10 Synonyms for “Not Meeting Expectations”

Communicating effectively in the workplace is key, especially when someone’s work is not hitting the mark. Saying “not meeting expectations” can be tough, but it’s important.

This article offers 10 alternative ways to express this idea, helping you provide feedback that’s clear but considerate. Each alternative is explored with examples to guide you in professional situations.

Is It Professional to Say “Not Meeting Expectations”?

The phrase “not meeting expectations” is considered professional, formal, and generally polite. It’s a straightforward way to communicate that someone’s performance or outcome does not align with what was anticipated without being overly harsh. This phrase is best used in professional or academic settings, where clear feedback is essential for growth and improvement.

It is suitable for various recipients, including employees, students, or service providers, and can be conveyed through multiple communication channels such as emails, reports, or during performance reviews.

Email example:

Dear Team,

Upon reviewing our project's progress, it has become evident that our current pace is not meeting expectations. We need to realign our efforts to ensure we meet our project deadlines and quality standards.

Please join me for a meeting tomorrow to discuss our action plan moving forward.

Best regards,


  • Clear and direct, leaving little room for misunderstanding.
  • Professional tone makes it suitable for workplace communication.
  • Encourages accountability and improvement by identifying gaps.


  • Can be perceived as negative or demotivating if not followed by constructive feedback.
  • Might prompt defensiveness in some recipients, depending on their sensitivity to feedback.

While using “not meeting expectations” is professional and often effective, one might consider an alternative phrase to soften the message or encourage a more positive dialogue.

10 Other Ways to Say “Not Meeting Expectations”

Here are the most common alternatives to “Not Meeting Expectations” that maintain professionalism in a workplace email:

  1. Falling short of goals
  2. Below the required standard
  3. Not up to par
  4. Lacking in performance
  5. Missing the mark
  6. Underachieving
  7. Not fulfilling the criteria
  8. Insufficient progress
  9. Behind schedule
  10. Not as expected

1. Falling Short of Goals

This alternative conveys a sense of not achieving predetermined objectives, similar to the original but with a focus on the gap between goals and outcomes. It’s professional and formal enough for workplace communication, especially when feedback needs to focus on specific targets or objectives that were not met.

This phrase is most suitable in a performance evaluation context, where specific goals were set and not achieved. It works well with employees or teams and is best delivered via email or in a performance review meeting. Here’s an example:


Dear Emily,

During our recent review of the quarterly sales targets, it was clear that our results are falling short of goals. Let's schedule a meeting to discuss strategies for improvement.


2. Below the Required Standard

“Below the required standard” suggests a comparison to a predefined level of quality or achievement, emphasizing that the current level of work is not sufficient. This is professional and squarely points out that the expected standards are not being met, without being too harsh.

This choice is effective in situations where some clear standards or benchmarks need to be met, such as in quality control or compliance roles. It’s best used with employees or departments responsible for meeting certain criteria and is appropriately conveyed through email or formal reports. Here’s an example:

Email sample:

Dear Team,

Our recent project review revealed that some aspects are below the required standard. We will be holding a meeting to discuss how to bring everything up to the necessary level.


3. Not Up to Par

Using “Not up to par” implies that the performance or results do not match the expected or usual standards, using “par” as a measure of what is considered normal or acceptable. It’s slightly more informal but still polite and professional, making it a good choice for more collegial settings.

This phrase fits well in contexts where there’s a baseline of performance that’s understood by all parties, such as in sports, sales, or creative projects. It’s particularly effective in emails or face-to-face meetings with individuals or small teams who understand the lingo and the standards expected of them. Example:

Here’s an example:

Dear Alex,

After reviewing your sales performance this quarter, it appears to be not up to par. Let’s discuss strategies for improvement in our next meeting.

Warm regards,

4. Lacking in Performance

“Lacking in performance” directly addresses a deficit in how well someone or something is doing. It’s formal and professional, focusing on the performance aspect. This synonym is straightforward and leaves little room for misinterpretation about the area needing improvement.

It’s most appropriate when addressing specific individuals or groups who have not met performance expectations in their roles. The phrase is particularly effective in professional development or appraisal emails, where clarity on performance issues is essential for subsequent improvement actions. Here’s an example:

Email example:

Dear Jonathan,

It has come to our attention that the recent project outcomes are lacking in performance. We need to address this issue promptly.


5. Missing the Mark

“Missing the mark” is a synonym that illustrates failing to achieve a specific goal or target. It’s less formal but still professional and polite, useful for indicating that objectives were not met without assigning blame.

This alternative is especially suitable for feedback in creative or strategic roles where goals may be more subjective. It works well with employees or collaborators during evaluations or in emails that aim to constructively discuss ways to align on future targets. Here’s an example:


Dear Lisa,

Our recent promotional campaign seems to be missing the mark on our key metrics. Let’s brainstorm some adjustments.


6. Underachieving

“Underachieving” directly addresses someone performing below their capability or expectations. The term is professional, somewhat formal, and focuses on the potential that has not been realized.

This phrase is best used for individuals who have previously demonstrated higher levels of performance or potential, indicating that they can do better. It’s effective in one-on-one emails or performance discussions, offering a starting point for constructive feedback and development plans. Here’s an example:

Email sample:

Dear Helen,

In comparing this year's performance with last, it's evident that there is underachieving. Let's talk about how we can support you in meeting your full potential.

Best wishes,

7. Not Fulfilling the Criteria

This phrase highlights a failure to meet specific benchmarks or requirements. It’s quite formal and professional, making it suitable for situations where clear standards have been communicated but not achieved.

The phrase can be effectively used in academic settings, job performance evaluations, or project management scenarios where specific criteria are non-negotiable. It’s best conveyed through written communication like emails or formal reports, providing a clear basis for discussion on how to meet those criteria in the future. Here’s an example:


Dear Carlos,

Upon review of the project deliverables, it is clear that we are not fulfilling the criteria agreed upon at the start. A meeting has been scheduled to discuss next steps.

Thank you,

8. Insufficient Progress

“Insufficient progress” suggests that the advancement or development towards a goal is not happening as quickly or effectively as expected. This synonym is professional and indicates a need for acceleration or strategic change without being overly critical.

This alternative is apt for use in project updates, professional development talks, or any scenario where continuous improvement is expected. It’s suitable for emails or written updates to teams or individuals, offering a clear indication that more effort or a different approach may be needed. Here’s an example:

Here’s an example:

Dear Team,

As we near the halfway point of our timeline, it's evident that we're making insufficient progress. Please attend the upcoming strategy session prepared with ideas to expedite our project.


9. Behind Schedule

Being “Behind schedule” specifically addresses time frames and deadlines that are not being met. This synonym is straightforward, professional, and illuminates a common issue in project management and delivery without assigning blame to any particular party.

It is particularly useful in project management, where timelines are critical. The phrase can be used in emails aimed at rallying team members to speed up work or in updates to stakeholders about delays, emphasizing the necessity for immediate action to get back on track. Example:

Email example:

Dear Rebecca,

Our project analysis indicates that we are currently behind schedule. An urgent meeting has been scheduled to discuss how to catch up.


10. Not as Expected

“Not as expected” is a vague but polite way of indicating that something didn’t turn out the way it was anticipated. While less direct, it’s still professional and allows for a broad interpretation of how expectations were not met, opening the door for discussion on specifics.

This synonym is helpful in situations where there’s a discrepancy between expected and actual outcomes, but you want to explore the reasons in a non-confrontational way. It’s suitable for all types of professional correspondence, particularly in emails where the goal is to initiate a constructive dialogue about performance or results. Here’s an example:


Dear George,

After reviewing the quarterly report, it's clear the outcomes are not as expected. I believe a thorough review of our approach might yield some insights.


Final Thoughts

Choosing the right words to express that someone’s work isn’t up to standard can make a big difference in how your message is received. The alternatives provided here aim to offer a balance between being clear and being kind. By using these phrases, you can help to maintain a positive atmosphere while still addressing areas that need improvement.

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