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Dealing With Underachievers

Dealing With Under Achievers

The Underachiever At Work

An underachiever at work is someone who is capable of so much more than they are actually doing at any given time. Underachievers in the workplace contributes to slow growth, inhibit teamwork and lower the morale of other workers.

In today’s competitive work environment leaders are responsible for maximizing employee productivity, minimizing costs and improving profits, it is not always an easy task keeping all three going well.

Among the monitoring responsibilities people performance is high on the list. So how should a leader approach an employee who is clearly underachieving and impacting productivity, costs and profits?

By motivating them.

To effectively motivate an underachiever get to the root causes of the behavior and address them with supportive strategies.

The Underachiever At school

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Why do some students produce quality work while others do just enough to get by? Why are some students able to verbalize great intentions but fail miserably on their assigned projects? Why does the simplest of assignments meet with great dissension? For a variety of reasons, there can be a significant gap between what underachieving students produce in school and what they are actually capable of producing.

Students show sings of underachievement for a variety of reasons, the least of which is because they are lazy, difficult, unteachable or have learning disabilities. The challenge for each and every teacher is to find the individual key that unlocks a child’s motivation to succeed and build on that foundation.

Debunking the Underachievement Myths

Some students come bounding through the doors of their school ready to learn while others enter reluctantly and spend a good deal of their energy avoiding work. The discrepancy between ability and product can be found as early as elementary school when a youngster excels in reading during class but fails to complete assignments or makes sloppy mistakes on the comprehension test. In middle school underachievement emerges in both academic and nonacademic areas where behaviors range from withdrawal to defiance. By high school the child has been labeled an underachiever and is likely denied access to honors classes and encouraged to take vocational classes. A situation such as this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (Battle, 2002).

Myth—Effective Curriculum and Classroom Management Are Key to Motivating Students

Teachers place a lot of emphasis on setting up classroom guidelines that allow them to control the environment believing that structured classroom management will motivate students to learn. But a quiet well-organized classroom does not equate to good teaching nor does control and compliance create a climate for academic attainment. (Bartholomew, 2007)

Motivation does not spring forth from effective management, curriculum and instruction. These factors are merely the starting points that provides the framework for creating motivational opportunities.

Myth—Some Students Are Just Not Capable of Learning

Unless a child is mentally disabled research shows that he or she is totally capable of achieving success. Unfortunately many students adopt an attitude of defeatism. What students believe about how their brains work can have profound effects on their motivation and school achievement.

Students fall into two categories: those with a fixed mindset who believe intelligence is set and those with a growth mindset who believe intelligence can be realized through learning. Students with a fixed mindset are focused on how smart they appear to others and believe that hard work is an indication that ability is lacking. When these students experience a setback in school, they report feeling dumb and may entertain the possibility of cheating the next time around. Students with a growth mindset are interested in learning and believe hard work yields significant results. When these students experience a setback in school they take ownership for the outcome and report that they will study more or differently next time. (Dweck, 2008)

Myth—Underachievers Respond Best to Rewards and/or Punishments

Frustrated teachers and parents alike often choose the wrong strategy to motivate underachieving students: they either promise rewards or impose punishments. (Mandel & Marcus, 1995)  Such strategies assume the child understands what is being asked of them and that they possess the knowledge and tools to complete the assignment appropriately. Students who consistently respond only to rewards have been trained to look to others for approval and validation; the simple carrot-and-the-stick model. Reward systems can actually decrease motivation in the long run if students become overly reliant on rewards thus inhibiting them from developing the ability to monitor or evaluate their own performance over time.

Punishment on the other hand is effective only as long as the threat of punishment exists. In other words children will act appropriately as long as they are being watched. When the threat leaves the room or the substitute teacher arrives the student will revert to his original behavior. This can be likened to an adult who speeds when no police officer is in sight. Another reason punishment is not an effective motivator is because children tend to associate the punishment with the punisher.

Signs Of An Underachiever:


We can lie to the whole world and get away with that just fine. On the other hand we cannot run away from lying to ourselves. No matter how far we go beyond any reason that feeling of resentment towards ourselves will grow bigger with each day if we aren’t truthful with ourselves.

Fruitless Outcomes

All success is built on persistence, hard work and everlasting enthusiasm whereas underachievers sit on the couch waiting for a dramatic change to occur in their life without taking action. We cannot expect a rich harvest of apples if we didn’t plant a single apple tree first.

On the other hand some people take action but give up quickly because of impatience and complain about their life recounting all the missed opportunities. But the truth is there is nothing more powerful than persistence! Not even the most talented and lucky person can go far in life without it.

Oblivious Injustice Toward Friends

An underachiever can be kind towards anybody who doesn’t bring much value to their life and utterly unjust towards those who are trying to help as a matter of fact. Such a person seeks help from a friend as an act of charity he is too cool to accept or to be thankful for.

People like that have difficulty building connections and friendships.

Very Poor Manners

Complete and utter underachievers have the poorest manners in existence. Starting with being constantly late where people spend hours waiting for them. They never pay their gratitude towards those who help them or give presents. They don’t care much about commitments and forgetting to go through with anything they promised to do for somebody.

Time Management

An underachiever cannot pathologically manage his time properly to be more productive. He always delays going through with commitments, not punctual and fails every possible deadline. He can have all the tasks in the world on his schedule but still keep his cool giving into his favourite state of procrastination.

How To Deal With Underachievers:

Form Relationships

It is essential to form relationships with employees who suffer from underachieving behaviors. While these relationships should be professional they should also be friendly and express concern and a willingness to help the individual. Get to the root problems of the person who is not living up to expectations by getting him to talk to you. If you can discern the reasons for his underachieving behavior you can help motivate him to overcome the issues so he can progress and help your business.

Inquire about personal distractions that may hinder performance. When you ask be supportive but don’t pry. Asking specific questions about personal matters can lead to employment discrimination claims. But you need to understand the situation and provide reasonable time off to deal with it if necessary.

Set Incremental Goals

Underachievers often feel overwhelmed by workloads and expectations to the point at which they disconnect and only do enough to get by. A manager can help lessen this feeling of tremendous burden by setting small incremental goals to build up the employee’s confidence.

When you break up large tasks into small manageable sections the underachieving worker gains a sense of accomplishment and learns how to approach large objectives themselves. goals tend to be more reachable when they are set within specific boundaries.

Call To Action

Sometimes the underachieving employee needs a wake-up call. An underachieving staff member might be coasting, unaware that you and other coworkers are impacted by their performance. Meet confidentially with the employee to discuss your issues with their performance. While you need to be honest don’t be overly judgmental or threatening. Instead gently give them a call to action so they becomes aware of their need to accomplish more. Inform them that you support them in their efforts and make a plan to provide assistance as needed. Keep in mind that their achievement helps not only develop their career but also helps your company’s profits.

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. Boundaries provide the structure to hold focus. When one sets strong boundaries with a goal they are making a bold commitment. They know what they want and what they will and will not accept to achieve the ideal result. They are familiar with using courage and have gained strength and self-assurance. They become more authentic by providing structure to fully experience the vastness of their abilities.

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