What is underperformance?

We use the terms underperformance, poor performance or performance issues to describe when an employee isn’t doing their job as expected, or is behaving in an unacceptable way at work. This can include:

  • not completing work to the required standard, or refusing to do the job
  • not following workplace policies, rules or procedures
  • unacceptable behaviour towards other employees, managers, customers or suppliers
  • disruptive or negative behaviour at work

Managing Poor Performance

When employees are behaving badly, or failing to do the job that’s needed of them, it can cause some real issues in the team. When regular feedback and clarifying expectations for the employee isn’t resulting in the improvement needed, a more formal performance management plan may be required.

This will include

  • Identifying and assessing the problem
  • Communicating concerns and expectations
  • Finding possible solutions and making a plan
  • Documenting the discussion and scheduling follow up meetings to assess progress

What you can (and can’t) say during your meetings with the employee

It is important if you are planning to discuss serious performance issues that you give the employee notice of the meeting and where appropriate, offer for them to bring a support person to the meeting.

During your private meeting to discuss the issue (and why it is an issue) DO

  • explain your expectations of the role
  • give specific examples of where their work has not met expectations
  • remain calm and open to the employee to discuss their point of view
  • ask them what they think is stopping them from doing the job
  • agree to a plan for moving forward, making sure they’re on board
  • setting a timeframe and outcomes that will measure their performance improvement
  • explaining that without improvement, there is a risk of their employment ending
  • reassure them that you want to work together for improvement

What you should avoid saying

There can be many reasons why someone’s performance isn’t up to scratch. Especially when you have an employee who has previously met expectations but is now underperforming, there could be issues in the workplace or their personal life affecting their ability to do the job.

When discussing an employee’s performance, it is important to AVOID

  • Jumping to conclusions or blaming
  • Bringing up performance issues in a team email or meeting – keep it private
  • Making threats
  • Asking personal questions about family dynamics or their mental health – if this information is volunteered, ensure it remains confidential and appropriate support is provided
  • Downplaying their given reasons for underperformance – for example if they mention they feel bullied, it is important this is taken seriously and investigated, not dismissed as an excuse
  • Using word or phrases that are disrespectful or demeaning – like “I’m disappointed in you” or “I expected more of you” which can sound like a parent, and doesn’t address their actions

Keep a record of discussions and the agreed plan, and revisit this at appropriate intervals to assess their performance against the agreed expectations of the role.

What if work performance doesn’t improve?

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 some advice on how to better your performance management processes? Contact one of our HR consultants today to find out how we can help you improve your team’s performance.