How to Tell an Employee They Need to Improve

How to Tell an Employee They Need to Improve

Are you wondering how to tell an employee in your organization they need to improve?

Underperformance from employees is a constant headache for employers and even the team as a whole.

You as an employer might be worried about what to do when you have underperforming employees.

It might be causing friction between your staff and affecting your business’ results and work culture.

You understand that if something is not done as soon as possible, the results will only be more disastrous.

So, what do you do? Fire them?

When an individual or group of persons are employed in a position in a business establishment, job performance is deemed of utmost priority.

Each year, a lot of businesses resort to firing employees due to poor performance and/or productivity.

Sometimes, employees also leave their jobs and look for alternatives borne out of the frustration of not meeting up with set expectations and requirements.

However, considering the cost of employee turnover and replacement, coupled with the instability it brings, the loss of employees is anything but satisfying.

The good news though is that it doesn’t have to always come down to firing employees for underperforming.

There is a first step towards addressing this issue and that is letting the employee(s) in question know they need to improve.

This can be a very awkward and uncomfortable conversation for you to have with an employee.

However, it must be done.

In this article, we will see why that is the best option, and how to go about letting employees see the need for improvement.

But first, let us see what areas might need improvements from an employee.

What Employees Might Need to Improve On – Areas of Improvement

How do you know that an employee or group of employees needs to make improvements?

There are various aspects of employees’ jobs and personalities that they might need to improve on.

It could be that the laxity in these areas is beginning to affect business growth, profit generation, or even customer satisfaction.

Sometimes, the problem areas might also be causing other employees certain inconveniences and affecting their output.

In such cases, you have the responsibility of addressing the problem and letting the employees in question know the need for improvement.

Here are some areas your employee(s) might need to make improvements:

Customer Service

One of the areas of business management that cannot be neglected is effective customer service.

Your customers are very important components of any organization and should be treated as the “king” they are.

If you notice that some of your employees are not doing well in the area of customer service, it needs to be addressed asap.

Good customer service goes a long way in customer retention, customer satisfaction, and business growth.

The continuous patronage of your customers is also essential for generating the needed profits for your business.

It can also increase your brand image and reputation if your customer service is at the optimum level.

Therefore, it’s an area that might need improvement for your employees and good reasons.

Leadership Skills 

Another area that should be prioritized for improvement in your employees is their leadership skills.

As a business owner, you cannot be satisfied with employees who are comfortable being only followers and receiving instructions.

Regardless of the level of the employee or their job responsibilities, having leadership skills is essential for every employee.

It helps them be proactive, take on additional responsibility, and also be ready to fit into higher positions at any time.

When they work on developing leadership skills, it can only help your business grow quickly.

Time Management 

Having employees with poor time management skills is detrimental to productivity and output in the organization.

When your employees do not manage their time well, they end up doing very little in a long period of time.

They might also struggle with meeting up with expectations and targets because of this.

However, when you improve employees’ time management skills, they are more productive and efficient.

They are better able to plan job activities and tasks for the day and get more done in record time.

Also, they will understand the need to balance out work and leisure activities.

As such, one doesn’t suffer as a result of the other.

Attitude Towards Work 

One other area that might need improvements from your employees and which shouldn’t be taken for granted is their attitude toward work.

To get the best from employees, they must possess the right attitude.

If employees are not serious-minded, lazy, or lackadaisical towards work, it affects their productivity and job performance.

It can also quickly spread across the entire organization, adversely affecting the work culture.

You cannot develop a business having such a group of employees under your roof.

Hence it might be necessary to have a discussion on improvement in this area with the affected employee(s).

Communication Skills 

When ranking the important skills employees need to have, good communication skills rank right there at the top.

Whether listening, speaking, or writing, having good communication skills is essential for every staff.

Your employees need to be good listeners if they are to understand the viewpoints of their colleagues and you as the manager.

It also helps to be a good listener when handling customers’ issues and complaints.

In addition to that, it is also important to speak well, especially when the employees have to converse with customers.

Written communication cannot also be ruled out, as sometimes the communication internally and with customers involves the use of newsletters, emails, e.t.c.

Interpersonal Relationship/Conflict Resolution

It might also be important that your some of your employees need to improve on their interpersonal relationship.

The best organizations are those where the workers have a cordial and united relationship, and everyone has each other’s back.

If you have an employee who is having a hard time forging a good relationship with his/her colleagues, it’s a red signal.

With such work environments, it is difficult or impossible to grow and also attain job satisfaction for employees.

Hence, when you notice such gaps in your business organization, there is a need to work on improving them.


When recruiting employees to work for your company, one of the qualities to look out for is a great spirit of teamwork.

This is because the best achievements are made by collaborative efforts.

When your employees work together on projects, you get the opportunity to sample many opinions and get unique ideas and approaches.

If therefore you have within your ranks someone bent on doing things their own way and by themselves, it needs to be worked on.

You might have to call such ones to order and help them see the need to improve in this area.


Late coming is an enemy of productivity, creativity, and efficiency a work.

If you have employees that are struggling with being punctual for work or other office events, it calls for improvement.

If nothing is done about this, it can affect the performance of such employees and also the work output.

It can also like other bad attitudes spread across the entire organization and affect other employees who might be doing well at first.

Punctuality is therefore another area deserving of improvement from an employee.


When employees are disorganized, it can affect their focus and job efficiency.

It can also cause a whole of distraction for them at work, and they end up being stressed or spending more time than necessary on a task.

Being organized on the other hand would improve job efficiency and lead to the completion of assignments in record time.

It would as well help employees to avoid constant misplacement of important documents or files.

Additionally, a good organization contributes to a cleaner work environment.

And one both staff and customers alike would love to be.

Stress Management 

Employees must learn how to manage stress.

This is because stress can cause burnout and affect the health of employees.

Having to meet up deadlines, working under pressure, and also multitasking can really take its toll on employees.

When not properly managed, this stress can affect productivity negatively and even cause employees to break down.

The health problems that might result from this cause your employees to miss work for a long time and the business suffers.

Hence, stress management is another area of improvement that you should call your employees’ attention to if need be.

Problem Solving Skills 

Your employees need good problem-solving skills to adequately cater to the demands of everyday work and issues.

When employees have poor problem-solving skills, they are usually too dependent on their employer or supervisors.

What then happens when a superior staff is not available to provide the solution to a problem?

At such times, the employee might let important issues linger unnecessarily, and make matters worse.

Good problem-solving skills, on the other hand, enables employees to quickly identify issues, and proffer solutions to them.

They also have an open mind to look for creative ways to address issues arising in the workplace.

Acceptance of Correction and Criticism 

You as an employer must let your employees know that feedback, correction, and constructive criticism are an integral part of their growth.

When you have employees that do not like being corrected or criticized, it is not a good sign.

It shows that such employees are not humble and it would be difficult for them to grow and make progress.

If you notice this trait in an employee, it is also one that needs improvements, and which you should pay attention to.

How to Tell an Employee They Need to Improve

Now, let us say you’ve done an appraisal of employees and notice that there are one or more of your employees who need to improve in one or more areas.

You have the responsibility as a manager, supervisor, or business owner to let the employee know about this.

Having a performance conversation with an employee needing improvement is anything but simple.

It takes a lot of courage and skill to tell an employee they need to improve and get the needed response from them.

We will consider the steps you can take on having this important conversation with an employee.

These steps will both address what to do and what to avoid to yield good results.

Consider Your Role in the Poor Performance or Attitude 

This is the first step you need to take even before approaching an employee to discuss the need for them to improve.

As an employer, you need to ask yourself honest questions on the role you have to play in the areas the employee is not doing well.

Take, for example, are your employees well informed about what constitutes acceptable performance level or behavior?

Do you provide a condition of service that outlines expectations from employees and what to avoid?

Before confronting employees on the need to improve, have you provided enough support in terms of training to address the issue on the ground?

If you ask yourself these questions, it enables you to have an honest self-appraisal to see if you are actually sharing the bigger blame for the issue on the ground.

When you realize that you are at fault for the poor attitude or performance of employees, you can then take the needed steps before having such conversations.

It is most beneficial for your employees to understand what is expected from them first before questioning them on the need for improvement.

They also need to have received adequate support and training aimed at improving them in such areas.

Additionally, they need to understand the repercussions of poor attitude or performance.

When all these boxes are ticked, it is easier to have a conversation on improvement with an employee thereafter.

Address the Issue as Soon as Possible

Once you’ve concluded that an employee needs improvement in certain areas, do not procrastinate.

Allowing a long period of time to pass by before addressing the issue can give the employee the belief that nothing is wrong with the attitude or performance.

Also, it can affect other team members.

And before you know it, the same thing becomes a norm among all your employees.

That is why promptness is required when you notice that an employee needs improvement.

How to Tell an Employee They Need to Improve – Offer Sincere Commendations

No matter how poorly behaved or underperforming an employee is, there would likely be areas where they excel.

One of the ways to make counsel or correction effective is, to begin with, sincere commendations.

Let the employee know the areas they are doing well, and do not be stingy with your appreciation and commendation for such.

However, be careful not to flatter them, as they can quickly identify flattery and that would defeat the goal.

Make sure you are sincere with whatever commendation you give to the employee, i.e. something they know themselves that they are doing well.

Make it Private  

If the discussion on improvement is on a subject matter that affects everyone in the office, a general staff meeting might suffice.

However, when you want to discuss with an individual employee the need to improve, it is best to keep it private.

The employee will not appreciate it when you publicly tell them where they are not doing well and degrade them before others.

Also, having such a conversation in public might not yield the expected results.

This is because the employee might get more defensive as opposed to being receptive and understanding.

Be Specific 

It would be unfair and counterproductive to discuss the need for improvement with an employee in broad terms.

There is absolutely no way an employee would be performing poorly in all areas of your business.

Hence, simply saying things like: “Your performance is poor or your attitude is bad” can be very ineffective.

Before having that conversation, be sure you know what exactly the employee is lacking and document it.

With that, you can point to specific areas needing improvements when you finally get to sit down and have a discussion with the employee.

This is more effective.

Get Straight to the Point 

A meeting on the need for employee improvement is a serious one and should be treated as such.

While pleasantries and commendations are in order, do not drown the main reason for the meeting with those.

Ensure you get straight to the point and clearly state why you have called them to have that conversation.

Tell the Employee What You Know Personally 

When discussing a performance issue with an employee and the need to improve, ensure it is based on an issue you know personally.

It would be inappropriate and embarrassing to have such conversations based on hearsay or the opinion of other employees.

That is why you need to have a system for measuring employees’ metrics and also be observant of their work ethics.

That last thing you want is holding a meeting on the need for improvement with an employee based on wrong or distorted facts.

It would affect your reputation as an employer and might make you lose the respect of your staff.

Be Respectful and Empathetic 

When discussing improvement with an employee, you must keep your emotions in check.

There might be the temptation to want to be insulting or attack the individual directly based on how you feel.

However, you should make conscious efforts to avoid this temptation.

You mustn’t lose sight of the main goal of the meeting, which is to get a change or improvement from the employee.

The aim is not to punish them or abuse them, and hence you need to show respect and empathy.

When you consider the feelings of the employee and respect them, they are more inclined to be receptive.

Show the Impact of the Poor Attitude or Performance 

If an employee is going to see the problem you are seeing with their attitude or poor performance, they need proof.

You need to show them the negative impact of this on them as individuals, the team as a whole, and the business.

It might help to bring forward data and statistics to prove your point.

When the employee see clearly how their actions or inactions directly or indirectly affect the business, they are more likely to also see a need to improve.

How to Tell an Employee They Need to Improve – Get the Employee to Commit 

Once you are done expressing the problem to the employee and the need for improvement, ensure to get their response or feedback.

You can ask them what they think they need to do to improve.

When you do this, you are getting the employees to make commitments by their own words.

With this, you are more likely to get them to take the necessary action towards improvement.

Since they committed themselves.

Suggest Appropriate Solutions 

It is still up to you as the employer to provide some of the options for solutions.

Before having the conversation, you must have carefully analyzed the problem and consider all possible solutions.

Be sure to provide these recommendations to the employee.

Also, provide practical advice on what they can do to make improvements in the identified problem area(s).

Set Deadline for Implementation and Mention Repercussions 

While you obviously want to be kind and empathetic while having this conversation, don’t mince words.

Let the employee know there is a deadline for when they are expected to make those improvements and you will be watching for changes.

Also, inform them of the consequences or repercussions of failing to make improvements within the allotted time.

This will show you are serious and keep them on their feet.

End on a Positive Note and Follow Up on Progress

The proper way to end a meeting boding on the need for improvement with an employee is by positive commendation and reassurance.

Let the employee know you have confidence in them to make the necessary improvement.

And also assure them of your continued support and help as they work on the problem areas identified.

Let them know they can always come to you if they need your assistance in any way.

Also, follow up with them on the progress made after some weeks or months.

Recap – How to Tell an Employee They Need to Improve 

The largest room in the world they say is the room for improvement.

This is also true in the case of your employees.

Regardless of their qualifications, contributions, and skills, there might be areas an employee needs to improve on.

We have considered some of those areas in this article.

Note that there might be other areas not mentioned which are values of your organization and where you will require improvement from employees.

Whatever the case, once these are noticed, do not waste time in letting the affected employee know about this.

A discussion on the need for an employee to improve might be awkward at times, but it is necessary.

Follow the steps and tips outlined above, and you should be seeing improvements in your employees.