Is it Better to Have Poor Performers Vs. No Performers in the Great Resignation?

I have heard myself say it over and over to multiple business owners. “In my twenty-plus years of human resources experience, I have never seen a job market like this.” Companies continue to have consistent job vacancies and are struggling to find talent to fill their open jobs. They wish for a magic wand that could be waved so all their recruiting woes would be solved.

But there is no wand. So they put immense pressure on managers and leaders to retain their staff to avoid yet another open spot. This pressure puts the leadership team in a precarious position — which may cause them to back away from handling performance issues with team members who aren’t holding their weight.

So is it better to keep a marginal somebody versus a nobody?

Initially you may say yes. Some help is better than no help at all, right? In today’s times, we may just have to take what we can get. However, that may not be the best decision. Here are the top three reasons why.

Low performers drain high performers. According to recent studies, high performers can outwork average performers 4 to 1. This means one of your best workers can take on the work of four and outdo their efforts. So when the taxing actions of a low performer spill over to a high performer, the high performer’s productivity quickly declines.

High performers are typically the go-to or all-in group, leading by example and encouraging others. If they become strained by the actions of a low performer, they may lose that motivation and set a new, not-so-great example.

Low performers can slow innovation. When a person isn’t giving their best at a position or on a team, they’re probably not contributing to new ideas or adding a fresh perspective. When they are just “filling a seat,” that’s probably the most you will get out of them… a placeholder.

Low performance can spread like a virus and infect your culture. High performers are engaged and motivated when they work with other high performers. They feed off of each other’s energy, innovation, ideas and efforts. They thrive where others thrive.

Likewise, low performers can breed more low performers. When your high- or average-performing employees see the bare minimum as acceptable, they quickly begin to lose motivation. They see the low performer doing the minimum and getting all the same perks, and possibly the same pay — and that disincentivizes them. Ultimately, it creates a culture of mediocrity and slows productivity, which affects the organization’s bottom line.

So what’s the best way to handle your low performers in this overwhelmingly competitive job market? We obviously cannot fire them all.

  • It starts with hiring. Keep your standards high even when the pool is a puddle. If you settle for just a body, the likelihood of that individual being a high performer is significantly reduced.
  • Ensure that employees have a clear understanding of the job, and help managers hold their people accountable to those expectations. Be ready to back them up when their team members begin to slip and aren’t living up to standards.
  • Coach employees and do it regularly. Make sure they have all the resources and tools to do their jobs at their best level.
  • If it gets to the point of no return, cut your ties. Sometimes you have to lose one to save the rest. It may temporarily increase the workload, but it will lower the stress level overall.

It’s a tough balancing act in the face of a tough hiring market. The employers who come out ahead will be the ones who work toward positive employee engagement. An experienced HR consultant is also a great resource to help you in these efforts.


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