Managing Poor Performance at Work

Posted in : HR Updates on 12 April 2018
Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services
Issues covered:

The next video in our short series with Helen O'Brien of Personnel and Training Services (PTS) focuses on questions around the issues that HR consultants have when handling poor performance in the workplace. This 6 minute Q&A answers a number of frequently asked questions including what do you do when the employee does not accept that they are underperforming, what happens if, as a result from your informal chat, the employee's performance doesn't improve, is that a disciplinary issue? Helen then finishes with her thoughts on good processes for managing poor performance.



What are the key issues for HR consultants when handling poor performance in the workplace?

My experience in dealing with our clients is that their problem stems from not being able to really identify and articulate what the problem is. They will talk about an employee not performing or not working out, but they're not able to identify exactly what they mean by that in practical day-to-day terms. Or they'll talk about an employee making stupid mistakes, but then when you ask them for some examples, they can't remember them.

So, you need to be very clear about what you mean when you say an employee is not performing. Exactly what mistakes are they making? And are you recording them and able to feed those back to the employee? What exactly are they doing wrong and how is it that they are not meeting the standards that you expect?

Quite often, employers are a wee bit concerned that their issues are petty, and I always say to them, "They're not petty. If you've got a number of issues and they're causing aggravation, perhaps for the business or for other employees, then they're a justifiable situation where you need to speak to that employee."

How do you deal with poor performance?

Well, firstly, you've got to try and deal with it informally. So, sit the employee down and explain to them exactly what the situation is, and hopefully, you'll have all your records so your examples as well are further falling short.

And talk about how the employer can help the employee as well as what they've got to do to sort it out, what you can do to help them in terms of support or in terms of training. It's very important not to tell somebody that they're careless, but rather that they're making careless mistakes.

Be very clear that you're going to be monitoring them. We don't want somebody accusing you of watching them all the time. Be very clear that you are going to monitor them to see if there's been an improvement. And you probably do need to make it clear that if there is no improvement going forward, you will be going through the formal procedures.

What do you do if the employee does not accept what you are saying?

This happens more often than you might think, and it quite often is because . . . they don't accept it because you're not being explicit about exactly what they're doing wrong or what mistakes they're making. But I have to tell you, it also happens because employees just try and derail the whole process by pretending that they don't understand what is being said to them. So, again, it comes back to preparation. Preparation for these meetings is vital, and you have to be able to give examples and substantiate it.

What happens if, as a result from your informal chat, the employee's performance doesn't improve? Is that a disciplinary issue?

Well, sometimes it can be a disciplinary issue whereby they're just not working hard enough or they're lazy or something like that, so it possibly would be a disciplinary issue. But if not, if it's a capability issue, then you go through the capability process.

Now it's just exactly the same as a disciplinary process. We just call it capability process and a capability hearing, but we still have a meeting, we still call them to a meeting, we still put in writing the issues that we have, we still give them the right to be accompanied, and we tell what the possible outcome of the meeting is going to be and give them notice.

We have the meeting. We put the issues to them, give them every opportunity to respond. We also, again, go over the support and maybe retraining the company can give the employee. That's important all the way through the process. And after you have the meeting, we've got to do an outcome letter detailing exactly what the outcome is, what level of warning they've been given, how long it's going to stay on their record.

And don't forget, quite importantly, that they have the right of appeal as well, so if they don't agree with the decision, they can appeal it. And keep records.

You can't move through the capability procedure when they make each mistake, but what you do is as they make mistakes, you bring them to their attention, you keep a record of them, and when you really feel there is a continuing pattern, then you would move through to the next stage of the capability procedure or the disciplinary procedure.

Always remember, and this is my little bit of mantra as I'm always saying it, be consistent. Be consistent between employees you're dealing with and be consistent between occasions, because that'll protect you from unfairness and also from discrimination claims.

And also, if you're getting a lot of poor performance issues, look at yourselves, look at your training, look at your induction procedure to make sure you're recruiting the right people and you're inducting and you're training them properly.

Are appraisals good processes for addressing poor performance?

Well, certainly you shouldn't be sealing up issues, feeling unable to address the employee about them, and then deciding that you'll raise them all at the appraisal annual meeting, because at the appraisal there should be no surprises. You should have raised these at the time they happened, at each time they happened.

And in any event, as you're reading a lot of what the HR professionals write, I think perhaps traditional annual appraisals are going out of date at the minute and we're looking now at more regular, informal meetings with employees to address general conduct and performance issues.


This article is correct at 12/04/2018

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services

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