Managing Unsatisfactory Performance & Behaviour
These procedures are a guide to managing unsatisfactory performance & behaviour in the workplace.
Delaying or ignoring performance management is one of the most costly mistakes a business can make. Decisions should be made promptly to develop and improve team members to a higher standard and remove any poor performers or ill-disciplined workers from the business in a legally compliant manner.
Where an employee’s performance does not meet a satisfactory standard the first step taken should be informal counselling. The employer should provide the employee with details of the non-performance and an opportunity to improve within a set timeframe. Any support required to assist the employee should be discussed.
Where informal counselling does not produce the required outcomes, a more formal process should be entered into. This may involve a performance management plan that documents the issues, actions to be taken and review timeframes.
The employer should ensure that the process is fair. This includes ensuring that:
- The standards of conduct or job performance required are made clear to the employee;
- The employee is advised of the process in the event that satisfactory performance or conduct is or is not maintained;
- The employee is permitted to have a support person present at any performance management meetings; and
- The employee has an opportunity to respond and put forth their side of the story.
Depending on the nature and seriousness of the instance of under-performance, it may be adequate for Managers to address under-performance via informal strategies before embarking on a formal disciplinary process with the employee.
Informal strategies may include:
- Providing regular constructive feedback and monitoring performance; and
- Identifying training and development needs and arranging appropriate on or off-the-job training, coaching or support.
Suggestions to follow when engaging In informal strategies:
- Advise the employee the specifics of the behaviour and how the issue is affecting their work;
- Be specific and compare current performance to expected performance or behaviour;
- Avoid comparing the employee with other employees;
- Show empathy – explain your understanding of the situation;
- Be a positive listener – let the employee know your understanding of the situation;
- Offer training or ask what support/training may help them;
- Establish how and when to follow up on commitments for improvement;
- Close on a friendly note ensuring that anything raised in the discussion will be kept confidential; and
- Encourage the employee to keep open lines of communication for future discussion.
Note: Following any informal conversations around under-performance, the manager should make some notes for future reference.
If you have followed the “informal steps” and your employee’s performance has not improved or if the performance issues require more serious intervention, it may be time to move to the “formal steps” in the process.
The following checklist has been created to help you plan and conduct a formal under-performance meeting with your employee, and document the issue.
By far the most common reasons for undertaking ‘formal steps’ include:
- Not performing the job to a standard that is acceptable to the employer;
- Continually arriving late for work;
- Having a poor attitude towards management or fellow employees;
- Unexplained or excessive absenteeism;
- Breach of occupational health and safety requirements;
- Negligence or failure to comply with the policies and procedures;
- Refusal to obey a lawful and reasonable instruction; and
- Verbal abuse of another person at work.
Before The Meeting
- Arrange to meet with the employee at a time and in a place where you will not be interrupted, overheard or rushed. Consider having a senior employee to attend as a witness and note-taker;
- Tell the employee why you want to meet with them and who will be at the meeting;
- Allow the employee to bring a support person of their choice to the meeting if they want to. A support person may be a co-worker, family member, friend or union representative. Their role is to support the employee during the meeting, not to speak or advocate for them;
- Carefully plan what you want to say at the meeting; and
- Gather relevant information (e.g. job description ) and any documents that demonstrate the underperformance (e.g. work examples, complaints or performance statistics).
During The Meeting
- Clearly explain why you are meeting with the employee;
- Describe the underperformance in issue and clearly explain why it is an issue, using specific examples and focusing on facts;
- Set out any steps you have taken so far to resolve the issue (e.g. informal steps) as well as the support you have provided (e.g. training);
- Invite the employee to respond to what you have said and to explain their performance, and ask them what they think can be done to improve it;
- Consider what the employee has said. If you need more time to think about or look into what the employee has said, close the meeting and agree to meet again in a day or two;
- Decide on a way forward with the employee, including if you will provide any further assistance or support or make any adjustments; and
- Tell the employee if you will be issuing a verbal or written warning;
- Explain what will happen next if the employee’s performance does not improve (e.g. a further warning or the possibility of termination).
After The Meeting
Confirm the outcome of the meeting in writing and invite the employee to respond, including:
- What was discussed (including any issues raised by the employee).
- What the employee needs to do to improve their performance.
- Any support or assistance you will provide.
- Whether a written warning was, or will be, issued.
- What will happen next if the employee’s performance does not improve.
Other actions to consider:
- Keep thorough notes of the meeting and copies of any letters, emails or warnings, and sign and date these documents. Ask the employee and any witnesses to do the same. If the employee refuses, make a record of the refusal;
- Give the employee a reasonable period of time to improve their performance (typically 4-8 weeks depending on the circumstances);
- Regularly check-in with the employee over that period to discuss how they’re progressing;
- Formally meet with the employee again at the end of the period to review their performance. Should any conduct during the review period bring this process into disrepute, reserve the right to initiate these discussions as soon as practicable;
- If the employee’s performance has improved enough, close the process. Follow up in writing and clearly explain that they must maintain the improvement; and
- If the employee’s performance hasn’t improved, consider taking further action, up to termination of employment with notice, should that have been made clear up front that this was a possibility.
Number of Warnings
There is no legislative requirement specifying a period of time during which a warning remains valid and there are also no strict rules governing the exact number of warnings an employee must receive before being terminated. This all depends on the circumstances, including:
- The length of service of the employee;
- The nature and seriousness of the issues; and
- The reasonable period required to rectify this behaviour or performance.
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 knowledge base 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.
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