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4 tips to handle a difficult performance review conversation

July 6, 2022
By Peninsula Canada

Photo: fizkes/Getty Images

An important part of every manager and HR professional’s job is performance reviews.

If it is a positive performance review then the conversation will go smooth, but what if it is a poor performance review? Whether it is about an employee not hitting their targets or about their behaviour, it is essential to carefully plan out how you are going to have that conversation. Otherwise, the wrong things may be said or done.

Andrew Caldwell, HR Advisory Manager, has provided four HR-approved ways to help get an employee back on track and lead them to success.

1. Identify the problem

“When you notice an employee is underperforming the first step is to sit down with them and have an informal conversation to find out if they have a reason for under performing. They might be aware that they are, or they could identify that they are going through a personal, family, or health issue. Some employees feel hesitant to talk to their manager if they are going through a challenging time because they think it might affect their future in the company”, says Caldwell.


Encourage open communication with your employees by having an open-door policy. Reassure staff that anything they share with you is confidential. Provide constructive feedback and solutions to performance issues. If they are struggling with work, offer additional training. If they are struggling outside of work, offer an employee assistance program if you have one, or suggest they seek support from a healthcare professional. Always try to find a way to support an employee when they are going through a difficult time.

2. Improvement plan

In some cases, the employee may not know what they need to improve on. Creating a realistic improvement plan including goals that need to be achieved by a certain date helps paint a clear roadmap for the employee. Once they have a clear understanding on how to improve, then the employer can have regular check-ins to see the employee’s progress.

3. Provide resources and training

When talking to the employee, try to think about the current resources and training they have. Is it enough or do they need more? Make sure to ask what they need so you can support them in any way that you can. If they need additional resources and training, take that into consideration. Take the time to listen to what they need and find a way to help get them on track.

4. Documenting steps

It is best to always document any conversation, or the steps taken, while reviewing an employee’s performance. These can be formally documented or done via email. Keeping a record allows managers to track improvement and to determine what additional steps need to be taken.

Offering rewards to deter under performance

Awards are a great way to recognize great achievement within the workplace. Providing incentives to all employees to meet certain targets or expectations is a great way to encourage great performance.
Additional thought: offering rewards to employees who are over preforming is an effective way to encourage the employee to continue doing the great work they are doing.

Recognizing and appreciating good work keeps staff feeling motivated and valued.

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