What are the Reasons Why Some Employees Fail to Realize Their Potential?

employeesYes, managers are faced with this question all the time – why are some employees, who on the surface seem to have very high potential, frustratingly not reaching it?
And while I realize that workers are a diverse group, and personal reasons play a factor, I think there are clearly certain familiar patterns in observing underperformance and disappointment in the office.
In order to figure out how to best help these employees, it is important to understand the underlying reasons for their poor performance.  Some of the most common factors include:
  1. Lack of Motivation Due to Boredom:  An employee who is not fully engaged and motivated in his/her work is an employee who is usually putting less than maximum effort. It does not make a difference how intelligent, or creative they might be.  It’s important that managers ensure that an employee’s tasks vary periodically, to prevent them from getting repetitive, stale or boring.
  2. Stress: It’s important to make a differentiation here between general stress/pressure at work to perform well (which at a healthy level is pretty normal – who hasn’t felt been stressed at work from time to time?) vs. excessive unhealthy stress levels.  The latter exists generally due to issues outside of the office, but it can occur from office pressures as well.  Whether it’s due to office politics, a fractured or uncommunicative work environment, a string of company layoffs or other factors, stress caused by workplace factors can lead to employees feeling overwhelmed, angry or emotionally unfit to fully reach their potential.
  3. Overwork:  Yes, workers can be accessible through email because of their smartphone or tablet. but it’s critical for managers to recognize clear boundaries between work time and personal time (this applies inside the office as well – if someone is eating lunch or speaking to their spouse on the phone, managers must respect them and wait).  When employees feel as they are working ALL THE TIME, exhaustion and burnout can cause a number of performance problems as well as decreased motivation.
  4. You’re not rewarding them enough: Positive reinforcement falls into two categories.  There is lower, simple level, which includes a simple “this is really great work, well done!” or public recognition visible to other team members.  There is also the upper level, which is the bigger picture of salary increases and bonuses, or opportunities for career advancement.  Even newer techniques like gamification can create a (healthy) level of competition and rewards, such as a free lunch or an extra day off as a reward for high-level work achievements.  All of these increase employee motivation and engagement.
  5. Not enough in-the-moment training:  An employee sometimes isn’t performing well because they are not being given the appropriate tools.   Whether it’s increased access to specific training methods (eLearning included) or inwork, adaptive learning technologies like online guidance software (WalkMe is a good example), employees can never stop learning.  As Einstein once said, “success at work is like riding a bicycle – to keep your balance, you have to keep moving.”  Ok, yes the quote was actually not about success at work, but about life in general.  But you get the point. 🙂

These 4 negative factors can be easily and reasonably fixed.  Talent management professionals and team managers should keep an eye out for them, and empower their workers to reach their true potential.

What other factors play a role in underperformance?  What are some ways to recognize falling behind?  Leave your comments below.

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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