Underperformance at Work

01 October 2020

Ensuring your employees are working to a high standard keeps your business operating to a high standard.

So, what happens if staff don’t meet expectations? Well, we provide industry-leading HR services—if you need a quick answer, call us on 0800 028 2420. It can be a difficult conversation at work, but it’s an important one to address.

You can also read this guide, which addresses the causes of the issue and how you can go about rectifying them.

What’s workplace underperformance?

To define poor performance, it’s where a member of staff’s working output starts to decrease.

For example, it may be they’re suddenly missing deadlines, or the quality of their work isn’t as good as it usually is. Employees could start being late, deliberately waste time, or even get into conflicts that affect the rest of the team.

Underperformance in the workplace can be frustrating, especially if you have come to depend on employees for certain tasks.

The initial response may be to try and discipline the employee—after all, you’re paying them to do a job and they’re not doing it as well as you would like.

But it’s still very important you approach managing underperformance with care.

There could be a number of reasons why an employee is underperforming, some of which may be serious and potentially violate employment law.

The difference between underperformance and poor performance

It’s important to note the difference between the two, otherwise it can cause confusion between management and employees. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Poor performance: Means a lack of skill from an employee, which you may be able to address using skills training and professional development. Crucially, this situation isn’t the fault of the staff member.
  • Underperformance: This is where staff do have the right skills, but the quality of work isn’t what you expect.

How to identify the causes of underperformance

Managers may wish for the company to explain how to identify causes of underperformance. And take steps to identify potential areas of underperformance in the workplace before you take any further action.

When faced with an underperforming employee, one reason could be they’re struggling with their workload and need further support from management.

Maybe a particular project is taking a lot of their time and they’re starting to feel increased pressure, which is affecting how they perform.

Alternatively, an employee may be suffering personal issues that affect their role.

They may even be showing signs of a medical condition, such as a mental illness, that even they’re not fully aware they have.

It’s crucial to remember that, if these performance issues can be linked to a disability and the employee is poorly treated as a result, you could be looking at a costly disability discrimination claim.

How to speak to an employee about poor performance

The first step is to hold an informal meeting with the employee, letting them know there are issues noticed in their work and asking if the business can help.  

This provides the employee opportunity to put forward their concerns and ask for help.

Let the employee know you’ll keep an eye on their performance. That includes the effectiveness of any assistance provided. And that you may need further discussions such the problem continue.

Talking about poor performance can often be a difficult conversation, but a necessary step. If you talk with an employee about it openly and focus on trying to improve employee engagement, rather than simple reprimanding, it can help get them back on track.

How to deal with underperforming staff

If employees continue to show issues in their performance, you may have to go down a more formal route.

Your next steps will ultimately depend upon why the employee is underperforming. Are they struggling due to their general capability, or is it because of a medical issue?

If the situation relates to their capability, you should consider providing further support to assist them in their roles, such as extra training or supervision.

The employee should receive a reasonable time to demonstrate an improvement in their overall performance. If, at the end of that period, they’re continuing to show no signs of improvement, you should issue a capability warning.

If it appears your staff member is willfully approaching their role with a negative attitude, and you can’t determine any apparent reason for this, you can consider implementing a formal conduct procedure against them—rather than capability.

It’s important to identify the real reasons for the underperformance and this is why an investigation into the behaviour is a key element to the process

If their underperformance relates to a medical issue, you’ll need to explore making further adjustments to assist them before making any final decision on their continued employment. This could include changing their working environment, hours, and duties.

Performance management

If you can identify a reason for the drop, you can begin creating a plan for performance improvement.

This is where performance management comes in. Many employees are often unaware their performance is not up to the required standards. And they can’t correct it without unless you inform them.  

That is why it’s so important for managers to have regular feedback meetings or appraisals so they can performance manage at every opportunity.

Team members who work with their line managers on their career and job performance can often result in greater performance as this engagement motivates your employees.

The way to manage an employee’s performance comes in three steps:

  1. Create an informal performance action plan that they can work on.
  2. Draw up a formal performance action plan. Sometimes managers go straight to a formal action plan, this is just down to personal choice. Some managers like to have everything recorded and the formal action plan suits their style better.
  3. If there is still no improvement, it is time to look at disciplinary action and potentially terminating an employee.

Firing an underperforming employee

If improvement still does not occur, the formal process may continue, ultimately resulting in dismissal on the grounds of capability.

However, it’s important you follow a full and fair procedure before you fire an employee.

Do you need help?

It’s a difficult and challenging part of every business. But, we’re here to help. Call us and we’ll take you through what you need to do:0800 028 2420.

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