Why Are Your Smart Employees Underperforming?


Are you putting too much pressure on the “smart one”?

It can be frustrating to sit by and watch someone with great potential let it fall by the wayside. As a boss, it can be downright troubling. But if you’ve asked yourself why this is happening in your office, you’ve already admitted to being part of the problem, whether you realize it or not.

If this employee really is your “smart employee,” it should be obvious that the work performance issue isn’t because they can’t perform, it’s because they don’t want to. Therefore, it’s time to take a good hard look at your organization and your leadership approach to find out why they don’t want to and how you can improve the work environment for success.  Start by asking yourself these questions:

Are you putting too much pressure on the “smart one”?

When we see potential in people, whether in a business setting or otherwise, we up the ante on what we expect from them. That’s not necessarily a bad approach to take, but it can’t work alone. If you’re counting on one employee to outshine the rest because you know they can, consider   balancing out the pressure you’re putting on them with an ample showing of support. If you let someone know why you expect more from them, they may be more inclined to rise to the challenge.

Is this employee your “go-to”?

It’s hard to avoid in a busy work environment but it’s possible that by earning your trust and respect, this employee also earned a lot of extra work and stress. By seeking them out for extra tasks, responsibilities and even personal help, they might not have adequate time to dedicate to their actual job. If a workload of any combination becomes too large to manage, any employee, even your best, will become discouraged.

Are you valuing their contributions?

This is an important question to look at from two perspectives; the direct manager level (that might be you) and the company level. Everyone who works hard deserves a pat on the back from time to time. To create a positive and effective work environment, a leader needs to encourage and support the people they manage. If you are already a supportive manager, that’s a great start. But if the organization isn’t doing enough to support your employees, you need to advocate for them. Get them noticed, get them encouraged. Nothing stifles creativity and productivity more than underappreciated work.

There are several factors that can contribute to a disappointing work output from an employee you’re confident is capable of more. These questions are a good place to start and will get you thinking in the right direction.


Do you want to motivate and lead your staff more effectively? My executive coaching services can help you hone your leadership skills and clearly define your goals and objectives.

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