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Poor performance in the workplace and managing poor performance

In this article we will explain how to discuss poor performance with an employee, what the review and performance management process should look like and top tips on discussions to improve work performance

Tackling the initial discussion!

Any manager or HR professional will know it is never easy speaking to an employee about their poor performance.  Many will overlook it for a simple life, however, there will eventually come a time where the elephant in the room needs addressing.

Chances are the employee may be aware and has just kept their head down, hoping it will have gone unnoticed.  Other employees may become defensive and argue there are not any performance problems.  It all boils down to how best to communicate over it.

The discussion (informal talk)

No one likes to be told they are not doing well in work.  Performance management is an area that can end up with the employee raising grievances about bullying, going off sick in response, or even resigning (which in some cases then solves the problem).  However, given the purpose of performance management is a tool to get employees back on track, it should be approached with humanity.

The starting point should be to deal with poor performance early and informally.  Literally a discussion over the concerns which have arisen.  The aim of this discussion being to try to encourage and develop the performance wanted from the employee, and to help them improve.

Assumption should try to be avoided.

The poor performance may not be the employee’s fault and there may be genuine reasons for the drop in performance.   For example, further training may be needed, there may be personal/health problems (including a disability), or the employee simply is uncertain about what is expected of them in the role.

The initial discussion can be used as an investigation to find out what has happened, while at the same time, being supportive to help the employee bring their performance back up to standard.

If it is a case of something outside of the employee’s control, then initial responses should be to offer support and help, such as training, mentoring, development activities etc.

If the employee is in a new role or the job has changed, then explaining the standards required in the role, looking to agree targets and timescales, which should both be realistic and reasonable.

Reminder if an employee has a disability then not forgetting the requirement to consider reasonable adjustments.

Performance Management Process

If the informal approach does not resolve the poor performance, a formal procedure is the next step.

Top Tip ensure the Manager/HR Professional’s opinion about the employee’s poor performance can be backed up with evidence to show it is objective based to proceed and not subjective just based the manager’s personal opinion.

The invitation letter

In order to arrange the meeting, the invitation letter should explain that the purpose of the talk is to discuss the employee’s performance. For example:

The Company is considering instituting performance review action against you on the ground of a lack of capability on your part.  You are therefore invited to attend a performance review meeting on…”

“[I/we] would like to invite you to attend a performance review meeting on…”

That way, the employee does not feel ambushed.  It should then go on to set out the details of the poor performance issues to be discussed, including enclosing any evidence being relied upon.  The normal formalities should also be included, such as giving reasonable notice, enclosing a copy of the company’s performance policy (if there is one), offering a right to be accompanied.  In addition, it should include what the consequences of the meeting may be.

24 hours notice is too short

The meeting

The meeting is then used to work through the issues in the invitation letter and to explain the causes of concern in more details.

This gives the employee the opportunity to explain if there are any issues or causes for the poor performance, such as identifying a further training need or any workload issues (capacity).

The meeting is also the opportunity to agree realistic targets and time frames, factoring in the circumstances of the employee (such as their level of training and experience).  That way, in the outcome letter, the employee will understand where their performance has fallen short, what level of improvement is required (and within what time scales) and what support will be offered to help them improve.

Top Tip have someone take minutes of the meeting which are then shared with the employee so both sides have a copy of it.

Deliver the outcome

Having heard the employee’s explanation for their performance, the Manager / HR Professional can then decide on what sanction will be issued.  The employee can be told in the meeting, if the decision is made by the end of it.  Or the employee can be told in the outcome letter (verbal warning, first warning, final warning etc).  The letter however should always include this information as the employee needs to be aware they have been given a warning, and they should be allowed an opportunity to appeal it.

The outcome letter is important as it should include a range of information, such as how the employee’s performance falls short, what level of improvement is needed, what the new targets and review time frames are etc.

If a warning is issued (if dismissal then see our other article ‘How to dismiss an employee for poor performance’) then a right of appeal should also be offered.

Next steps

The formal process then continues and the Manager / HR Professional should keep in contact with the employee during the review period, and meet in accordance with the agreed time scales; which should have been explained in the outcome letter.

Once the end of the review period comes around, a formal meeting is held to discuss the employee’s performance.  If there is insufficient improvement in the employee’s performance, then the same procedure is followed above – likely the next warning level by way of a sanction, new targets and time scales agreed.

If the employee’s performance has sufficiently improved, then reverting back to ongoing monitoring can be put in place and the formal process can be stopped.

NB it will not help the employee’s morale and performance if after sufficient and sustained improvement they are kept on performance management ‘just in case’ their performance standards drop again.  This process should only be used where the performance standards have dropped below what is expected of the employee.

Summarised top tips

In addition to those show above, our top tips on discussions to improve work and carry out performance management are:

  • Let the employee know the purpose of the meeting (to talk about performance).
  • Set out what the performance issues are in your invite letter/email, as this helps the employee prepare.
  • Keep a paper trail – so have minutes of the meetings and follow up the meeting with a letter/ email to explain what the agreed objectives and time frames are.
  • Don’t ignore the review dates and follow up meetings.
  • Don’t keep the employee on the PIP indefinitely where their performance has improved enough to remove the need for monitoring them.

If you would like to discuss performance management, have assistance with drafting letters and/or have a policy reviewed or drafted for you, please contact us on [email protected] or telephone us on 01179200128.

The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any matter. Do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice: you are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely on the information or comments in this article.

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