Has someone been on your team so long that their performance is tanking and they appear to have stopped engaging in the relationship?

As one client described it to me: “I’m surprised to be feeling so dissatisfied — so frustrated! I tried to overlook what seemed small and petty because I didn’t want to be a control freak or a micromanager. But now it’s too much — he’s falling down on the job and doesn’t seem to notice or care.”

Start with a Self-Assessment

manage-employee-in-slumpBefore you approach the slumping employee, check yourself for the same symptoms: boredom, resignation, or withdrawal.

The fact that you feel fed up now doesn’t necessarily mean the employee is truly underperforming or even creating a problem. Have you always disapproved of this behavior, or is it a recent development?

Were you hesitant to have a hard talk with the individual because you didn’t want to rattle or disrupt this otherwise good employee? Have you tried unsuccessfully to “send a message” in previous conversations, but find that you now feel unsure about how to have another discussion without sounding too harsh?

Ask yourself: “What have I contributed to this problem by not speaking up or by wishing it away?”

Avoid Unilateral Action

Don’t launch into a critique before you get the employee’s input. Your resentment or concern might come across so strongly that the person is afraid to approach you about what’s really going on. Or maybe the employee thinks that everything’s perfectly okay with you because you’ve never said that it isn’t.

It’s time to stop talking to yourself about this! You need accurate data — not just conjectures and conclusions based on both sides of the conversation you’ve been holding with yourself.

Get the Employee’s Perspective

Even if it makes you nervous to do it, open the conversation by asking if anything about their situation has changed. You’ve let down your end of the relationship by not keeping close enough to know, so listen hard and openly to their answers. Perhaps there are problems at home, or something in the work environment or departmental relationships is causing tension or distraction.

Describe the Employee’s Recurring Behaviors

It’s not fair or productive merely to express your reaction. Back up your concerns with specific examples of the behavioral patterns you’ve observed and the business impact of those patterns. Be explicit about the difference between the behaviors you prefer — which you can legitimately express — and work requirements that the employee must honor.

Focus on the main issue, its negative effects, and how the employee can improve; don’t pile on every single thing that’s irritated you over the last six months or so.

Know Your Options

Declare that your purpose is to bring things back into balance and ensure mutual success. Basically, you’re getting yourself back on track so you can help the employee do the same. Create a joint follow-up process and make it part of your regular work relationship, including sufficient face time to make sure you’re interacting well again.

Check with your HR department for any context about the individual’s personal or work life. HR should also be able to advise you about how to proceed with additional coaching or counseling once the relationship is reestablished.

If you notice that you’ve already given up on the employee, what does that say about your loyalty and your leadership? No matter what has changed on the employee’s part, if you’ve let the relationship go bad on your watch, then it’s your responsibility to get it working again.