Kabir L.

Community Manager
April 26, 2022

Not Meeting Expectations at Work: How to Improve Your Performance

not meeting expectations at work

The New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment identified seven drivers of workplace productivity in its Workplace Productivity Agenda. The drivers include building leadership and management capabilities, creating a productive workplace culture, encouraging innovation and use of technology, investing in people and skills, providing a structure and process with which to organize work, promoting networking and collaboration, and measuring what matters.

Sometimes, it can be challenging to know if you are underperforming at work. It is also difficult to talk to your manager when you feel you are not cutting it. Therefore, it's essential to address underperformance at work as fast as possible.

Here are some reasons you may be underperforming at work:

  1. Your style differs from your manager’s requirements.
  2. Your goals are not aligned with your organization’s.
  3. You do not prioritize your work well, leading to gaps in execution.
  4. You do not set good boundaries at work.
  5. You lack motivation or interest in your work.
  6. Your skillset has stagnated over time.
  7. Your work environment is unsafe.
  8. You struggle with mental wellness challenges.

This article will go over the reasons for underperforming and what you can do to remedy your situation.

Signs of Underperformance at Work

If you feel you are underperforming at work, the first step is to figure out whether you are really underperforming or if you feel like you are underperforming.

If you have received definitive feedback that you are not performing well, then there are two paths you may go down:

You may disagree with the feedback and feel like you are not underperforming.

It is possible that you are right and are being misjudged. Alternatively, you may have a blind spot regarding the gaps in your performance. Negative assessments of our work threaten our identities.  They raise fears about our competence, our appearance to family and peers, and our economic future. 

You agree with the assessment.

 If you agree with the assessment, then it is a simple matter of assessing the feedback and developing a plan to address it. 

It is important to note that even if there is not a gap in your performance, being perceived as having a gap is still a problem. Therefore, it must be addressed to improve your performance at work. For example, if the feedback you got is that you are often late to work, then it may be worth exploring why your boss thinks you are late.

Why do employees fail to meet performance expectations?

Lack of Prioritization Skills

One of the most critical skills at work is prioritization. The primary goal of a company is to generate revenue to sustain itself and grow. Therefore, companies will try to get as much value from an employee as possible, which means you will always have more work than you can handle. 

Therefore prioritization skills are one of the most valuable skills in a company. Most employees do not get formal training in prioritization. It is primarily taught in project management and business administration courses.

Check out our article about decision-making and prioritization to learn more.

Your Goals are Not Aligned

Aligning yourself with your organization’s priorities is crucial to improving your work performance. You can put your best foot forward when you know which direction to move in.

The workplace has a set of goals and values at each level. We can roughly divide them into the following categories:

  • Corporate values and goals
  • Group or team goals
  • Your values and goals

Now and then, you can even ask yourself the question, why does your job exist? How does your work relate to the goals of the company or the goals of your specific team?

When you work for someone, they have a say in your priorities. Therefore, you need to make sure that you are on the same page about the work that is best suited for you. You can ask them the following questions to align with your goals:

“I think A is more important than B because of X, do you agree?”

“After I complete B, I will work on C next. How does that sound to you?”

Top employees do the most valued work in the organization. If you consistently create value, you will get rewarded. Having clear priorities can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed. You know what to focus on at any given moment. Dealing with uncertainty becomes more manageable.

Job Bleed

Over time, an employee will be asked to do more and more. If we think about a range of employees in terms of “team players” – the team players who don’t complain are more likely to get asked to do more, whereas the boundary setting employees get asked to do less. 

It may come with the perception that your manager notices that you are always willing to do more, but that doesn’t translate to promotion or raises. Often, managers miscalculate the workload of their employees. However, employees also often miscalculate how much they work compared to their peers. Like dishes in the sink, everyone feels like they do more than half of the dishes.

Be aware of how your job bleed has changed over time, and simply document what you do. When promotion or raise time comes, present everything you’ve done to make a strong case.

Many people feel like they need to say yes to every piece of work they get, but that is not true. You can set boundaries with your manager. However, if you struggle with setting boundaries, then it's likely that people will keep giving you work that you cannot keep up with. As a result, you will become overwhelmed and not be able to meet expectations at work.

Style Mismatch

A change in style can solve many “performance” problems. Sometimes, the problem in performance is not due to the work not being good enough. Sometimes, the problem is that the work is not in the style that your supervisor wants it to be.

For example, if the feedback you got is that your weekly status reports need to be improved, then you may feel wronged. You may be sending the status report on time every week.  However, the boss feels that there is a problem because the report does not meet their needs somehow. 

It may be that you and your boss have very different styles.  Your boss may want a high-level summary, while you may want to share details to feel that it is complete.

Lack of Motivation

The idea that a person needs to have a high internal drive towards their work is misleading in some ways since most people romanticize this notion and expect themselves always to be motivated. When this doesn’t happen, they feel like something is wrong with their job. However, if a person lacks motivation frequently, this needs to be examined in more detail since there can be multiple reasons.

The primary purpose of jobs is to provide adequate compensation to the employee. This compensation can be external, in the form of money, or internal, in the form of satisfaction. If you are feeling unmotivated at your workplace, you should check whether your job meets your needs and you are being compensated adequately for the effort that you are putting in. 

If you get paid well, it is worthwhile to examine whether your values align with the values at your workplace. Also, see if your talents get utilized and if you fulfill any of your passions through work. A clash between these can often cause a lack of motivation. 

Other things that may contribute to this include the work environment being unfulfilling. You may want more direction in your work. You may also feel like the work you are required to do too complicated or too easy for you.

Stagnation at the Workplace

While there are jobs that require their employees to constantly learn new skills, Once a person acquires the skillset necessary for the job, they feel they are not required to update their skills or knowledge over time. For many people, this can result in stagnation and monotony, which in turn causes procrastination.

When a person fulfills the same responsibilities regularly, these tasks become automated and no longer remain challenging. In this case, the person stops actively engaging with these tasks and can experience feelings of discontentment. This stage is often the one that gives rise to burnout over time. As a result, their work performance drops, which leads to them not meeting expectations at work. This stage gives rise to burnout over time.

What to do When Not Meeting Expectations at Work

Stylistic Differences

Stylistic differences, if identified, can be resolved by observing the other person’s style and adapting to it if possible.

After exploring and perhaps after you go back and talk to the manager, either you will want to make the stylistic changes, or you will conclude that the manager is unreasonable or a stylistic mismatch for you.

You can also try to ask the manager to accommodate your style. This strategy does not always work, but you can ask the following.  “Manager, I understand that you only want to see the final version of each report.  But when I have questions, it helps me to get your feedback on a draft.  If I do not ask too often, can you help me by being my sounding board or suggesting someone who can?”

What if your Manager is Unreasonable?

If the manager is unreasonable, you can choose to live with it (if the disagreements are minor and not threatening your job), or you can start looking at changing jobs.

Identifying Performance Gaps

Common reasons for performance gaps and not meeting expectations at work include:

  1. Not having the skill (the task is beyond your current skillset)
  2. Not putting in the effort, or differing styles (the work is not technically wrong, but the manager wants it done differently)

For skill gaps, it is a question of closing the gap somehow.  Courses, mentors, books, YouTube videos, being paired up with someone on the team, and asking for help are many options to learn the skill.  If you cannot or strongly do not want to learn the skill, then you may want to look at changing roles within or outside the organization.

Effort gaps (not getting work done or done well enough) come from motivation issues or prioritization skills.

Differing styles mean that the manager wants the work done in another way.  More or less frequently, more or less detail, etc.  Here the client must first understand what the manager wants, and then it becomes a case of skill or motivation. 

Resolving Communication Gaps

Sometimes you may be putting in the perfect amount of work and getting great results. However, if these results are not getting communicated to your supervisor, then you will be perceived as having a performance gap.

You can try to set up weekly check-ins with your supervisor in such situations. If they are busy and do not have the time, you can also send them weekly reports via email or your company’s primary mode of communication. If you have scored a significant win, you can also cc their boss in the email. Keep as many people in the loop as possible to demonstrate your value to the company.

Resolving serious performance feedback is necessary before you can make other careers progress. It is unnecessary to become an expert at every skill. If something gets called out as a weakness, you might need to address it. Positive efforts elsewhere will go unnoticed while a major shortcoming remains.

Getting Fired for Underperforming

Typically, you will not get fired right off the bat. If your company has a performance review process, you will go through that first. Your manager will discuss high areas of deficit that you need to improve upon. If you are repeatedly unable to improve your performance, you may be let go from your organization. However, you will get at least one or two chances at feedback, depending on your organization’s policies and culture.

Should I Quit my Job?

Before you decide to switch jobs, here are some things to consider:

Is the feeling of wanting to quit solely due to your job environment?

Mental wellness challenges such as a lack of self-worth, anxiety, or depression can manifest as apathy or dissatisfaction at work. Even if you quit this job, those feelings will follow you to your next job. Therefore, it is vital to work on those before quitting.

Interestingly, according to a report from Britain's Healthiest Company, organizations that see health and wellbeing as an indicator of organisational success have lower levels of work impairment due to absenteeism and presenteeism.

Are you getting enough feedback? Is the feedback valid and actionable?

Are you able to make and execute a plan based on the feedback? If you have gotten actionable feedback from your manager, attempt to work on that before quitting.

It is worth noting that quitting may be warranted in some situations if management cannot address the situation adequately. Examples include sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions, racist abuse, etc. 79% of employees would refuse a higher-paying job from a company that failed to act against sexual harassment. There are no skills to build or feedback to consider in this situation. The priority needs to be switching to a safer environment.

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Boss Type
Favorite Quote
Communication Strategy
Seeks control.
"Did you do what I told you to do?"
Approach privately, don't contradict them in public.
Career Climber
Ambitious. Concerned about own image.
"How does this reflect on me?"
Understand their goals. Support them or avoid embarrassing them.
Company Man
Wishes to avoid criticism from above.
"Will my boss/the company be happy?"
Align your work with corporate/group goals.
Minimize hassle, collect pay, go home. Value peace above fairness.
"Who is causing me a hassle now?"
Pitch assurances of safe ideas.
Old Timer
Values safety of the proven past. Operates on inertia and fear.
"This is how we've always done it."
Present ideas as small, safe, and as tiny deviances of current systems.
Made a manager because of craft excellence, not management skill.
"Is this work at my standards?"
Ask for their expert opinion and help. Be meticulous in your work.
Value adherence to instructions.
"Did you do it exactly as I told you?"
Invite oversight and give frequent updates.
Cannot say no. No balance.
"I'm so busy, I have no time for this."
Set boundaries, offer help, bother them rarely.
Invisible Hand
Remote. Delegates the day to day. Trusts employees.
"Call me if you need me."
Handle problems you can, call them quickly if there are issues.
Servant Leader
Values team players. Struggle with disruptive or selfish employees.
"How can I help you succeed?"
Work towards team goals.
Retail Manager
Disempowered. Common in fast food, mall stores, etc.
"That's what HQ said; I can't change it."
Adhere to the letter of the rules.
Deep emotional ties. Threats to business are threats to them.
"My name is on the building."
Treat their business as personal property.