Poor Performance and Capability Handling
31st July 2015
Every employee is expected to be capable of doing the job that they’ve been hired for. Each employee is also required, of course, to do the job that they’ve been hired for.
Capability isn’t enough – it needs to go hand in hand with actual performance.
What about when it doesn’t? How should you handle poor performance?
What exactly is poor performance?
Poor performance isn’t a specific. There is no exact line between adequate performance and poor performance. The employer dictates what’s adequate and what isn’t.
An employer needs to be fair and reasonable. As long as you’re not demanding too much of your employees, then they must meet your expectations. Don’t set the bar too high, as this could lead to stress and low morale or could be unattainable long-term. Think about what you can reasonably expect your employees to achieve consistently and reliably, allowing for the occasional ‘bad day’.
Remember that you’re hiring people, not robots. If you’re suggesting that an employee’s performance isn’t up to scratch, think about whether or not this could be a temporary glitch. Could their personal life be having a negative impact, and could your demands actually increase your employee’s worries? Is there a way that you could offer help and support, before taking disciplinary action?
Can an employee be both a poor performer and a good performer?
As an employer, you can require performance to improve in a specific area. If you have a fast and reliable worker whose customer service skills could do with improvement, you can mark their customer service skills as ‘poor performance’ even if they outshine their colleagues in other areas.
What should you do to ensure that you’re being fair?
If the requirements of an employee’s role change, you need to give them time to adapt. You may have to provide additional training, to enable them to continue to meet your expectations.
Always be aware that all employees must be treated fairly in comparison to one another. You must measure performance in the same way for all that do similar roles.
How should you handle poor performance?
Employer and employee should work together to improve performance. Assume, as employer, that if your employee could be working to a higher standard then they would already be doing so. This may not be the case, but it’s important that you offer any additional training or support that might help your employee to improve. Communication is key when handling poor performance.
Employers can have a capability procedure in place, either as a separate document or as part of their disciplinary procedure. This capability procedure should set out what an employer will do if an employee is under-performing. A capability procedure isn’t essential, but helps to ensure that all are clear about the series of events that will take place if there are performance issues.
If a capability procedure exists, it should ideally include timings (for example, it might state that improvement is expected over a two week period and that further action will be taken if improvements haven’t been noticed). The following steps might be included in a fair and reasonable capability procedure:
- An informal resolution stage, which offers a relaxed approach. A casual meeting might be held, in which the employer can inform the employee about their concerns. The employee can then share their own thoughts, resulting in an informal promise to improve (or an agreement about how the employer can support improvement).
- If there are no improvements, things should become more formal with steps that include staff file reviews, appraisals and work monitoring. The goal is to find out what is causing the underperformance – whether the employer’s expectations are too high, or the employee is being distracted in some way. Whilst the employer is running their own investigation, the employee is invited to speak up and declare their own reasons. Things can stop at this stage, ending the capability procedure, if the situation is resolved.
- If the capability procedure continues, further steps should include formal meetings that set out details of performance issues and what actions are to be taken. These meetings should be accompanied by written letters for the protection of all parties, with the letters including copies of any relevant evidence and documentation. Formal interviews should include the option for an employee to be accompanied by a trade union representative or a colleague. Meetings should include goals and targets for the employee, with timescales for action.
- If initial formal meetings do not lead to an effective resolution, warnings should be the next step in the capability procedure. Formal written warnings should be followed by further reviews (with fair timescales) and one or more additional formal meetings.
- Finally, the capability procedure should outline the steps to take if performance does not improve. This should include the final stage – dismissal due to poor performance, following at least two formal written warnings. Prior to dismissal, the employer is required to make it clear that a final warning is being given.
What happens if poor performance leads to dismissal?
You should be aware that a dismissed employee is entitled to the right to appeal. If the employee wishes to appeal their dismissal, they’ll need to explain why they feel that their treatment was unfair.
What happens after the capability procedure is complete?
Whether issues are properly resolved or an employee has been dismissed, an employer should take an opportunity to evaluate the experience. Think about what happened during the process, and work to find if there are ways that things could be improved in the future. If you’ve been able to offer support to one employee in order to boost their performance, could you provide additional support to others in order to prevent the same happening again?
See every negative as a learning experience and an opportunity for development. As a result, you may be able to increase staff productivity as a whole.