How do you deal with under-performing staff?

Friday 03 June 2016

Employee’s work performance can suffer at any time and this can happen for a variety of different reasons – ill health, issues with personal life, lack of interest. So what do you do when these issues arise?

We asked HR professionals Honest Employment Law Practice (HELP) to provide some expert advice so that you'll have the best possible chance of an amicable resolution. This is what they had to say:

It is important to identify the reason and the root of the problem in order to follow the correct course of action.  Each case will be different however, so it is important to consider all factors as there isn’t a strict ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

No one has ever said that managing a poor performer is easy.  It’s an intensive management technique and requires the manager to be fully dedicated throughout the process.  It is important to remember the effects on other staff members of lack of poor performance management, such as increased workload causing stress, conflict between employees and demotivation.


Deal with all instances consistently. 
If you have a procedure; follow it, every time!  Inconsistency can lead to claims of discrimination e.g. dealing with a female employee’s poor performance, but not a male employee’s poor performance.  An employee does not need service to take you to Employment Tribunal for discrimination and monetary awards are uncapped.

Is the poor performance an ongoing or recent issue? 
Look at the employee’s performance over the last three to six months (or more).  Are there any patterns or obvious factors that could trigger poor performance?

Has the employee received sufficient training? Check their training record.  If they’re relatively new, was their induction carried out adequately?  Is it a while since they had training?  Do they need a refresher?  Is there a technology barrier?

Does the employee have all the tools to do their job? Check that they have all the resources they need.  If not, and if it is through no fault of their own, make the necessary adjustments.

Does the employee understand what is expected of them? 
Check that they fully understand what the expectations are.  Do they have a job description?  Have things changed recently, and has the employee been made aware of any new expectations?

Are there any social issues? 
Ideally you will have a good enough working relationship with your employee to know if there are any issues with home life that could be having an effect on work performance.  Also think about work related social issues; is there any conflict with another employee or bullying occurring?


Arrange to meet with the employee. 
Ask them how they’ve been doing at work recently, have there been any issues they’d like to discuss.  Show them where you have concerns, back up what you’re saying with evidence.  If they are not hitting sales targets, this is easy to evidence.

Agree a way forward with the employee. 
Set targets, let the employee know how you will support them, set a date for review.  Making the targets SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relative and Time-framed) will ensure that the employee knows exactly what is expected of them.   The review date will need to give a reasonable amount of time for the employee to make improvements and for the manager to be able to assess performance.  Make it clear that if targets or expectations are not met, it is likely that the disciplinary action will be taken.

Review progress.  Review should be continuous throughout the set period and any concerns you have should be raised with the employee at the time.  Make notes of any conversations you have with the employee so that you can refer to these in the formal review at the end of the set period.  When you meet the employee, have all your evidence available to show where they have and haven’t met their targets.  If they have not met targets, they will need to be referred to the disciplinary process.

Be aware that the employee may go off sick during this process which will make it more difficult to carry out.  You will need to revert to your absence management procedure if this is the case. 

It often seems that when an employee is considering formal action every friend and relative becomes an HR expert offering support and advice to claim as much as they can from the employer. Not every firm can employ their own HR department or afford High Street solicitor costs so you may want to consider outsourcing your HR to Honest Employment Law Practice (HELP) - we can offer cost-effective (from £750 for a full 12 months support including the production of contracts of employment) and one-to-one professional support to ensure you get things right first time – every time.

Please note the above guidance is of a general nature and performance issues should be dealt with on a case by case basis.