When an employee isn’t meeting performance targets, or is behaving in an unacceptable way at work, this can not only frustrate managers but also negatively impact productivity and workplace morale for the broader team.

Dealing with poor performance can be challenging for a lot of employers that we work with, however there are a few simple steps to prevent performance problems from escalating.

First things first: communicating role requirements

To be effective in their roles, team members should have a clear understanding of the work and conduct expected of them. A position description, or job description, is essential in outlining what is required in the role. The duties and requirements defined in a position description also provide a baseline for management to evaluate performance and provide appropriate feedback when needed.

An employee handbook or and policies can help to establish clear guidelines around expected conduct in the workplace and again, provide a reference point when managing issues of performance and conduct with employees.

What does poor performance mean?

Poor performance, or underperformance, is when an employee isn’t doing their job properly, or is behaving in an unacceptable way at work. Poor performance includes:

  • not carrying out work to the required standard or failing or refusing to do the job
  • not following workplace policies, rules or procedures
  • unacceptable behaviour towards other people, whether that be employees, managers, customers or suppliers,
  • disruptive or negative behaviour at work,

Giving feedback and having difficult conversations

Employees thrive on feedback and are not always looking for a positive high five, “you’re doing great”. Often employees want to know where they can improve, and performance reviews are a great way to communicate this feedback and offer suggestions. However, providing staff members with regular constructive feedback outside of the annual performance review is crucial and can prevent poor performance or poor conduct from happening in the first instance.

If you have identified an employee’s poor performance or conduct and have concerns, the first step in managing poor performance and reducing the likelihood of the poor performance continuing or getting worse, is to have a discussion with the employee around their performance or behaviour, find out what factors might be impacting them, provide instructions or remind them of the role expectations.

Sometimes these conversations with employees can be a challenge for managers, especially those who may prefer to avoid conflict. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable and believe it or not, can be positive. In the case of managing poor performance, it’s essential to have these difficult conversations and the earlier these performance issues are dealt with the less likely they are to become bigger problems for the business.

What if feedback is not enough?

When an employee’s performance is not improving despite feedback, then it may be time to consider putting in place a more formal performance management process or performance improvement plan.

This will involve a meeting with the employee to discuss the situation in more detail and it’s it’s best practice to invite the employee to bring a support person along. In this meeting you will need to

  • be clear about what the issues or concerns are and listen to feedback
  • agree to a solution together,
  • note reasonable steps for improvement and dates to achieve specific targets
  • schedule time to follow up and assess performance
  • document the meeting and share a copy of the plan with the employee

Managing performance issues can become complex and challenging, especially when on top of regular day to day business operations and needs, so it’s best to have a procedure in place for performance management with a framework that managers can follow and refer to throughout the process.

Having a documented process also helps to ensure that actions taken by managers in this situation will meet the relevant legislation and follow the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.

Performance doesn’t always improve, even with reasonable training, support and a solid plan. Should you need to take further action, having documentation that can demonstrate this fair and just process will be important in avoiding potential, costly unfair dismissal claims.

Need help implementing a performance management procedure? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team, via the chat box here or calling us on 08 6150 0043.

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