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Unsatisfactory Job Performance

How to Discuss Unsatisfactory Work with Employees

Discussing inadequate job performance with an employee can be difficult. People don't like to be criticized – even if the criticism is constructive or warranted. And what employee wants to redo a project or assignment, particularly if he/she is satisfied with the work? Moreover, managers may feel uncomfortable providing negative feedback to workers, especially if either or both parties cannot properly manage conflict.

The following steps can be taken to tactfully tell an employee to modify or redo an assignment:

  1. Approach the employee in a supportive manner to set a positive tone and preempt possible confrontation, particularly if the employee is difficult to deal with.
  2. Thank the employee for the effort or compliment him/her on any work that was performed well.
  3. Pause briefly to allow the praise to impact the employee.
  4. Suggest exact changes to the work or ask the employee to redo the assignment based on the original instructions.
  5. Encourage the employee to ask questions or provide feedback regarding your suggestions or instructions. (This step might take place when you are providing feedback.)
  6. Assure the employee that you are on his/her side.

This technique is intended to provide important feedback and constructive criticism without demoralizing employees. How well it is received will depend on the employee's personality and receptivity. For example, sensitive employees might view any criticism – no matter how it is presented – negatively and feel a sense of failure or shame. And hostile employees might get immediately defensive, even if you are non-confrontational and pleasant. Conversely, ambitious employees might view your feedback as a learning opportunity, and confident employees might not allow their mistakes or your criticism to negatively affect them. Regardless of the employee's personality, level of confidence, or perception, there will probably be some discomfort in the interaction. After all, no one really wants to be told that his/her work is not up to standard.

One thing, however, is certain: Requesting that an employee redo a task is more likely to be a positive interaction if it is communicated with discretion, empathy, and kindess. This method can also contribute to building and maintaining positive relationships with employees.


Gabor, D. 1994. Speaking Your Mind in 101 Difficult Situations. New York: Simon & Schuster.

© 2014 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.

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