Have you noticed that an employee’s performance has started to decrease or they’re failing to meet the required outcomes of their position? The time to act is now.

Early intervention is vital when underperformance arises to ensure an employee is aware of the concern and a solution is being worked towards.

At the early stage, you should start to informal counsel the employee, which is a first step in the underperformance process, In most cases the employee may be unaware that they are not meeting the required standards of the position and when this is discussed with them, improvement may immediately be made.

Underperformance is sometimes mistaken for misconduct however they are not the same. Misconduct is where an employee is behaving in an unacceptable manner (such as breaching a workplace policy). These issues are dealt with slightly differently, so it’s best to obtain HR advice if you are unsure. 


How to Informally Counsel an Employee

Prepare for the meeting:

  • Ensure you have a private space where other employees will not interrupt or overhear your conversation.
  • Prepare any reference material, examples of underperformance, relevant policies.
  • Be prepared to actively listen to the employee’s responses.

Outline specific areas of concern and your expectations:

  • Provide the employee examples of dates when this has occurred and why it’s an issue.
  • Discuss the impacts of the underperformance (e.g., operationally, team impact).
  • Explain the outcome you want to achieve from this meeting and how the behaviour or performance needs to change or improve.
  • Provide relevant reference material (e.g., examples of underperformance, metrics that show the impact, relevant policies).

Provide the employee an opportunity to respond to the concerns raised:

  • What is their view of the concerns?
  • Is there anything impacting their ability to perform? Understand how you can support them. (e.g., is more training required, could they benefit from a mentor, is something happening in their personal life that is impacting their work?)
  • If possible, highlight recent positive things the employee has recently done to show them that you also appreciate and recognise their strengths.

Agree on actions for performance and behaviours to be improved.

  • Be clear on the outcome you require.
  • Involve the employee in the actions – what do you think we can do to improve your performance moving forward?
  • Reinforce the value of the position the employee performs.
  • Encourage open lines of communication for future conversations or changes to circumstances.

Remind the employee of EAP service available should they require counseling, coaching or mentoring support during this time (if you have this available).

  • Provide flyer or brochure during meeting.

Set dates to check in with the employee and review progress.

  • Provide regular constructive feedback and continue to monitor performance.
  • If performance does not improve, ensure conversations with employee are happening in ‘real time’.

Follow up with the employee with a clearly documented summary of:

  • The performance or behaviour concerns and what needs to improve.
  • Outline how this will be done and list any supports that will be provided to assist employee (e.g. training and development needs – on or off-the-job training, coaching or support).
  • Confirm each parties responsibilities and any action items.
  • Date for follow up meeting to review progress and discuss (give employee a reasonable time to improve).
  • Ensure both employee and manager have a copy of the summary.
  • Provide details of the EAP service (if available).
  • Attach any relevant supporting documentation (e.g. policies)



Informal Counseling conversations can be challenging and uncomfortable, depending on your confidence level the below tips can be helpful:

  • Be consistent and stay on top of performance discussions and meeting the set timeframes.
  • If issues arise during the Performance Management period, do not wait until the next meeting to come around (e.g. 2 weeks away), speak to the employee and raise the concern in real time.
  • If there is no improvement by the set time frame, engage HR and move to a formal process.
  • Familiarise yourself with the relevant policies relating to performance management and the overall process.
  • Get comfortable with the process prior to the discussion and seek support if needed.
  • Keep a record of all conversations with the employee linked to the performance and send a copy to the employee. This documentation is important if the performance does not improve, re-occurs or if there is a disagreement on what was discussed.

FairWork has a Managing Underperformance Best Practice Guide for employees and managers which identifies best practice along with practical tips and case studies relating to underperformance.

By intervening early, you increase the likelihood of the underperformance improving.

If however, there is no improvement through informal counseling or more serious intervention is required, move onto the formal process for Performance Management.


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, workplace safety, 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.