Poor performance: early action required

Dealing swiftly with poor performance prevents the situation from escalating and gives the employee the chance to put the situation right. The Acas Code of Practice advocates using informal methods in the first instance before moving on to more formal methods.

In most cases an informal conversation between the line manager and employee can address the issues. Therefore, it is important to make sure that your training for line managers enables them to feel confident about having ‘difficult’ conversations, otherwise what might be a minor issue can be left for so long it becomes a major problem. Not only does ignoring a situation mislead the employee into thinking there isn’t a problem but it also leads to low morale in the rest of the team. Acas has produced a guide called Challenging conversations and how to manage them. It has also produced a Challenging conversations step- by-step table which guides managers through the process of having a challenging conversation. Both are available from www.acas.org.uk.

In cases of poor work, it is important to use performance management and appraisal systems before embarking on disciplinary procedures. These procedures provide employers with written proof of measurable targets, together with the employee’s performance against these, which shows you have tried to act fairly throughout the period of employment. A performance management policy must not aim to manoeuvre a poorly performing employee out but help them reach the required standard. However, in most organisations there is likely to be a time when stronger measures are needed. The disciplinary procedure should clearly state what these measures are and how they should be implemented. If an employee’s work or behaviour is poor, there is nothing to stop an employer initiating disciplinary proceedings which can lead to dismissal but the law aims to ensure this is done fairly.

Acas produces templates of letters to be used at various stages of the disciplinary procedure. In some cases the employee may break such important rules or their conduct may be so seriously wrong that it becomes ‘gross misconduct’ and dismissal may be the only course of action. This may still be considered ‘fair’ if managers follow good practice and use a procedure in which the rights of the employee are recognised.