Top 5 Mistakes Managers Make…With Underperformance

 Many managers will have, at one stage or another, realised that an employee is not performing to the standard they expect. We list 5 of the most common mistakes to watch out for.

1. Avoiding the issue altogether

Some managers may not feel comfortable raising the issue with the employee. This is unhelpful both to the employer and to the employee. The manager will be suffering the effects of the employee’s poor performance and the employee, meanwhile, will be unaware that there is a problem and therefore has no hope of improving which, with constructive feedback, they may well have been able to do.

Ultimately, if matters reach the stage where the business is considering dismissing the employee due to performance concerns, it will be harder to demonstrate that the dismissal was fair if the manager has not been open about concerns in a constructive manner – for example, through the use of regular appraisals.

2. Not properly investigating the problem

Managers should look into the reasons behind underperformance and consider what the causes of it may be. For example, a perceived lack of efficiency may have more to do with an excessive workload or an inefficient system than with the employee him/herself. Equally, the cause may be that the employee is suffering from underlying ill health or an undisclosed disability.

3. Not giving the employee adequate opportunity to improve

Once a manager has told an employee that they consider there to be a problem, the employee will need to be given a reasonable amount of time to address it.

A performance improvement programme is the easiest way of achieving this. How long it should take is going to depend in part on the circumstances, though any timeline which is set out in the employer’s handbook should be adhered to.

If there is something the manager or the employer can do to help the employee improve their performance, such as offering support and guidance or training, it will usually be appropriate to do so.

4. Taking a premature decision to dismiss

Unless the employee’s poor performance is so severe as to constitute gross misconduct, it is not likely that dismissal would be a reasonable decision until a full performance improvement process has been undertaken.

Even then, it may not always be appropriate in the circumstances to dismiss the employee if they do not improve in the set timescale. Warnings are an alternative option and may be a more fitting sanction, especially if the employee has long service or has shown a conscious effort to improve.

5. Waiting too long

Most employees will go through a probationary period when they first join a new employer. This is designed to assess whether the relationship is a good fit for both parties and typically contracts provide a shorter notice period during this time to reflect that. This is an ideal time to tackle performance issues and, if a relationship is not going to work, bring the contract to an end.

In reality, employees do not qualify for protection from unfair dismissal until they have been employed for two years. It is typically much less onerous to manage underperforming employees before they have been there for this length of time (although employers should be mindful that employees do have other protections such as in relation to discrimination or whistleblowing).