Underperformance is normal, from time to time. We can all have a bad day, week or even year. But don’t just sit back when prolonged underperformance is plaguing your work. But if you’re missing your goals, or struggling with workload. Or something’s happening outside of work that’s impacting your performance. Don’t shy away from it: book a meeting to discuss underachievement with your manager.

If you’re having problems keeping up with the pace at work it may be time to talk about underperformance. It can hit even the most experienced people. For some it’s chronic, and for others, it’s a momentary dip in speed, quality, and care. No one particularly likes having to have a chat with their manager about poor performance, but it’s a vital intervention if you are going to get back on track.


Well, the reasons for underperformance are almost infinite. A frank, open and collaborative chat can help you and your manager get to the bottom of your underperformance. Once you know what’s causing the change in your output, you can plan to fix it, together. Staying silent is a sure-fire way to make your relationship with your manager frosty and heap more stress on the situation. Silence isn’t a sensible option. So, if you think you might be underperforming at work and want to put it right, what can you do? Here are a few tips for when you are preparing to discuss underachievement.

Own up to your underperformance

The first step to remedying underperformance is to recognise when it is happening.

All too often people can be underperforming without acknowledging it or the fact it’s an issue. These people typically don’t want or believe they need any help and can react poorly to any offer of help.

When it comes to underperformance, some tell-tale signs to look out for include:

  • A struggle to achieve personal objectives
  • Making repeated mistakes
  • Issues with tardiness
  • Failing to meet required standards
  • Causing conflict with others
  • Receiving critical feedback from others

If this sounds familiar, it could be you are currently underperforming at work. Read on to see what you can do next.

Be proactive and get a meeting booked to discuss your underachievement

Sooner or later, when you’re underperforming, your manager will book in a meeting to discuss it.  So, if you’ve identified that underperformance is affecting your work, be proactive and ask to have a chat.

Schedule a convenient time and be clear and honest. Say you feel like you are struggling, and you’d like to discuss this with them. Don’t wait for an already scheduled performance review or 1:1 if it’s more than a couple of days out. If you’re noticing a lower than usual performance, chances are your manager is too. You want to get this sorted asap.

Reflect on when your underperformance started

When preparing to discuss underachievement, identifying when any bout of underperformance began can be an extremely useful step. It’s not always that clear, so don’t stress if you can’t work it out. But doing so will help you better pinpoint potential causes.

It may help here to review things like goal progress and any feedback you’ve been sharing through channels such as an employee check-in.

Consider what’s causing your poor performance

Whether you can find a point in time your underperformance started or not, working out causes is the next step to take. Underperformance can be a symptom of a huge range of factors. Some of these are under your control while others are not. For example, a lack of employee engagement can be a huge contributor to underperforming at work. Yet engagement is a complex thing, with most of a person’s engagement linked to cultural and environmental factors. A lack of employee recognition, poor goal alignment, bad communication practices or poor organisational performance can all impact performance, and there is little you can do about them. A study of 1,200 US employees and 1,200 UK employees found that roughly a third (32%) who lacked confidence don’t feel qualified for their roles.

On the other hand, late nights, increased amounts of alcohol, a poor work ethic or addiction to social media are factors that are more under your direct control. Whatever it is that’s causing your underperformance, it’s important to try to understand it as soon as possible when preparing to discuss underachievement.

Brainstorm possible solutions to your underperformance before you discuss it

Once you have a cause or list of potential causes, you can begin to formulate a plan. Your manager will be keen to help and support you here. It could be as simple as a new piece of kit, some training or maybe even just a holiday will sort things out for you. Chances are it will be a bit more complex. The trick here is to work on strategic solutions that will have a long-term impact on any potential blockers.

For example, a lack of engagement will likely require change from multiple people or processes. It might be leadership aligning objectives and employee goals to give better purpose and clarity. Or perhaps more frequent 1:1s and reviews are required in the team. Come to the meeting with a few ideas, but don’t worry about coming up with the final answer yourself – that’s what your manager is there to help with.

Have a think about the support you are going to need

If you can get to the place where you have a cause and some potential solutions, next up is talking about support. It can be incredibly difficult to get out of a prolonged slump of underperformance, so don’t worry about asking for help. Again, your manager is keen to help you out and get you flying again, so ask.

It might be a light-touch weekly catch-up about performance. It might be some training or a workplace mentor. Or perhaps you need some noise-cancelling headphones? Whatever it is, ask your manager to support you where they can. Whilst preparing to discuss underachievement, have a think about some potential solutions and fixes that might help.

The most important tip: be honest

When it comes to the sit-down chat, honesty is your best friend. Sure, it can be difficult to talk about how you’re struggling and why. But your manager can only help when they have a clear picture on what is going on and what is causing your poor performance. Be open. Accept feedback. Don’t take things personally. Achieve these three things and you will be well on your way to putting things right.

Here’s what your manager may ask you in a meeting to discuss your underachievement.