18 Crucial Questions To Ask An Underperforming Employee  

An underperforming employee can be a detriment to the company’s success if not handled with care. You can choose from several ways to handle such a worker, but having a conversation with an underperforming employee is usually the first step. The following are 18 questions to ask an underperforming employee so that you find the right problem resolution:

1. Are You Happy Working Here?

Happiness should be a topic within the first round of questions to ask underperforming employees. If a worker is unhappy with any aspect of the job, the likelihood of poor performance increases. Some of the top reasons for unhappiness include:

Low Pay

Not earning enough to pay one’s bills can cause discontentment and a feeling of fruitless labor. A worker’s performance can suffer immensely because of it.

Challenging Interactions

Negative distractions can also cause a worker’s performance to go downhill. It may seem almost impossible for that person to get anything done because of the drain on his or her energy. Thus, it’s important to ask that question to get a good idea of the workplace’s dynamics for that person.


In some cases, workers are disappointed because the job tasks don’t align with the description or the opportunities aren’t available as the individual would like. That issue can cause subpar performance as well.


You might find that the worker with low performance is experiencing some sort of mistreatment on the job. Experiences such as harassment, humiliation, ridicule, etc., can have a negative effect on one’s psyche. Those are the main reasons asking an employee if he or she is happy is crucial.

2. Did You Receive Adequate Training?

questions to ask an underperforming employee

All too often, workers get thrown to the wolves without receiving an adequate amount of training. Thus, improper training is the first problem to suspect if your underperformer is a newer employee.

Seasoned employees who suddenly show bad performance numbers may have something else going on in their lives, and it might only be a temporary issue.

If you find that the worker has not received adequate training, you can work something out with that person to encourage improvement. For example, you can offer the employee additional training or other types of learning, like self-directed online modules or webinars.

Sometimes, all it takes is a wee bit of extra care to boost a worker’s knowledge or refresh an already existing skill set.

3. Are You Experiencing Stress at Work?

There’s a reason why stress and mess sound similar. Stress can produce many negative results, like low productivity, resentment, emotional withdrawal, and abrupt resignation.

It would be worth it to ask the employee if any stress exists and then try to get to the bottom of it. The worker might be forthcoming enough to give you a clue about what’s going on so that you can help resolve it.

4. Are You Unhappy?

This question is not the same as the above-mentioned question. It’s an inquiry into the employee’s overall well-being and not just the workplace end of it.

Once you approach this subject, you’ll then need to know what questions to ask an unhappy employee. That way, you’ll know if you can help that worker and what you’ll need to do if you desire to assist that person.

5. Do You Need Assistance?

questions to ask an underperforming employee

The above question might lead to a more in-depth discussion of the employee’s needs. Assistance can be anything from training resources, to financial help, to life and mental health resources.

You must ensure that you convey a sense of compassion and empathy when asking questions and suggesting solutions. That way, the workers will know that you care about them as a person.

6. Do You Have Any Questions?

This question allows the worker to tell you what the problem might be without seeming like you’re speculating. Usually, the worker will bring up questions that pertain to his or her area of struggle. For example, the person might ask a question about quotas if that area is problematic for that person.

7. Are You in Pain?

An underperforming employee could have a medical issue causing discomfort. That discomfort might be significantly affecting the individual’s job performance. Some workers keep that kind of information to themselves because they fear losing their jobs. However, you may get the person to confide in you during a one-on-one conversation so that you can better assist.

8. How Can We Help You Improve?

This question will open the door for discussion and possibly help you develop an effective employee performance plan. The plan will address the worker’s voluntarily disclosed issues and give you something to work with when creating training plans and strategies.

9. Are You Having External Issues?

External issues can take a toll on a worker and cause performance to suffer. Issues like relationship problems, declining health, or family deaths can make working challenging. If the worker opens up to you, you’ll be able to provide that person with some tools to succeed.

10. Do You Align With Our Core Values?

You need to determine if the employee believes in your company’s mission statement and agrees with your core values. It will be very difficult for a worker to push himself or herself if a lack of respect exists because of differing values.

11. Do You Understand What We Expect of You?

questions to ask an underperforming employee

It’s possible that the employee has no idea what the company expects of him or her. A performance meeting is a perfect time to discuss those elements. You may need to re-explain the company’s expectations, metrics, or some other element of performance goals.

12. Where Do You See Yourself in One Year?

The above question is an excellent one to ask an underperforming employee because it will let you know where that person’s head is. An employee who doesn’t look at the job as a long-term endeavor is unlikely to put 100% effort into his or her work. In those situations, you might have to find alternative ways to motivate those types of workers.

13. Will You Commit to Improvement?

Ask the employee if he or she would be willing to commit to a performance improvement plan. A PIP is a straightforward action plan with a “by” date that you and the employee create together based on the available information.

There’s a strong chance of seeing improvement if the worker commits to the plan. You’ll just need to know which questions to ask during a performance improvement plan discussion to create the most effective program.

14. Do You Understand How to Do the Job?

This simple question can reveal quite a bit of information. Ask the worker if he or she knows how to do the job and then follow up with a request for a verbal or physical demonstration. That will reveal whether or not the individual knows the job. Then you can work together to fill in any gaps that exist.

15. What Do You Like Most and Least About the Job?

This question will shed some light on what might be causing the performance issues. It might also open the doors to opportunities that might bring forth a better performance from the individual.

16. Are There any Major Concerns?

Ask the worker if he or she has any concerns that prevent the person from doing the job. They might have safety concerns, health concerns, or some other issue that hasn’t been addressed yet.

You can ask to get a better understanding of why the employee might not be doing the best job possible. Then you can help that worker find a solution that can work.

17. Is the Job Boring?

questions to ask an underperforming employee

A bored employee can sometimes be a demotivated employee. Therefore, you might want to ask this person about his or her level of interest in the job. It could answer the question of why that person’s performance is lower than you would like to see.

If the worker is bored, you might be able to find something else for him or her to do. A reassignment might uncover some talents you didn’t know about and produce results you didn’t expect.

18. Do You Feel the Job Utilizes Your Strengths?

In some cases, management doesn’t understand the worker’s strengths and doesn’t currently use them at their highest capacity. The worker is instead using other skills that may not be as developed or as dominant as the others. The skill mismatch can cause a problem with authority and performance.

Having an equal-level conversation with the worker will most likely bring light to that issue if it exists. You can then put your two heads together and try to think of something that will produce better results, unless the business needs the worker in his or her current position.

Now you know how to ask employee to improve performance. By asking an underperforming employee the above-mentioned questions and some additional ones, you can pinpoint the reason he or she isn’t working up to par and help that individual get better at the job over time.

Read More:

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

No Comments

    Leave a Reply