Reinvigorate an underperformer’s passion with effective communication

Lazy employees are problematic for managers. They destroy team productivity and morale, and they can create feelings of distrust, between colleagues and the team and its manager. As other employees pick up the slack, anger with the lazy employee grows. You’ll need to rebuild trust to take your employees from conflict to collaboration. Meanwhile, you risk your team splitting apart, and your best people searching for more satisfying roles elsewhere – most likely with your competitors.

In this article, we describe how to motivate lazy employees with feedback. This should help you transform lazy employees into productive members of your team.

Why are some employees lazy?

Often, laziness is caused by boredom. A talented employee loses motivation to work hard. A previous good work ethic ebbs away, because they are no longer interested in their work. If this is the case, providing new challenges could re-motivate the employee.

It’s important that you understand why an employee is lazy, to decide what action you need to take.

Consider your options

A good manager should discuss his or her options with Human Resources, ensuring that company policies and procedures are followed. Specific examples of poor attitude and underperformance should be documented – essential when discussing performance with the employee. Providing the lazy employee with effective feedback is the key strategy in avoiding termination.

Addressing lazy performance

In a one-to-one, explain to the employee exactly how they are underperforming. Give examples, ensuring that the issues you have are work-related and not because of a clash of personalities.

Be prepared for underperforming employees to get defensive and make excuses for not measuring up, but don't allow them to distract you from seeking to resolve their performance problems. Take a carefronting and not confronting approach to your discussion.

Conduct the conversation with strategies of giving feedback effectively:

  • Be clear
  • Be specific
  • Be non-judgemental
  • Provide actionable measures to move forward

You must give the employee the chance to respond. Ensure that you listen to what they say. It may be that there are issues in the employee’s personal life that have caused performance drift.

Be positive about the future

As you discuss performance and expectations, and listen to explanations, steer the conversation toward the future. Together with the employee, create a vision of the employee’s vision and help them learn how it aligns with the company’s vision. The focus should be on re-engaging the employee with work.

Allow the employee to describe what they see as acceptable behaviors and ensure that these match your expectations.

Develop measurable goals and reward progress

With the employee, develop milestone goals to reinvigorate the work ethic that has evaporated. It may be that the employee has become disengaged because of a lack of new challenges. This is especially the case if the employee is expected to do the same tasks day after day.

Providing new tasks and challenges, which improves the variety of each working day, could reignite the interest that once fuelled the employee’s enthusiasm.

Set objectives for the employee to achieve, ensuring that each can be measured. Be open to further discussion, helping the employee to overcome difficulties that they may encounter upon request. You may have to provide more supervision and become more visible to the team.

As each goal is achieved, ensure that you provide more feedback and recognise the efforts that the employee has made to date.

Training issues

Another reason an employee may be underperforming is that they have not received adequate training to do the job expected. Ensure that you discuss additional training needs, and agree on a program that builds on the employee’s talents and enhances their task-related capabilities.


A motivational workplace enthuses people to perform with the work ethic you expect. It encourages them to work harder, develop their skills, take on new tasks, and collaborate with their colleagues. Integral to workplace environment is the manager. In a 2017 study of one million employees in the United States, Gallup found that the number one reason why people quit their jobs is a bad manager or supervisor.

By taking a proactive response with lazy employees, communicating effectively when providing and receiving feedback, and working with the underperforming employees to reinvigorate the enthusiasm they once had, a manager will be more likely to develop high-performing teams.

Contact Primeast today to discover how an Emotional Intelligence course will help develop the communication skills of your managers, team leaders and supervisors.

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