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Managing the poor performer

By CCIWA Editor 

Don’t know what to do with a poor performing employee? CCIWA Senior Employee Relations Adviser Courtney Buck steps you through it. 

What is poor performance?  

Poor performance can manifest itself in different ways, some examples of which include: 

  • low productivity; 
  • work that fails to meet quality standards; 
  • inability to meet realistic deadlines; 
  • poor self-management; 
  • short cuts/work arounds; 
  • poor attention to detail; 
  • not following company procedures; 
  • poor attitude; 
  • absenteeism; and 
  • regular lateness. 

There are a number of factors both inside and outside an organisation that may impact an employee’s performance. 

Factors inside an organisation can include lack of role clarity, poor communication on expected work standards, poor supervision, unreasonable expectations, insufficient training and lack of appropriate resources.

External factors contributing to an employee’s poor performance could include physical and mental health issues, family issues, financial issues, and carer responsibilities. 

There are many more factors that could affect an employee’s performance and it’s important for employers to consider these factors when dealing with poor performance to effectively address the issue. 

Dealing with poor performance 

Poor performance should be addressed straight away. It is important that you choose the right level of action when dealing with underperformance. 

The three recognised levels of action are outlined below:

1.Casual comment

Minor performance concerns can be addressed through the casual comment approach. 

For example, if an employee has suddenly started to regularly arrive at work late, the first step would be to tell them that you have noticed they have been regularly late and to ask whether everything is OK. The casual comment should be made in private and remain confidential.   

The casual comment approach can help managers understand what the issue is and what they can do to support an employee. Even though they are casual, these comments should still be recorded.  

2. Performance counselling

Underperformance can also be addressed through the performance counselling approach. 

Performance counselling is a collaborative one-on-one process whereby the manager and employee try to solve a performance problem together. This may be an appropriate course of action where the performance matter is still in the preliminary stages and the casual comment has failed to make an impact.    

Before meeting with the employee, it is important that you adequately prepare. 

  • Employers must be clear on the ‘gap’ between the current performance and the required performance and should have specific examples of underperformance. Company policies and procedures and even the employees job description can also be an effective tool in setting ‘benchmark’ performance.   
  • When meeting with the employee about their performance, employers should try to gain agreement with the employee that there is a performance issue. This can be done by providing direct and specific examples of underperformance. 
  • Explain the impact of the employee’s poor performance so the employee understands why there is a need for change.    
  • Once a performance issue has been established, the employer and employee should explore and agree on what is causing the problem. This could be as simple as the employee being unclear of expectations in the role, or not understanding the importance of a task. 

Once causal factors have been determined, the employer and employee should try to solve the performance problem. It is important that both the employer and employee both generate ideas during this stage. An action plan should be put in place and this plan should be reviewed after an adequate period of time.   

It is important that the performance counselling process is appropriately documented and followed up with written communication to the employee.  

3. Formal discipline meeting

If the casual comment and performance counselling fail to solve the performance problem, the next step is a formal discipline meeting. 

Prior to the meeting, specific procedural or administrative requirements should be considered. 

  • Prepare for the meeting by collating documents that may be relevant (e.g. company policies and procedures and/or the employee’s job description). 
  • Notify the employee of the meeting and give them the opportunity to bring a support person with them.  
  • At the formal discipline meeting, explain to the employee when and how their performance is failing using specific examples. When employees are presented with detailed evidence (times and dates) of their poor performance it is harder for an employee to brush off allegations of poor performance.   
  • During the meeting it is important that you listen, consider and take note of the employee’s response. If the employee’s response isn’t satisfactory, you should explain what is expected, offer the opportunity to improve and be explicit about the consequences if their performance fails to improve. 
  • The meeting should be documented and followed up with written communication to the employee. 

Failure to improve performance can lead to disciplinary action ranging from written warnings to termination of employment.  

If an employee is terminated for poor performance, it is important that you have evidence to prove you had a valid reason for termination and have provided procedural fairness to the employee. 

These are the two primary matters a commission will consider if an unfair dismissal claim is received. 

There are also other types of claims an employee can make so it is important to have documentation in place to defend such claims.

For more information on how to deal with poor performance in the workplace, contact the CCIWA Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or [email protected]. 

Don’t know what to do with a poor performing employee? CCIWA Senior Employee Relations Adviser Courtney Buck steps you through it. 

What is poor performance?  

Poor performance can manifest itself in different ways, some examples of which include: 

  • low productivity; 
  • work that fails to meet quality standards; 
  • inability to meet realistic deadlines; 
  • poor self-management; 
  • short cuts/work arounds; 
  • poor attention to detail; 
  • not following company procedures; 
  • poor attitude; 
  • absenteeism; and 
  • regular lateness. 

There are a number of factors both inside and outside an organisation that may impact an employee’s performance. 

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