Managing employee with yo-yo syndrome like pushing rope

Do you hear that loud sucking sound? It’s the sound of your time and patience being sucked down the black hole called: The Poor Performer.  

You know who they are. They are the people who come in late, stretch their lunch hours and leave early. They try to side-step their work and push their share on someone else. They don’t perform up to the standards but they are the first one in line for a raise. After you talk with them, they may get better for awhile but often it doesn’t last. 

Their frustrated managers try to cajole and coach, corner and catch but they end up frustrated. It’s like pushing a limp rope. You have meeting after meeting with the person only to see their good intentions fade away. The only real investment of energy is on the part of the manager. The poor performer seems to be good at one thing…staying ahead of the law. 

Here are some strategies for turning around—or terminating—a problem performer: 

Don’t ignore the poor performer.

There’s a good chance the rest of the team knows exactly what the person has been up to, so if you let it fester, it will only get uglier. If you are starting to hear complaints from his co-workers and you’ve already talked to him several times about the same issue, it’s time to go to step two.

Close in on a poor performer with ever tighter constraints.

A poor performer may have been getting away with her behavior for some time, with no negative consequences. That has to change. It’s time to tell her how this could hurt her. For instance, you can’t recommend the person for a promotion if she has an attendance problem, or the raise she is expecting may not be there if things don’t turn around. Worse, she could even lose their job. Some words that may work for you, “I feel it’s only fair to tell you what the consequences could be if you don’t turn this around. (Insert them.) I don’t want to do that, so please don’t force me to take that action.” 

Don’t chase a poor performer.

Some poor performers leave a meeting like this with promises to improve but can’t seem to pull themselves together enough to make it stick. Managers often fall into two camps: so busy they don’t have time to monitor the person; or so involved they take time to monitor the person’s performance daily. In either case, the poor performer hasn’t taken enough ownership for improvement.  

During the action planning part of your meeting with the employee, ask the person how he will demonstrate that he is carrying out his action plan to improve. Perhaps he can stop in on Friday evenings before he leaves for the day and report on how things are going. Or, perhaps he can write a brief activity journal or report. But make it his responsibility to report to you, not the other way around. 

Don’t tolerate the yoyo performer.

A poor performer, whose performance goes up and down, takes too much time and energy to manage. After a slide or two, the performance problem expands beyond the initial issue to the yoyo problem. At this point, it’s fair to say, “Your performance needs to improve and stay improved. Over the next six months, if you don’t consistently meet the goals we’ve discussed, you could lose your job.”  

Don’t use the team to exert pressure on the poor performer.

This is the chicken’s way out and it does little to get the desired result. In fact, using a team meeting to address one person’s problem, tends to turn the rest of the team against you. For example, “It has come to my attention that some of you are bending the rules about break times and leaving early…”  The entire group is thinking, “Why is she telling us? Why doesn’t she tell Tom? He’s the problem!” Dealing with the poor performer is your job, not theirs. 

Don’t reward a poor performer.

Don’t enable their behavior by delegating more work to the good employees. It let’s them off the hook, reinforces their behavior and drives out the hard working people who are keeping the boat afloat.  

And reconsider your strategy if you are “suspending” poor performers, without pay, when they’ve finally pushed you too far. I think this punishment is counterproductive. This parent/child tactic often provokes the employee to flaunt their “day off” to the rest of their peers…or worse, he or she comes back with a resentful attitude. Instead, consider a “Decision Day,” where the employee is given a day off—with pay—to plan how he or she will turn his or her behavior around. The following day, the person presents their plan. If, the plan fails, they have essentially fired themselves.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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