Why do employers avoid performance management & How can you tackle performance issues with employees
I have been reflecting back on the last year and the types of issues I have been helping employers with and one of the things that has come up regularly is performance management. Often business owners have come to me when things are critical, and they are tearing their hair out with an employee. On some occasions I have met with employers and they have explained what has been happening and I have sat open mouthed at the types of behaviour and lack of performance from employees that they have been permitted to get away with. Therefore, I thought I would write about my experience and the reasons why employers tend to put it off, as well as some top tips to get started.
In my experience there are several reasons why employers and managers put off dealing with performance issues and the best way to deal with an issue is to get to the route of why it is not happening and then look at tackling the problem. In this article I attempt to do this and perhaps give you something to work on in 2018!
1. No time.
This is an age-old excuse for not getting on with something that is uncomfortable and difficult. It is the number one reason given by business owners for not tackling an issue with an employee. However, I find that it is actually not the real reason and it is really one of the other reasons set out below.
If it is time that caused the delay in tackling the issue, it would be the number one reason for making the time to deal with it. I often find that business owners particularly are guilty of doing the work themselves rather than addressing the issue and therefore increasing their own work because the employee is not doing what is required of them.
2. Not knowing how to handle it.
The lack of knowledge of how to even get started is a huge barrier to addressing performance issues. The key is to plan the process, review any procedures you have and have the confidence to get started. If knowledge is a barrier then seek advice, so you can get started, the investment will be worth it in the long run.
3. Worried about the fall out or that things could become worse.
In several cases I have dealt with for employers, the employee in question has become the ‘boss’ and rules over everything, seemingly making themselves indispensable whilst simultaneously doing very little productive work. In this situation the employer is worried that the employee will cause a storm with others or become militant.
Often the employee is or has been a friend and the lines have been blurred over friendship and employer/employee relationship and this makes it difficult to address issues in a formal manner. Also, no-one wants to work in an uncomfortable or hostile environment, and therefore putting off difficult conversations and working round the issue is easier.
Many employers and managers have also heard horror stories about how it can all go wrong and they can end up in the Employment Tribunal. This is not the case and if you follow a fair and robust procedure, giving the employee a genuine opportunity to improve you can proceed safe in the knowledge that the risk is low.
4. Feel sympathy for the employee.
In these circumstances the reason for the dip in performance is caused by a personal external factor and the employer has let it go by without dealing with it for a long time as they are concerned about the impact it would have on the employee who may already be coping with a lot outside of work.
In this case I would say that actually it is supportive, and a much better thing, to try to help the employee to perform well in their job and or re-evaluate where their strength and weaknesses are. You are not doing them any favours in the long run by letting the issue go on and on to the point that it becomes the norm or their base line (see below) has changed. Eventually you will become so frustrated with them that you will act in anger or frustration and not be fair or reasonable to them (or as fair and reasonable to them).
5. Worried they will leave
This may sound like a strange reason for not addressing a performance issue with an employee, but it is true in more cases than you would believe.
Getting good, well trained staff (or in some cases any staff) can be difficult and employers are therefore reluctant to lose someone who has been trained or is experienced, even if they are not pulling their weight.
However, just think of the time, resources and frustration you have in continuing to employ someone who is not up to the job or pulling their weight as they should. There is also a real danger that if someone becomes ‘indispensable’ and believes that they are they will do long term damage to your authority and potentially your business.
Top Tips for handling Performance Management Issues
1. Be prepared for the response.
It you have allowed the situation to go on for a long time then be prepared for the employee to be aggrieved and not to understand what you are talking about.
For example, if the employee has stopped being as productive or productive at all. In most case the change happens over a long period of time, and either (or sometimes both) the employee has slowed down over time or changed the way they work as they have become relaxed into the role and/or the requirements of the job have changed due to changes in the business or economic pressures. In this case what happens is the employees ‘base line’ of work has changed so that it becomes the norm for them. They will not be able to see that what they are doing is unacceptable and will believe that they are working to the maximum capacity.
2. Identify the issue.
It is easy to identify the outcome – they are not performing to the standard you require – but identifying the cause or issue is a different thing and something which many employers overlook. Getting to the heart of the issue and the root cause will help you to resolve and normally for the long term.
There are normally three issues at the heart of it:
c) External Factors
Skill – If it is a skill issue then you can identify the gap in knowledge or training and arrange to fill it. This is often the easiest to resolve.
Will – It is much harder for employees to admit that they do not have the will to get the job done or complete the tasks required. If you identify it is a ‘will’ issue, then you can address it accordingly. Normally the ‘will’ issue comes after resolving any ‘skill’ issues.
External Factors – this is where there is something other than the actual work that is causing the problem, and where knowing your employees and/or spending time to get to know them and find out the root cause will assist you. In my experience major life events at home such as births, death, illness, relationship issues will all have an impact on an employee’s performance at work. Once you identify the issue you can find ways to help the employee and attempt to resolve the problem
3. Keep some perspective.
I would say the 99.9% of people do not get up in the morning with the sole intention of doing a poor job at work. Most people do not do it intentionally and most do not know there is a problem. If you keep this in mind when you are talking to them about it, it will help you and help to approach the issue of resolution.
Having in mind that the person you are talking to will not have the same ‘world view’ or perspective on the issue will also assist in reaching a less painful resolution.
4. Be consistent.
I hear so many stores of business owners and managers who finally get around to tacking a performance issue with an employee and take the step to have the conversation, even in some cases issuing a warning, but they then do not follow up! The trouble with this lack of consistency is that it does not deal with the issue and in many ways, condones and encourages the behaviour.
It is therefore important, once you have started the performance management journey to be consistent and follow up. If this means having further uncomfortable conversations, then so be it. If you are fair to the employee and they do not improve to the level required, you need to deal with it.
5. Follow a performance management procedure.
If you have a ‘performance management’ or ‘capability’ process, then it is important to follow this. Not only will it help you to stay on track and get the process done it will ensure consistency with employees and help to mitigate any potential risk of employment claims.
6. Stay positive.
Remember why you are going through the process and what you want to achieve. In most cases it will be an improved more efficient employee who does what you want of them first time. Therefore, see the process as an investment into your business and what you will gain from taking the time to positively invest in the process.
7. Take some responsibility.
As the employer or manager, you must take some responsibility for the position you have reached with the employee. You are the one who manages them or is responsible for their output and therefore you have a part to play in how you have reached the point of a formal performance management process. Many issues can be handled and overcome or nipped in the bud at an early stage by regular communication, feedback and review.
8. Get help!
In most cases getting advice and support from a professional will help you to get over all of the fears and reasons why you have been putting off the issue. A professional can look at the problem with experience, provide reassurance and support your decisions. I tell my clients if I think that the employee has been behaving unreasonably and vice versa, therefore having a perspective from outside and not involved in the day to day emotion and personalities which can often cloud matters is invaluable
This article was written and researched by Alison Colley, Employment Solicitor.
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