7 Reasons Why Employees Don’t Work and What You Can Do About It

In today’s business environment, employee underperformance has become a growing problem and a common topic of discussion among managers at businesses of all sizes. As managers decide to delegate work, frustrations run high as employees are expected to demonstrate good work and know what good results look like.

The reality is, however, different. Employees fail to perform for a couple of reasons, but the main reason for it could be that managers don’t realize that they may be contributing to their subordinates’ lack of performance. Yet it is critical that entrepreneurs and managers understand how to motivate their employees in order to start and run their businesses successfully.

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Here are the seven reasons why employees don’t perform as they should, along with suggestions for improvement that managers will find helpful.

Reason #1: Many employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work

One of the primary reason employees don’t perform well is that they aren’t aware of the work standards they should maintain. Managers don’t help them set goals and thus there is no motivation to achieve them. Without clear guidelines about the expectations, employees don’t feel inclined to take initiative and perform at higher levels.

What to do about it: You can start by clarifying or setting goals for your projects. Define standards and expectations by giving a clear set of targets that are to be achieved. Your team members should know why they have to do a task so that they have that picture in mind and fully understand the importance of their work.

You must make sure that your employees are very clear on what they need to do. The first step is to clarify job titles and provide detailed job descriptions. Employees should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them even before they are hired – at the very first job interview.

There should be clarity on daily tasks needed to be accomplished and accountability processes. Although most jobs require flexibility, employees must be made clear on who should do what.

Hold them accountable for what they do and do so regularly. It’s the only way to ensure consistent performance from your worker.

Reason #2 Employees are hesitant to share their problems

The problem here is that most managers don’t understand how employees think. An employee may need something different from the manager to really understand work processes.

As a manager, you need to first understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members. You must consider how a person works, interacts, what motivates him and how he would want to be acknowledged for his achievements.

It is critical that while understanding your employees, you must adjust your work style to maximise their performance. Is it public praise and accolades that motivate the worker? If yes, then make sure the employee’s project is more out front.

See that the employee is not being pushed to the corner. If you keep assuming that everyone else is like you, you are likely to hit a number of stumbling blocks, and the work at hand will only be delayed.

What to do about it: As a manager, you may want to assign new projects to everyone as per their potential. As long as your employee is growing and stretching, your company will benefit from employee satisfaction and high productivity levels. Bored employees tend to slack on performance. Make sure you are in constant communication with your employees to see if they are challenged enough.

Reason #3 Employees don’t know what’s in it for them

You think your employees are smarter when it comes to perks, but they underperform on company projects? Some people perform well with directives, but most want to know why they are given a task and what it will accomplish. They want to be part of the bigger picture, and would perform at their optimum levels when they develop ownership for the project.

Workplace motivation is important. Workers are motivated by perks, respect and appreciation. If they feel that they are being micromanaged, their creativity and motivation will slack off.

The more you understand what they need, the better the chances of creating the right environment to keep them motivated.
It is important to note the reward system that you set up for your office. Do you provide positive reinforcement for improved performance and good behavior? The more you reward appropriately, the higher the productivity levels.

What to do about it: Managers can give workers the choice to pursue a project that they are passionate about. Not only will they know what they are going to do, but also have a stake in what the final results of their work will look like. Once the goals are achieved, the manager can take time to creatively celebrate the acomplishments and reflect on their employees’ hard work and dedication toward their jobs.

Reason #4 Employees lack the skills needed for the job

The problem here is one of human resources. A new recruit who graduated with a degree in marketing may not be able to deliver in the finance department. When your employees don’t know how it’s done, the most obvious solution is to train them.

Have your subordinates been given an on-the-job training to gain knowledge and develop essential skills to produce the desired output? Also, have the employees been equipped with appropriate tools, resources and support to complete their tasks?
What to do about it: Make sure that your HR get the right employees with the required skillset for a certain position.

Reason #5 Employees not willing to work

Your employee may simply lack the will to do the work that is assigned. There is no simple solution to this problem. One reason behind employees being unwilling to perform at their job could be rapid changes in the work environment.

Consider this – when a business transitions from a small organization to a more professional one, it requires changes in both leadership and employee accountability. Some workers may resist this accountability, thinking that it doesn’t apply to them due to their long time presence within the business.

What to do about it: The manager must make the effort to help employees in making the transition with the business. The workers will then be less disruptive to any changes and hopefully make positive contributions to the success of the organization.

Reason #6 The work environment does not support team effort

It is often the case that while managers don’t encourage individual work load, they don’t encourage team work either. When this happens, any efforts made by employees to form teams result in conflict.

Team work fails as the environment becomes one based on blame. Working together becomes difficult as team members focus more on losses and deciding who is at fault. This also creates an environment of stress.

What to do about it: Managers, at first, must decide on how to respond to the stress created by the lack of team work. A liaison may be appointed to facilitate messages and resources between workers and the manager to ensure the workers feel supported and are able to cooperate amongst themselves.

Reason #7 Your directives don’t line up with their level of capability

You have to clearly gauge the competency levels of your employees before assigning work. If an employee feels that their level of competency is far above that which is required of them, they either think that they are underestimated as subordinates, or that their managers are not up to the mark.

Such beliefs on behalf of your employees are lethal for a productive work environment as skilled workers may lose the motivation to perform well, or they may lose the will to work efficiently.

What to do about it: As a manager, you must always match your directives with how efficient, capable and experienced your employee is.

When employee performances are not up to the mark, a manager may find some solace in the fact that the answer to this problem lies in their own leadership skills.

To create and maintain an environment which inspires better productivity and creativity, strengthen work relationships with your subordinates as it is essential for managers to recognize and respect the differences in work approaches.

Once you create a collaborative environment to work in, your employees’ motivation levels will stay at the optimum without much effort.


The performance of employees and the business as a whole can be significantly improved if managers learn and practice a few simple skills, including how to set clear expectations and motivate employees.  Entrepreneurs starting their own business and first time managers who are not experienced in motivating employees may stand to benefit the most by giving extra attention to carefully using these techniques.

Motivated employees will certainly work more efficiently. But more importantly they will work at a higher level. They will be better team members, work more cooperatively, be more creative, and be more dedicated and committed to the organization.

Taking the time to motivate employees is a critical key to success in business for entrepreneurs and managers. Give it the time it deserves.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs.

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