Addressing underperformance can be incredibly challenging. Failing to address underperformance promptly, and in a sensitive manner can have a significant impact on the outcome. Many businesses find the process emotionally draining and hope that the problem goes away on its own. Rarely does this happen. Often the issue impacts other employees who must carry the burden of underperforming employees which results in damage to productivity and workplace culture.

Best practice is to address issues as soon as possible after they occur. When problems are recent, it is easier to resolve and avoid longer term challenges or more serious issues.

At Employment Innovations, we understand navigating underperformance is challenging. To help guide your business, our team has provided the process below to ensure a fair and reasonable structure to identify, address and minimise underperformance issues. This process will also assist if you need to dismiss an employee later for underperformance issues.


1. Identify the problem

An employee performance issue is when an employee does not meet the expected standard that is required of them to perform their job.

Consider exactly what the problem is and ensure you have examples of the behaviour or actions which are of concern eg. customer complaints or examples of employee’s work and projects not meeting standards and expectations.


2. Analyse the problem

To be able to solve the problem, it is important to analyse and understand the issue before you can find the best solution. Consider what, why, when and how questions relating to the issue.

Some helpful questions to guide you and your team include:

  • What needs to be done to resolve the problem?
  • What behaviour is expected compared to what behaviour is being displayed?
  • Why is this a problem and what needs to change?
  • When do these issues happen? Is there an underlying reason?
  • How long has this been a problem?
  • If this is a consistent issue, is the employee aware of the problem and what is expected?
  • What communication have you had with the employee already about the problem?
  • How does the problem affect the business, customers, and team?
  • What is the impact if this problem is not resolved?

When it comes to poor performance identify the problem clearly and consider what metric you will use to track current performance before you start talking with the employee about poor performance. Ensure the metric you use to track performance will be suitable to show an improvement in performance as well.

Additionally, evaluate how serious the problem is. If the matter is minor it may be appropriate to have an informal chat and discuss with the employee what your expectations are.

However, if it is more serious then it is important to address the issue with the employee formally in a disciplinary meeting to provide the employee with the opportunity to respond. The following issues would constitute a serious workplace issue;

  • failing to meet sales targets over the last 3 months, or
  • consistently making errors in their work despite being provided comprehensive training.

Before inviting the employee in for the meeting ensure you have been fair and reasonable in your process to assist with avoiding any potential unfair dismissal claims by investigating the issues fully and collecting evidence of facts before conducting the disciplinary meeting.

Once you have completed this step, it is important to invite the employee to a formal meeting and provide them with the opportunity to respond and to discuss the issue. This meeting is a chance to discuss the problem, provide their side of the story and find ways to resolve the matter. Arrange a meeting with the employee ensuring you provide the employee with the reason for the meeting in advance and offer the employee to have a support person present. If you have any documentation i.e. work samples, provide a copy to the employee prior to the meeting.


3. Discuss the problem in this disciplinary meeting

To conduct a fair meeting, it is essential you do not come into the meeting with a predetermined outcome in mind. The employee may bring new information, concerns or evidence that relates to the issues that you were not previously aware of and if the employee becomes aware that the meeting has a predetermined outcome, then you have not followed due process as you haven’t listened and considered their responses.

Hold the meeting in a calm, comfortable and private environment where other staff cannot overhear the conversation. Describe the problem by giving specific examples of the behaviour/work that is not acceptable. Structure the conversation by outlining the situation, describing the observed behaviour and explaining how the action has affected offers. Express to the employee you wish to work together to create goals to resolve the problem and want to hear the employee’s view. Listen to the employee’s views on the problem and encourage them to offer suggestions for resolving the problem. Remember to take notes so that you can show you have followed due process and have a member of your management team as a witness to take notes for you.


4. Agree on a solution for the problem

Discuss with the employee ways to improve performance. If employees feel involved in this process, they are more likely to improve performance. Together, set clear goals and outcomes to be achieved, then specify the time frame and encourage the employee to work towards these goals. Share with the employee that you are keen to see them improve and want to support them.

Some questions you could ask during the meeting are:

  • Is it clear what action needs to be done?
  • Do you have the tools and resources to do your work?
  • What obstacles do you have in your way of resolving this problem?
  • Have I given you context why your work is important?
  • How can we prevent similar issues from coming up again in the future?
  • Do you feel that your talents are being utilised properly in your current position?
  • What can I help you with right now to work to the best of your ability?

Consider recording these agreed actions as a performance improvement plan which clearly sets out what the employee needs to do to improve. If an employee continues to underperformance after a reasonable period, this performance improvement plan will assist with demonstrating you have followed a fair and reasonable process.


5. Monitor and review the problem

Arrange any agreed action items such as additional training or support you offered the employee as quickly as possible to provide the employee with a good opportunity to improve. Ensure that you arrange a formal meeting at an agreed time to review the employee’s progress and track the metrics you have to measure the employee’s performance.

Remember, don’t wait until the next review if you see improved results, acknowledge improvements when you see them to reinforce positive improvements and encourage the employee to continue.


About Employment Innovations

Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.



The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.