Managing poor performing employees is often avoided until a situation reaches boiling point. Rather than being seen as a negative aspect of management, approaching performance concerns early and in a consistent manner can help support employees, improve morale and drive business growth. We consider the top mistakes employers make when dealing with performance and how they can be avoided.
Most employers operate probationary periods for new starters but we regularly see employers just going through the motions and signing off someone’s probationary period without carrying out proper reviews. This is an ideal opportunity to carry out regular reviews to ensure they know what you expect of them, and that you feedback if they are not meeting those expectations. Ultimately, employers need to consider carefully whether an employee is suited to the role if they are unable to demonstrate that they can meet expectations by the end of the probationary period.
Failing to comply with the employer’s performance management procedure
Employers can help demonstrate that they have acted consistently and fairly by ensuring that they follow any internal performance management process, for example by making sure that no stages of the process are skipped and that employees are informed about any problems with their performance. Managers should be trained on the process before they are expected to deal with issues.
Not setting expectations
It is important to make sure that employees know what you expect from them from the very start of their employment. For example, what do you want them to do, within what timescales, and following what processes? It will be much more difficult to challenge an employee at a later stage for not performing at the level you expect if you have not communicated what that is. Making use of an appraisal and objective setting system is a great way to help manage this.
Failing to tackle issues at an early stage
Managers frequently choose not to speak to employees about minor concerns, hoping to avoid confrontation or that the matter will resolve itself. Failing to tackle issues can lead to complacency for the employee involved, but it can also affect morale amongst your high performers who see this as unfair. The best way to deal with poor performance can often be to have an informal discussion straight away. Employers are open to criticism if they don’t make an employee aware of concerns and give them an opportunity and support to improve.
Treating employees differently
A common complaint from employees whose performance has been managed is that they are being ‘picked on’ or that colleagues are favoured. This can lead to claims of unfair dismissal and potentially discrimination claims if the employee can link the difference in treatment to a protected characteristic such as age, race, sexual orientation and so on. The easiest way to avoid that challenge is to ensure that managers act consistently, unless there is a clear reason for not doing so. So, if you have two employees failing to carry out the same task, make sure that you challenge them both about it.
Not supporting employees
In some cases, it may be enough to highlight concerns to an employee and expect them to address this and demonstrate an improvement going forward on their own. However, employers are expected to provide support and guidance to assist an employee to improve at every stage of the process. You should consider why the employee has not been performing and if there is a particular issue that is hindering them. If so, look carefully at whether there is anything you can do about this. For example, is there an internal process that is restricting the employee, do they need some additional training with a specific aspect of their role, or would mentoring from a more experienced colleague help them? Being able to demonstrate that assistance was provided will help show a tribunal, if challenged, that an employer has acted reasonably.
Failing to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees
Whilst it is important to treat employees consistently, there may be situations where an employer needs to adapt its expectations. The duty to make reasonable adjustments will arise where a provision, criterion or practice operated by the employer places a disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled colleague. Always consider what additional support could be provided to employees in this situation and whether a medical opinion from the employee’s GP or occupational health may assist. Examples of reasonable adjustments may include lowering targets, making changes to your premises, adapting equipment, or providing additional supervision.
Failing to document performance management processes
If an employee brings a tribunal claim arising from their performance being challenged, problems can arise if an employer is not able to demonstrate that they have followed a fair process. Keep a paper trail of informal discussions with employees about their performance, documented evidence of the performance concerns, formal review meetings and any emails or letters sent to the employee in their personnel file.
Not rewarding good performance
As well as tackling poor performers, employers should remember that one of the best ways to encourage star performers is to ensure that they receive praise and are recognised for their efforts. Again, this can be done through an efficient appraisal or review system.