Most managers have some experience dealing with an employee with chronically low productivity. Not only can it be frustrating to you and the rest of your team, but it can also slow down production and even hurt your sales.

The root cause behind low productivity varies greatly among employees. Sometimes they’re genuinely unaware—and sometimes it’s more malicious.

Most people don’t want to work in a hostile environment. But if the frustration of low productivity builds and builds, it can make your work culture very tense and leave the rest of your team on edge.

As a manager, it’s up to you to encourage realistic productivity and foster an environment that supports your employees to do their best work. So, if you have a member of your team who is constantly falling short, it’s crucial that you address their productivity in a positive, healthy way.

Read on to learn more about how companies can manage low productivity employees and get their work back on track.

Set A Productivity Standard

"Small businesses fall into the trap of thinking they don't need the same things they find in big business — formal policies, performance management programs, or even documented discipline processes," Chris Young, director of workforce development at the Texas Department of Transportation.

The importance of this can be proportionate to the size of the company because one employee is a greater percentage of the whole in smaller organizations. So, when one employee falls behind, the impact is more significant.

Other team members might feel the pressure to try and pick up the slack. This can lead to employee burnout or animosity between coworkers.

Many small business managers will be quick to point out the obvious flaw, however. The problem being that small companies don’t have the resources to enforce policies. That’s why experts suggest that small company managers try to implement a culture of productivity instead.

Another step you can do is to simply set an example. Be smart about how you allocate the hours of your own workday; the meetings you attend, emails you respond to, and projects you sign on for. That way, your team can just follow your lead.

Few things demoralize employees more than management practicing “do as I say, not as I do.” As a member of management, you’re being watched and judged. So, if you try to institute a policy, remember that you need to follow it too.

Establish Open Communication

The most crucial step you can take is to just talk to your employees, either one on one or as a team, and emphasize the company culture. Studies show that employee productivity increases in work environments that emphasize relationship building and reward teamwork. Whereas companies that focus on hierarchies and individual success completely derail productivity.

You should also provide meaningful feedback in a constructive manner and on a regular basis.

Feedback is a great foundational management skill. The ability to provide regular, helpful feedback in a manner that encourages, not discourages, is essential. It’s the cornerstone of effective management.

Managers don’t just have negative tools in the tool belt. Positive reinforcement can be more effective than threatening negative consequences.

The National Center for Education Statistics found a direct link between productivity and providing opportunities to receive more education. This can be internal training for possible advancement or cross-training for a different department. Or even tuition reimbursement for outside education if production goals are met.

When employees feel invested in the company, they care more.

Use Incentives

Employees often feel they’re being pushed to work solely to benefit the manager's pocketbook. If this is the case, they will stop working the moment the manager stops looking over their shoulder. The answer to this is not to just micromanage—that will just make the situation worse.

Instead, design economic incentives so employees at all levels of an organization benefit from them.

It's common for management to focus most significantly on the most senior-level financial incentives. While this is entirely understandable, it's best not to neglect substantive incentives for lower-level employees.

The use of performance metrics can help make these incentives more successful.  They communicate to the employee what is important to the company.  As well as determining how and when incentives are distributed.

You can also clarify just how much downtime costs the company. And let your employees know that they make a difference. This is for both successes and failures of the company.

When employees see the bigger picture and what happens beyond their desk, they usually respond. So, if they are having a negative effect on their team’s performance, tell them. It's easy for people to forget that they can have a ripple effect on an entire group.

Start At The Beginning

The easiest way to manage low productivity is to stop it before it starts.  Which can be done by screening candidates for productive traits before hiring.  It just takes some minor efforts and creativity during the interview process.

Before you can identify these traits you first have to define them.  So, what best defines the proper candidate for your organization.  And how do you identify them in your prospective employees?

All recruiters look for specific characteristics based on these defined traits.  The most important and sought after trait being someone who is informed.  In fact, 88% of recruiters and hirers say that is the number one trait they hire for.

There are a number of other traits typically also used to identify productive workers.  For instance: attitude, communication, and positivity are also important.  Choosing a candidate that possesses these traits can help prevent low productivity.

Don’t Be Afraid To Lay Down The Line

No one likes to have to deal with the negative side of being in management. And this has become much less popular than in generations past. But when other methods don’t seem to be working, sometimes your only option is to get tough.

It’s important that each manager strikes a balance between accountability and authority.

Accountability means setting expectations and putting clear, meaningful consequences in place. Positive consequences include constructive feedback, increased responsibility, and simply knowing that milestones and progress are measured. Negative consequences might have to be included as well. Such as having to work late to fix a problem, being denied a promotion, or failing to earn a productivity bonus.

The critical thing to remember is that you can’t go one extreme or the other. There has to be a balance between accountability and authority.

When It’s All Said and Done

The role of management is never an easy one. You must have loyalty to both the company and your employees. And you can’t let either side feel betrayed.

One of the best ways to avoid this is to let the employees know they aren’t alone. They need to understand that everyone there is on the same side, and is working towards the same goals.

If employees don’t feel appreciated or are overworked—or if they feel too relaxed and there is no structure—things can get out of hand. And when that happens, it’s up to management to take control.

For more advice on employee productivity from a panel of small business owners across the U.S., visit The Reboot episode which discusses this very subject.