providing better patient care. This messaging helps employees remember that the work they do has a real impact.

That’s just one example; the sense of purpose your company can give its employees depends on what you do. That said, it’s essential that the company makes this connection. Employees who feel their work doesn’t have any meaning or beneficial impact tend to become unmotivated.

Lack of Role Clarity

It’s crucial that employees understand their role on a team. This means letting them know what their job duties are, but also what they aren’t responsible for. Managers should ensure new hires understand how their role relates to others on their team, and more broadly, how their work contributes to the organization’s success. Additionally, it’s important to make sure employees know they will have opportunities to grow at the company. It’s not uncommon for workers to become disengaged when they get the impression they’ll never have a chance to move beyond their current role. During hiring and onboarding, it’s a good idea to ensure a new hire’s manager sets aside time to explain the significance of the position.

Lack of Priorities

It’s not always a bad idea for managers to assign employees more tasks than average. Giving an employee more responsibilities can signal to the employee that the manager thinks they are capable enough to move beyond their current role. It could also make the employee’s work more interesting and mentally stimulating.

However, if a manager does decide to see if an employee can handle more than usual, the manager must clearly explain which tasks are priorities. People often feel overwhelmed and overburdened when they know they have a lot to do, but no sense of what to do first, or how to determine what’s most important.

This doesn’t always mean the manager should simply give the employee a list of priorities. While this can be the right move in certain instances, the employee may feel more engaged if they have a chance to discuss with the manager which tasks are most important. In this way, managers can help employees learn how to independently prioritize their work.

The Takeaway

Most importantly, always remember that poor employee performance can be the result of organizational factors, not merely the fault of the person in question. Especially among new hires, poor performance can signal a lack of training, role clarity, or purpose, as well as other problems that management should address.



Jason Hanold

Executive Recruiter, clients NFL, Google, Patagonia, Under Armour, Gucci, Nike, Northwestern, eBay, UFC, Vail, REI, Electronic Arts, Live Nation, #HR #Recruiter