Underperforming staff members can really let the team down, both in terms of the slack they leave behind, and the associated drop in morale. Similarly, a toxic employee can wreak havoc on the office vibe.  This often results in other high performing, non-toxic staff (in other words, your talent) becoming disengaged and leaving!

It’s important that you stop this behaviour quickly, so let’s look at how to assess and manage the situation safely and effectively.


Step 1: Assess the employee’s performance or behaviour

Before you approach an employee about their performance, ensure you’re not working on a hunch. Read their job description and assess which points they are achieving, and which are not being carried out. If it’s possible to quantify this with statistics – this will depend on their role – get some numbers down before you sit down with them. This worksheet from the may help you to work through this process.


Step 2: Informal intervention for improving performance and attitudes

Allowing poor performance and toxicity to continue can make it seem normal. To prevent this from happening from the start of the concerns arising, organise an informal meeting with the staff member and address the problem. Don’t allow it to go on in the hopes of natural improvement, as this type of ‘management’ usually makes it worse  – so intervene early.

Ask your employee how they think the problem could be solved. Some coaching or mentoring could be a solution to underperformance, or perhaps the person needs some time out to manage their personal issues. Devise an improvement plan within an allotted time. This gives them the opportunity to up their game and/or better interact with their colleagues before a formal intervention is required. Put it in writing and get them to sign acknowledgement of the plan. Ensure they know that more formal measures will be taken if no improvement is made.


Step 3: Formal intervention

After the improvement period ends, meet with the employee and assess whether their performance got better. If yes, then great! Make sure it continues to stay on a good path following the improvement period by checking in regularly. Some employees will put in extra effort when they feel the focus is on them and drop the ball again later.

If there is no improvement, it’s time for a formal intervention, which, after a fair and reasonable process is followed, may include dismissal. This can be fraught with legal issues if not handled well. On the other hand, if it is not handled at all, you will run the risk of losing good people because of your bad management of this underperforming or toxic staff member. This article from the Employment NZ website describes best practice for managing a formal intervention. You can also approach our team at Freerange Works for help with managing employment issues.


How to avoid hiring toxic or underperforming staff

The hiring process is the key to avoiding having to work through this process. We often hear of managers hiring someone based on their skills and knowledge while ignoring red flags in terms of their personality and attitudes. This is a common problem and one that should be avoided from the start. A potential employee must be a good fit with the team and your culture – and sometimes, the least experienced person will fit better than the most experienced. Knowledge and experience can be gained and taught, while a toxic attitude or a penchant towards laziness cannot.

Get good people on your team from the get-go! Let us help you find the best staff. Email us at