More and more insurance agencies have staff working from home, a trend that picked up steam with pandemic shutdowns and looks to continue with hybrid or flexible arrangements in the future. The silver lining to this forced acceleration is that many agencies strengthened their digital competencies and are more flexible. Studies show that most remote employees do well and demonstrate the same or greater levels of productivity. But people are all different and some struggle with remote arrangements, missing the daily routines and interactions of a physical workspace. That poses a few conundrums for managers: how to deal with underperforming employees you want to retain and how to motivate an underperforming employee who used to be a star performer.
Here are 12 ways to manage work from home agency employees who are underperforming.
- Don’t let problems fester. Even good managers can procrastinate when it comes to having uncomfortable conversations, but left unaddressed, problems don’t go away, they grow. Don’t wait until an underperformance issue gets worse – have the difficult conversation now.
- Don’t assume, ask. There could be many potential reasons why your remote employee is underperforming, and some matters may be easily resolvable; others may be due to problems totally unrelated to work. The right way to get to the root of the performance problem is to ask. Talk frankly about the problem and ask your employee if they are aware of the problem and why they think it might be happening.
- Consider an EAP. Sometimes, family or personal problems drain employee productivity. An employer or manager should not try to play the role of a counselor. An employee assistance program (EAP) can be a great benefit that offers help, tools, and support for issues like grief, family problems, substance abuse, mental health issues, and more. Remind all employees about this benefit often, and if you are trying to determine how to deal with underperforming employees, an EAP can be a useful tool in remediating performance related to non-work problems. See: Employee Assistance Programs: Increasing Productivity and Engagement.
- Review the ground rules. It’s important to set the stage for success by clearly conveying your expectations and delineating the ground rules. Do your employees understand what’s expected of them in terms of work output and how it is measured? What response time standards are? What reports are due and when? Check to be sure that there are no misunderstandings of the employee’s role and your expectations.
- Develop a remedial action plan to address an underperformance problem. An action plan might include training, coaching, an EAP, or any number of steps you establish to give the employee a path to improve performance. Involve the employee in developing the action plan. It should spell out a time frame and include incentives for success and consequences for failure to reach the goals. Make the potential consequences clear in advance, particularly if they might include termination.
- Provide one-to-one coaching. Coaching is great to motivate and improve performance for all employees but can be a particularly effective way to address productivity issues and underperformance. To be successful, it’s a time-intensive process so be sure to commit the time. First, identify the problem to be resolved or goal to be achieved, and share it with the employee. For coaching to be successful, the employee must understand the problem/goal and show a willingness to improve. Set the goal and discuss possible solutions. Establish check in points to monitor progress. See Coaching employees to reach optimal performance.
- Offer tech training and support. Your remote team needs tools to successfully communicate, collaborate, and connect with each other and with customers. You’ve probably identified shared tools, but did you offer the right training, hardware, and support to make the tools work? We’ve all experienced the frustration and havoc that a small tech problem can create. Ensure your tech tools aren’t part of the problem.
- Require the use of computer cameras at meetings. Communication is more than just words, and many emails and conversations can be misunderstood without the accompanying vocal tones and body language cues. Requiring the “physical” presence through a camera can reduce miscommunication and increase interpersonal communication, motivation, and engagement.
- Dig to find the motivational levers. One-size-fits-all incentive programs don’t always work. Everyone is motivated differently. Incentives can be designed for both team and individual rewards. Vary and get creative – it can be money, praise, public recognition, time off, a flexible schedule, or tickets to special events. Learn the key to what motivates each employee to establish effective performance incentives or rewards. Put in a special effort to learn how to motivate an underperforming employee.
- Increase the frequency and style of communications. If you have a remote or hybrid work arrangement, it’s more important than ever to keep people motivated, engaged, connected, and informed. Have both team meetings and one-to-ones. Let employees know when you have “open door” availability. In addition to team meetings, consider quick daily huddles, occasional brainstorming sessions, and brown bag lunches.
- Maintain your insurance agency’s culture. Identifying with your organization and sharing its goals, purpose, and culture are all important to employee motivation. It takes a little more effort to reinforce the agency culture in a distributed workforce but get creative to maintain interpersonal connections. Start each meeting with an exchange of greetings. Set aside time to share productivity tips and solutions to challenges. Humor can be both a stress reliever and a bonding tool so be sure to work in some fun, such as a “bring your pet to work” meeting day. See: 100 Best Virtual Team Building Activities.
- Brush up on employment law. Before you embark on any difficult conversations that could result in discipline or termination, have a conversation with your Human Resource manager or employment law attorney. Ensure that you know your obligations under federal and state employment laws, particularly any that might relate to pandemic related laws that protect employees.
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