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Dealing with employee underperformance is an endless challenge for all growing businesses. Employers face the dilemma of needing to improve an employee’s work output or quality while still being a good employer and treating the employee fairly and reasonably. The best way of doing this is by first addressing the problem informally. This article will set out several ways your business can manage an employee whose performance is below expectations. These involve:

  • an informal meeting;
  • thinking about external causes of underperformance; and
  • incorporating a regular feedback process.

Failing these strategies, you may even consider a more formal poor performance process. 

Having an Informal Meeting

Most methods of addressing employee underperformance will begin with an informal meeting. You can take this kind of meeting yourself, or a different manager at your business can. It is better if a person who knows the employee well can begin the conversation, maximising the chance of having an open and productive talk. At the same time, it is good to intervene early when there are performance issues. An informal meeting is a low-stakes way of doing so.

In the informal meeting, you or the manager in the meeting should take an open mind. Ask questions and be open to what the employee might say about how their work is going. There may be additional factors that you might not be aware of. The kinds of things you could be thinking about in the meeting include:

  • does the employee understand what you expect of them?;
  • have I (or their manager) communicated what is required from them clearly enough?;
  • is their job description clear?; 
  • did they get enough guidance on the task?; and
  • are they receiving ongoing feedback?

As a general rule, do not draw attention to the employee’s situation in front of others, but do not be shy about managing performance issues. 

Considering the Bigger Picture and Possible External Factors

It is good to think about the bigger picture with an employee, including before an informal meeting with them. For the person taking the meeting, you or another manager should have: 

  • a clear and unbiased understanding of the context around the employee and their work; and
  • an understanding of what is happening and what is going wrong.

You should know these facts before you meet with the employee in question. It may be worth checking with other managers who work alongside, or interact with your staff member, to understand what might be happening.

Often, employee underperformance is caused by factors outside the workplace or their actual role. A death in the employee’s family, or a relationship break-up, can have a debilitating impact on an employee’s output and quality of work for a considerable period. An informal process is the best way of working out why an employee is struggling. 

Understanding certain issues in an employee’s personal life is a valuable way to gain context as to their underperformance. An employee may be struggling with mental health issues that are unknown to you. However, respecting your employee’s privacy is crucial, and you cannot push for specific details about their personal lives. 

If they are reeling from the death of a loved one, for instance, providing counselling or bereavement leave is a helpful way your business can help the employee. Giving an employee bereavement leave can help them personally and in terms of their productivity. This is a better alternative than undergoing a poor performance process which can create undue stress and pressure.  

Incorporating a Regular Feedback Process in Your Business

A regular feedback process is a good strategy for your business to consider in all cases, not just for an employee’s underperformance. An employee may not actually know that their work is below expectations, and a feedback process can help with this. This can also happen alongside an informal meeting or as part of one. 

Following an informal process or meeting with an employee, a future check-in with the employee is valuable. This allows you to discuss their performance and (hopefully) commend any improvements. Likewise, a secondary check-in enables both parties to acknowledge that the issue has been resolved, and provide positive feedback to the employee.

If the employee’s performance does not improve following an informal process, you may need to take more formal action. This should include a performance improvement plan, formal warnings and even dismissal if the employee’s performance does not eventually improve.

Key Takeaways

There are many ways to informally address employee underperformance and get them back to being effective and high performing. An informal chat or meeting is the typical way to do this. Be prepared before this kind of meeting, and fully understand the employee’s work and where they are not meeting expectations. You should also have an open mind about the employee’s underperformance. It is possible that instructions have not been made clear to them or that something has happened in their personal life to affect their work. In any case, implementing a regular feedback process is a good step to improve productivity and effectiveness in your business generally. If you want to know more about managing employee underperformance in a productive and informal way, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is employee underperformance?

Employee underperformance is when an employee is not completing their work to the standard you would expect or desire. It may not necessarily warrant a poor performance process. However, it typically is a yellow or red flag suggesting that some kind of additional feedback or process is required to get an employee’s work back on track.

When should an employer take an informal (instead of formal) approach to employee underperformance?

It is a good idea to begin with an informal approach when addressing underperformance. It may be that a simple conversation or some additional feedback is enough to help the employee. There also may be external factors affecting an employee’s work, where an informal and sensitive approach may better serve the situation.

Can underperformance lead to dismissal?

Yes, if an employee’s performance does not improve following a formal poor performance process and warnings, it can justify dismissal. However, you cannot dismiss an employee for poor performance or underperformance after an informal process only.

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