Managing Underperformance


Nip it in the bud!

So often we get calls from organisations that are faced with an employee who for some time has either been underperforming or behaving inappropriately. The situation has got to breaking point and the organisation wants our help to fire the employee immediately.

My first question is always “have you spoken to the employee and explained why you are not happy?” and guess what, the answer is almost always “No”. With today’s strict employment laws an employer cannot just fire an employee without clearly communicating the problem and giving them the opportunity to improve – the only exception to this is Gross Misconduct (a topic for another day). Even if the laws weren’t so strict I would always recommend working with the employee to change their performance or behaviour to save the expense and disruption to hiring and training a new employee.

So my tips for managing underperformance are:

  • From day one outline your expectations for behaviour and performance in your human resource documents, such as employment contracts, positions descriptions, performance criteria and human resource policies and procedures.
  • Encourage open communication between employees, their colleagues and managers.
  • Conduct annual performance reviews following a formal process.
  • Address any issues as they arise immediately, and outline the expectations of the employee through regular performance reviews.

If underperformance is occurring, organise a meeting between yourself and the employee in question. You should inform your employee what the meeting is about and offer them the option to bring a support person or advisor to assist them if necessary. It is important to be clear in the meeting what the issues are and how you and the employee can resolve them, with reasonable steps for improvement established. Communication is the key, and involves both listening and responding to your employee, as well as voicing your own concerns and solutions. We recommend keeping a written record of the meetings and the outcomes they achieve should you need to refer to them at a later date.

Getting on top of underperformance when it first occurs is essential to prevent the situation reaching any further. We recommend using these meetings to rectify any issues with your employees before any formal warnings or dismissals are required.


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Marisa Ross

HR Advisor

Marisa is an experienced and motivated HR professional with a strong HR generalist and business operations background with a focus on employee relations, performance management, leadership training & development, workers compensation & injury management, and employee retention. Marisa holds a Bachelor of Human Resource Management and a Bachelor of Behavioural Science with a minor in Counselling. Having worked in a variety of industries from SMEs to large blue-chip organisations, Marisa is passionate about enriching employee experience, employee retention, and building leadership capability in people management.

Aimee Grigson

Aimee Grigson

WHS Advisor

Aimee has a strong understanding of Workplace Health and Safety Legislation and standards and has extensive HSEQ experience in a number of industries. Aimee has a great ability to engage across all levels of organisation, including field teams, leadership and external stakeholders. Aimee ensures Health and Safety Management Systems are compliant to legislation, effectively implemented and understood by all. Aimee has a Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety and qualifications in auditing and incident investigations. Aimee is passionate about coaching and developing small businesses towards a positive safety culture.