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Is Your Temp Worker Underperforming? Time for a Tough Conversation.

Blog / July 11, 2019

No matter what, every manager or HR professional has to have a difficult conversation every now and then—usually a result of a struggling employee or a miscommunication about expectations. Sometimes these conversations are part of a performance review. Other times, it’s a final warning before you have to let the person go. No matter what precipitated the conversation, you need to be prepared. Avoid excess awkwardness, further misunderstandings, or worse, lawsuits. Here’s how to have a tough conversation with a temp worker. 

Do it immediately 

Don’t just wait to see if things magically turn around—chances are they won’t. Instead, tackle the situation immediately. Yes, it’ll probably be awkward, but it’ll only get more awkward if you keep putting it off. And when you finally do sit down, avoid the small talk and get to the point. Be human, kind, and compassionate, but you don’t want to get distracted by pointless banter. Treat them with respect and get to the point. 

Put something in writing 

Prepare two documents before the meeting. The first is talking points so you can keep the conversation on track, and the second is something for them to take with them. Show it to them at the beginning of the meeting and give them a chance to look it over. It should include some examples of the poor performance or issues you’re addressing and a plan to improve. 

Provide evidence 

Okay, evidence sounds serious, like you’re dealing with a criminal. But you want examples of the bed behavior, the poor performance, or whatever you’re addressing. 

Don’t address the motivation 

Assume that everyone is doing their best—they’re not screwing up on purpose. If you start exploring whether someone’s making mistakes because they don’t care or they’re not trying, you start delving into territory that’s probably best reserved for a psychology degree. Plus, the employee will start to get defensive and resentful and might tune you out. Focus on the behaviors—the part we can measure and improve. 

Listen carefully 

Give the employee a chance to talk and explain themselves. Sometimes they have an absolutely valid point about why they’re underperforming. If you hear their rationale, you can make a more comprehensive plan to get better. It might be as simple as providing them with a certain resource or tool that will turn everything around. 

Reiterate your expectations 

So often, poor performance and bad behaviors are simply because expectations weren’t properly communicated when the employee was on-boarded. So take some time now to clarify what those expectations are from now on. Articulate some short-term and long-term goals together and make a plan to accomplish them. Empower the temp employee with the resources and advice they’ll need and schedule regular check-ins to provide feedback. Remember that even though this employee is only with you temporarily, if they improve and achieve success, it might be worth bringing them on permanently.


For tips on how to manage your temporary employees, check out our website at

Blog written by Erin Greenhalgh