What Do You Do With Employees Who Can't Keep Up With the Workload?

Organization is the key to tackling a heavy workload.
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When someone in the office is consistently unable to complete her workload, it can send a sinking feeling through the department. Missed deadlines, falling behind on projects and slacking on client proposals affects everyone on the team -- whether sitting in a cubical or the corner office. However, there is hope for a changed situation if the appropriate plans and procedures -- from either yourself or human resources -- are put into place early enough.


    Call a meeting with the employee immediately. Ask where is she on projects and daily tasks, whether she needs help and whether there are problems that prevent her from meeting deadlines. Perhaps her problems are legitimate, and even Superwoman would have a hard time powering up to the workload. According to Professor Laura Punnett of Work Environment at The University of Massachusetts Lowell, an employer's policies can actually promote unhealthy workplace behaviors and it benefits employers to know what the employee is feeling. When an employee is confronted about a problem and offers possible solutions, it works to everyone's benefit.

Personal Plan

    Take notes during the meeting and assure the employee you will get back to her within a day. Create a personal plan for the employee that re-defines what the job entails, gives a protocol for mini deadlines throughout a project, and offers additional help through classes or job-related enrichment activities. Put together a timeline of what duties and tasks are expected to be completed and give explicit deadlines. Go over this plan with the employee and have her sign an agreement. Make sure you give a copy to human resources for the employee's folder.

Offer Extended Help

    When an employee admits to personal problems getting in the way of work, it is a good idea to involve the human resources department. Emotional support, advice and an explanation of any psychological benefits the company offers should be offered to the employee. This acknowledgement is also a way to document the employee's situation and possible reasons that the work is not getting done. With the proper guidance and professional counseling help, an employee is likely to feel better and roll those feelings over into workplace satisfaction.

Set Consequences

    It's crucial to enlighten the employee about the severity of the situation. In discussion and on paper, state in simple language what will happen if she fails to improve her productivity. Spell out how and when you will check and document whether or not the work is completed efficiently and accurately. State explicitly how many chances she will get, and in what amount of time, before her job is terminated for failure to keep up with the workload.

End Employment

    No one wants to think that a once-dedicated employee can suddenly become disgruntled. However, this can happen in the workplace when employees are caught off guard with what they perceive to be an unfair firing. Be sure to work closely with human resources so that terminating this person's employment will not cause a court order. If you time the firing so that others are away from the office, the employee has a better chance of walking out with an intact ego. While it is important to allow the employee time to express feelings and ask questions, stay on topic and keep the meeting brief. Simply state the decision to fire, show the necessary documentation and explain any remaining benefits to the employee.

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