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Factors Contributing to Poor Performance at Work Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

Examine and discuss the underlying factors contributing to poor performance at work. What are the key features of an effective performance management system that is more likely to deal adequately with the problem of poor performance?


Performance means both behaviours and results. Behaviours emanate from the performer and transform performance from abstraction to action (Brumbrach, 1988). However definitions vary from organisation to organisation, from individual to individual and our own understanding changes over time, shimmering diversity in the interests and intent of the organisations and societies in which we work. Consequently to ameliorate performance a recurring process called ‘performance management’ is aimed. Hence in simple terms, performance is about doing things, and management is about getting things done (Walters, 1995). Accordingly, Performance management is a strategic and integrated process that delivers sustained success to organisations by improving the performance of people who work in them and by developing the capabilities of individual contributors and teams (Armstrong, 2000).

‘The fundamental goal of performance management is to establish a culture in which individuals and groups take responsibility for the continuous improvement of business processes and for their own skills and contributions’ (Philpott and Sheppard 1992). So why it is at times that organisations are not performing well and are not able to meet up with their objectives? Does the root cause lie within the organisation? This assignment attempts to illustrate what poor performance is and the factors contributing to poor performance at work followed by a rationalization of an effective performance management system and finally wrapping up with concluding notes.

Poor Performance and Factors contributing to Poor Performance:

The motivator-hygiene theory exhibits that man has two separate and autonomous need systems that do not interact. The first being the motivator range, transacts with man’s need for psychological growth. However intrinsic job factors such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, opportunity for growth and enjoyment of the work itself fulfil the needs. It is the motivator factors that provide man with job satisfaction. The hygiene range transacts with man’s need to evade pain from his environment and is met by increasing extrinsic job factors such as salary, status, company policy and administration, good interpersonal relationships, etc. It is the hygiene factors that keep man from states of dissatisfaction.

Thus, explicit to motivator-hygiene theory is the assumption that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are separate and autonomous conditions of job attitudes. The presence of motivator factors can provide satisfaction. The presence of hygiene factors can prevent dissatisfaction (Nickson J and Karp H, 1974). Similarly, employees overall performance will be poor or dissatisfactory if the desired targets are not achieved. And unsatisfactory work performance can be the resultant or outcome of many reasons which can be categorised in terms of stress, being deficient in impetus, lack of communication, clashes within the organizations and so on. When talking about stress we can term it as an impairment of spatial memory formation resulting in poor performance (Holscher, 1999).

There may be several factors contributing to poor performance at work. However some of them are explained here. Emotional tiredness, depersonalisation and diminished personal accomplishment are some of the factors conducive to employee’s poor performance at work. Emotional fatigue/ tiredness describe the sentimental, feeling states of the individual categorized by low emotional reserves and low on energy. Employees feel unable to give of themselves at a psychological level.

Shirom (1989) concludes that emotional fatigue is the key dimension of stressful experience. Stress can occur in any sort of job, position, department or organization. It may be due to the working environment (physical surroundings, office/factory design and amenities), the job itself (a lot/too little to do, contradictory roles and responsibilities, badly designed shifts or schedule), home/work interface (dual career problems, conflicting demands of work and home), career development (career uncertainty, stagnation, status, pay and conditions, insecurity and low social value of the work). Some employees bring family setbacks to work; far more take work worries home with them adding on to the stress level.

Depersonalization is an attempt to manage with the emotional stresses of one’s work. It is an issue for poor performance as it is characterized by negative, sceptical attitudes and feelings about one’s clients. Early research by Maslach (1993) on burnout (blow) recognized that the failure of workers to emotionally distance themselves from a seemingly continuous display of client problems could lead to impaired performance and hinder the quality of care. He states that excessive detachment, or depersonalization, could also lead to less effective functioning on the job eventually contributing to poor performance.

Diminished personal accomplishment refers to the affinity to assess oneself negatively. Maslach (1993) refers diminished personal accomplishment as a decline in one’s personal feelings of competence and successful work achievement. While Bandura (1989) ideas on feelings of diminished personal accomplishment are related conceptually to such phenomena as self-efficacy. Also Buunk and Schaufeli (1993) state that diminished personal accomplishment is especially observed in individuals with poor self-esteem. Further on quarrels, arguments within the work place or organisation generates poor performance among the employees which also means that the organisations goals are not clear within the organisation and its people.

According to Green (2000, 4) motivation also known as a stimulant for performance is an important factor for the development of individual’s performance. No motivational drive gives meagre performance which can be an outcome of poor employee’s satisfaction which will result in low retention and low morale of employees with high absence rate. Factors such as low outcome of incentives and lack of appreciation from the higher staff add to poor performance by member of staff. Not achieving the desired level or standard also lowers the motivation in both the employee and the organization.

Effective Performance Management System:

Performance Management system though has been criticized and introduced as a top-down, imposed and rigid system that seeks easy solutions to complex problems, which it predictably fails to deliver. It is better to consider performance management as a flexible process and not as a system since the usage of the term ‘system’ entails a stiff, standardized and bureaucratic approach which is conflicting with the concept of performance management as a supple and evolutionary process (Armstrong, 2000). Performance management is the process of creating a work environment in which people are enabled to perform to the best of their abilities. It begins when a job is defined as needed and ends when an employee leaves an organization. In designing a performance management a perfect structure is required which can categorize the performance from top to bottom in a cyclical manner as follows:

Cyclical Representation of Performance Management System.

According to Armstrong (2002, pp374-375), it should involve all employees equally concerning with all aspects of performance including skills and competency levels, hence avoiding the over-promotion (Peter’s Principle). The framework for performance management is provided by the performance and development plan, which is the outcome of performance planning.

It should be known as to ‘what’ to measure and ‘how’ to follow it during planning process. It should be defined as to what will be improved. As the strategic goals surge from leaders to the grass root, each individual should be assigned performance goals for a time. Planning should strictly stick on to the tenet and instructions leading merit system principles, barring personnel practices and equal employment prospect. But it must also address the poor performance whereas promoting and rewarding the excellent performance making meaningful distinction among employees based in performance and contribution. A personal development plan for individuals may include formal training, development activities such as self managed learning, coaching, mentoring, project work, job enlargement and job enrichment. Planning must encourage a continuous process with prominence on repeated development and enhancement of performance and should be constructive enough to promote self-management and self-motivation. Set expectations and then set ‘SMART’ objectives which mean it should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound making it persistent towards the required goal (Armstrong, 2000 pg.37 and Grant, 2007 pg. 19).

In an effective organisation, assignments and projects are monitored or measured continually. Monitoring means constantly measuring performance and providing ongoing feedback to employees and work groups on their progress toward reaching their goals. It can be examined through the use of appropriate mon

itoring techniques which include feedbacks through focus groups, questionnaires, surveys and judging

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their performance. These techniques not only help in developing the skills on individuals but will gain in overall benefit for the organization. Kaplan and Norton (1992) developed a measurement technique what they called as the ‘balanced scorecard’ which uses a set of measures that gives managers a fast but a comprehensive view of their business. They emphasized that the balanced scorecard approach ‘puts strategy and vision, not control, at the centre’ (Armstrong, 2000).

Armstrong also speaks of other measurement techniques such as Economic value added (EVA) being used by other organisations. One of the important measurement criteria for most of the researches is surveys that can be done through questionnaire or interviews and includes events that involve asking questions of respondents which collects data from large number of users. Focus group which is a form of group interviewing based on topics that are supplied by the researcher (Morgan, 1997, 12), draw focus upon respondent’s attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions in a way which would not be possible with other methods permitting them to ask questions to each other, as well as to re-examine and reassess their own understandings of their unambiguous experiences. Another method of measurement used is Mystery shopping exercise.

It is used for determining fragmentary efficient scrutiny of customer service levels within the organisation giving a chance to ensure that organisational standards and policies are adhered. It’s a powerful tool where the management and employees know that they’re going to be assessed by a mystery shopper, but they don’t know the identity of the shopper or when they will be shopped. This helps to ensure that each prospect and visitor will receive prompt and friendly service which should lead to more satisfied customers and repeat business and is more cost effective way of collecting consistent assessment information for managerial decision making (Finn and Kayande, 1999). These techniques give ability to identify weaknesses in current processes for attaining a better understanding of the perceptions for fostering amongst stakeholders (Amundson, 2004).

Performance management and review processes can help to achieve cultural change, but only if the change is managed vigorously from the top and if every effort is made to bring managers and staff generally on board through involvement in developing the process, through communication and through training (Armstrong, 2000). Employee developmental needs are appraised and addressed in an effective organisation. In this example developing means increasing the capacity to perform through training, giving homework’s that introduce new skills or higher levels of accountability, improving work processes. Hence training is a crucial part for performance perfection and to oblige the employees for execution of the allotted tasks. During training employees should be taught with sufficient information and practice leading them to skilled behaviour, which will result in organization’s benefit.

Motivation also plays a vital role for developing employee’s aptitude which can be done by consigning them responsibilities and fulfilling their needs as linked by many scholars with their different motivation theories. Many diverse motivational theories of which five major approaches that have led to understanding of motivation are Maslow’s need-hierarchy theory, Herzberg’s two- factor theory, Vroom’s expectancy theory, Adams’ equity theory and Skinner’s reinforcement theory. Maslow’s theory of needs have some very fundamental propositions for management in this present world of knowledge which can help the managers for motivating their employees through management style, job design, corporation events and compensation packages by fulfilling their physiological needs (proper breaks in order to purchase sufficient essentials of life), security needs (by providing safe working environment, retirement benefits and job security), social needs (by creating a sense of area for the employees), respect needs (appreciating and valuing employees by recognizing there achievements), self-actualization needs (challenging employees and providing challenges to reach their full career potential).

Whereas also mentioned earlier Herzberg characterized motivation into two factors: ‘motivators’ such as achievement and recognition, produce job satisfaction, and ‘hygiene’ such as pay and job security, produce job dissatisfaction (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959). Skinner’s theory simply declare that those employee’s behaviours that lead to positive outcomes will be repeated whereas behaviours that lead to negative outcomes will not be repeated (Skinner, 1953). Vroom’s theory is based on the conviction that employee effort will lead to performance and performance will guide to rewards (Vroom, 1964). Adam’s theory states that employees challenge for equity which is accomplished when the ratio of employee outcomes over inputs is equal to other employee outcomes over inputs (Adams, 1965). Knowing what motivates employees and incorporating this knowledge into the reward system will help identify, recruit, employ, train, and retain a productive workforce which requires both managers and employees working together (Buford, 1993).

Rating or evaluating means assess employee or group performance against the elements and standards in an employee’s performance plan and assigning a summary rating of record. It is based on work performed during an entire appraisal period. Appraisal provides a means by which the organization can assess the involvement of individual members of staff (or groups) and encourage them to attain higher criterions of performance. This is accomplished by providing employees with feedback on their current performance, determining training needs, and preparing career paths. Successful strategies, however, have proved hard to achieve; performance criteria is often poorly defined with no clear objective measures on which to base judgments; subjectivity and inconsistency may undermine the validity of ratings; and it is difficult to judge the contributions of individuals working in jobs of varying complexity, particularly if they are part of a team environment (Lawler, 1990, pp. 89-92; OECD, 1993, pp. 30, 72).

However according to (Armstrong, 2000) arguments against ratings have been elevated such as ratings is largely subjective and it is difficult to achieve consistency between the ratings given by different managers. A further serious problem with ratings is created when organizations have ‘forced distribution’ or ‘quota’ systems. Organizations that do not have performance-related pay may sometimes also avoid the use of performance ratings as part of the review system, and instead have a separate pay review in which managers are simply asked to indicate whether they want to award and exceptionally high increase, an above-average increase, a below-average increase, or no increase at all.

There have been popular approaches to ratings but Fletcher (1993) pointed out when he said that ‘the use of ratings to compare individuals (even overall performance ratings) for so long a central element of appraisal forms and processes, is now declining’. To conclude we still have methods such as 360-Degree which is extensively used by many organizations since they perceive that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages (Armstrong, 2000). However it’s outcomes and results are superior in quality, quantity, and/or impact to what would ordinarily be expected at this level and persists in overcoming problems and puts forth extra effort to accomplish difficult assignments when demands are very grave, seeking out new responsibilities, assignments, and opportunities to contribute beyond what is expected. Hence it exhibits the highest standards of professionalism.

Rewarding means acknowledging employees for their performance and identifying their contributions to the organisation’s mission. When designing a reward system two limitations are significant to be noteworthy. Many organizations make the oversight of offering rewards that are superior at attracting employees but fall short to motivate them to perform. In order to motivate performance, an organization must offer rewards for performance that pull people towards high performance levels (Lawler, 2003). Also it should not just attract and motivate people; but also keep the deserving ones. It also needs to stress that people are rewarded for performance and skillfulness development. If this is inferred into the right combination of reward system practices, people will be motivated to excel and those who excel will be motivated to stay because they will be highly rewarded (Lawler, 2003). For performance pay plan to operate effectively, three conditions are necessary: The rewards offered need to be large enough to provide motivation to individuals groups, there should be a confirmed link between actual performance and subsequent reward, and the scheme/ plan should be perceived as equitable with the same rewards forthcoming for the same effort (Lawler, 1990, pp. 17-20; Milkovich &Wigdor, 1991, p. 153).

These circumstances, however, have rarely been met. In spite of the growing popularity of performance pay in most public sectors, the track record of such schemes has been poor (Ingraham, 1993, pp. 348-356; OECD, 1993, p. 87). Other chief factors underlying the failure of performance pay schemes have been unsatisfactory funding from governments, an environment of political change, lack of organizational trust, and opposition from unions (Geis, 1988, chap. 8; OECD, 1993, chap. 6). Further trait critical to the success of performance pay schemes, Ingraham (1993) argues, is that they should be part of a fundamental reform process and not simply “grafted onto any existing management system” (p. 351).

Rewarding individuals well in the lack of organizations performing well may, in the short-term, seem like delight people right, but it cannot last as too many competitors will take advantage of the situation and ultimately make it impossible for an organization to reward its employees well.


Performance management is the single largest contributor to organisational performance. It takes innovative thinking and courageous thinking to quash a performance crisis that is generated by underperforming, poorly managed employees, but may be the most important action for someone. Diversity is alive and well in employee’s personalities, skills, abilities, interests and levels of motivation and separation. Therefore, the traditional one-size-fits-all performance management thinking is obsolete in today’s business environment. Perhaps there is loads of learning from this exercise however to highlight the crucial one is that – Performance management must clearly link to commercial objectives, but if people are to be genuinely motivated to perform better and contribute more fully to organisational performance, at some point in the development of performance management their needs and aspirations must be addressed.


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