Liz Sheffield

What to Do When New Hires Underperform

After all the effort of recruiting, interviewing and selecting a new employee, it’s understandable to be excited when you finally onboard new hires. Each successful candidate means a fresh face around the office — not to mention an extra pair of hands to keep things running smoothly.

In an ideal situation, your new employee will impress you as much on the job as they did when they aced the interview. But what do you do if your star hire arrives and doesn’t meet expectations? Here are five steps to take when your new employee isn’t quite what you imagined.

1. Allow for an Adjustment Period

It generally takes between three and six months for an employee to fully settle into a new job. If your automatic reaction to the new hire’s initial work is disappointment, consider whether your expectations are unrealistic. No one’s perfect while they’re still getting a feel for things, so don’t worry if they need some time to adjust.

However, if their work still isn’t up to par after six months, you should reassess their performance. Where aren’t they succeeding? Could a lack of clear performance goals or a misunderstanding of your systems and procedures be to blame? Before you hit reset on a new hire, make sure that their manager and colleagues give them the time, support and tools they need to succeed.

2. Consider the Context

Try to identify whether a new hire might be underperforming for other reasons. Did taking this job require a big change, such as moving away from family or leaving their former industry? Were they skipping mental health or other medical treatment because they lacked health insurance before coming to this job? Are there other obstacles outside of work that could keep them from reaching their full potential?

As you communicate your concerns about the employee’s performance, remind them about the full range of benefits you offer. There’s a chance that an employee who’s struggling with something personal won’t feel comfortable confiding in you; however, a robust benefits package can still improve their performance by giving them access to resources such as an employee assistance program, qualified health care providers and wellness offerings.

3. Assess if the Employee Is Coachable

Keeping an underperforming new hire on staff requires extra work of everyone involved with their role. So, when you’re talking with a new hire about not meeting expectations, look for signs that they could be coached.

Do they show an interest in developing their skills? Do they send signals that they’re open to feedback and want to improve their performance? If you don’t sense that they’re coachable, it may be better for everyone if they don’t remain on the team.

4. Evaluate the Cost of a Replacement Hire

Glassdoor reports that it takes an average of 24 days and $4,000 to recruit new hires. Before you fire a new employee, consider the total cost of hiring a replacement, as well as the level of difficulty you’d have finding qualified candidates. It may be worth waiting to see if the employee’s performance improves with dedicated coaching. Compare the costs of development against recruitment to settle on which investment makes the most sense for your business.

5. Adjust Your Recruitment Strategy

Letting a new employee go should be your last resort. Kick recent hires to the curb too often, and the financial ramifications and morale drop associated with high turnover could damage the organization. At the same time, keeping an employee who consistently underperforms has its own problems. The conundrum about whether to fire new hires illustrates why it’s critical to have a solid recruiting and onboarding strategy.

After you make your decision, reflect on what went wrong. Was the employee’s initial training ineffective, for instance, or were you simply targeting the wrong kind of candidates for the role? Think about what skills and traits you value in a candidate and in an employee, and try to spot places where your vision doesn’t quite match up.

Onboarding new hires should make your life less stressful, not more. Of course, you hope every new employee will enrich your business — but, since that’s not always realistic, make it your goal to thoroughly evaluate candidates before bringing them on.

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