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6 Steps to Help Slow Employees Work Faster

If an employee takes days to finish tasks that should take hours, these strategies may help you spur them to better speed and higher-quality work.
November 04, 2016

Ah, the employees whose veins must be filled with molasses. You know the ones—you leave them with an hour’s worth of work and it takes two days before they’re finished.

There’s good news, though: Not only are there strategies for increasing these slow employees' work speed, but when you follow these steps, you may also get better quality work out of them, too.

1. Determine why your employees are slow.

Just simply ask. Explain that you’ve noticed their speed isn’t up to par and ask what’s slowing them down. They might be confused. They might be so detail-oriented, they’re getting caught up in particulars that don’t matter to you. They may even know their performance is subpar and be glad you asked. In any case, a number of things may be causing employees to work slower than you’d like, and the first step toward a solution is determining the underlying cause.

2. Team up with them.

Employees may get defensive when they feel backed into a corner, and that’s the opposite of what you want. It may help to make it clear you’re there to help, not simply point the finger and walk away. Ask, “What can we do to improve this situation?” or “How can I help?” Sometimes the answer is there, you just have to ask the question.

Employees who feel overwhelmed may end up accomplishing very little, but if you feed them tasks a few at a time, they may be able to knock out phenomenal amounts of work.

3. Give clear deadlines with priorities.

You know which tasks are most important, but do your employees? While it’s great to give your staff to-do lists, it may help to prioritize tasks, or you may run the risk of your employees taking care of the least demanding and important tasks first. And don’t forget about Parkinson’s Law, that work expands to fill the time we allot for it. Don’t be afraid to give your staff clear and demanding deadlines. You won’t know how quickly they can turn projects around unless you push them.

4. Limit distractions.

Employees who feel overwhelmed may end up accomplishing very little, but if you feed them tasks a few at a time, they may be able to knock out phenomenal amounts of work. You might try to find ways to streamline your problem employees’ environments and give them the chance to succeed. Keep in mind that we may be distracted by different things. I’ve learned that I can’t have my email up and running if I’m trying to complete a complex task by a deadline, as I’m likely to be sidetracked by client questions. Determine what gets your slow employees off task and try to address those issues.

5. Find out what your employees like to do.

When you take the time to explore the tasks that make your staff feel fulfilled, you’re really trying to find out what they’re good at. While you can’t assign everyone only the tasks they enjoy, it often makes sense to work to your employees’ strengths. If you can balance jobs that feel like drudgery with jobs they love, your employees may be happier and less likely to drag their heels. You don’t have to treat work like preschool, but employees who feel a balance of fulfilled and challenged may be the most productive.

6. Give regular feedback.

So you meet with your slow employees, find out what the problems are and develop a plan to speed up their work completion. The critical last step is to follow up. Consider planning a series of meetings to discuss their performance and progress and decide how things are going. It may also be important to set incremental goals. When you have otherwise good employees who simply lag a bit, you don’t want to have to fire them if their first evaluation shows they haven’t achieved absolutely everything. Rewarding incremental progress may help you keep the tone positive, while still working toward your end goal. Constructive criticism and a focus on what they’ve accomplished may make the meeting a positive one, rather than something they’ll dread.

An added benefit to addressing the problem of slow employees in a pragmatic fashion is you’re modeling a positive method of conflict resolution in your business. Your staff sees that while you have high expectations, you don’t expect perfection. They’ll hopefully understand that you value them and their contribution enough to work toward better results. Feeling supported and valued often translates into loyal, long-term employees, ones you can trust to deliver on time.

Read more articles about motivating employees.

A version of this article was originally published on November 6, 2015.

Photo: iStock