We’re approaching the time for employee annual reviews. Annual reviews can bring mixed feelings to employees. The dread of confronting and having to look inward to evaluate one’s performance may feel awkward or uncomfortable.

Human Resource professionals don’t want to be the “bad guy” when it comes to discussing shortcomings and unsatisfactory job performance. But ultimately the HR rep is there to protect the companies interests and assist in efficiency, especially when it comes to the staff. Human Resources is responsible for bringing in the right employees, making sure everyone is trained to perform their duties and build relationships with the team

When it comes to annual reviews the majority of your employees will be meeting expectations or even excelling in their positions. But there may be a few individuals who are underperforming. Make sure not to jump to conclusions. We can assume all we want. But we truly don’t know what is going on, without asking.

Here are 20 questions to ask underperforming team members during one-on-one annual reviews.

  1. Are the job duties and responsibilities clear? If the answer is no, explain the details, policies, and procedures so they can correctly complete their tasks.
  2. Is the level of quality that’s required for this work clear? What examples or details can I provide to clarify the level of quality that’s needed?
  3. Am I being realistic of the amount of time you have to accomplish something?
  4. Can I be doing a better job of protecting your time?
  5. Do we need to create a plan to prioritize your time to make sure you have the time to complete your work?
  6. Do you feel you’re being set up to fail in any way? Are management’s expectations realistic and reasonable?
  7. Do you have the tools and resources to do your job well?
  8. Do you have enough context about why this work is important, who the work is for, or any other information that is crucial to do your job well?
  9. Has HR or your supervisor’s management style rubbed you the wrong way? If so, would you feel comfortable offering feedback or criticism to help us improve our working relationship?
  10. Are we following up too frequently with you, that you’re not having the proper amount of time or space to breathe?

Keep in mind, that their underperformance isn’t in regard to their job, but their personal life may be affecting job performance. Be thoughtful and use sensitivity if you decide to ask these questions.

  1. How are you feeling? Are things going well at home or in your personal life?
  2. Do you feel comfortable sharing any difficulties you may be experiences? Is there any way we can assist?
  3. Do we need to reduce your workload?
  4. Do you need to work remotely or in a hybrid setting on a temporary basis?

Finally, It is always beneficial to gauge the employee and see how they evaluate their work ethic, abilities, and responsibilities.

  1. How have you been feeling about your own performance lately? Where do you see opportunities to improve, if any?
  2. Do you enjoy your work? What part of the work is inspiring, motivating, and energizing, if any?
  3. What part of the work do you feel stuck? Is there any work you keep putting off? How can we help you tackle the “hard things.”
  4. What tasks have you felt bored or ambivalent about?
  5. Do you feel you’re playing to your strengths in your role? Where do you feel like there is a steep learning curve for you
  6. Would you say you’re feeling optimistic, pessimistic, or somewhere in the middle about the company’s future?

Be mindful to keep these questions objective. You don’t want to end up in a place of blame or bitterness toward each other. The goal is to reach a place of better understanding.

By approaching the conversation with an underperforming employee with questions to ask, rather than directives or preconceived answers, you are creating a space for that employee to want to change and improve.