Performance Improvement Plans – Employer

Performance Improvement Plans

Staff performance is usually straight forward to monitor, but can be very difficult to address when things go wrong. “Perception is reality” the saying goes, and that is particularly the case in employment situations. It is not uncommon for an employee to think they are doing a wonderful job, whilst their supervisors and co-workers don’t share that view. Managing a performance issue is different to managing a misconduct issue. It’s important to use the correct process for the issue you have with your employee.

It is an employer’s obligation to try to resolve problems in good faith. In cases of performance issues, good faith means giving an employee a real opportunity to improve their performance and helping them to do so, while making sure that they know and understand their performance expectations. In cases of misconduct this means conducting a fair and full investigation and giving the employee the opportunity to be heard.

Management action, not disciplinary action, is needed to fix most performance issues.

Formal performance management, using warnings and/or dismissal should be considered only after consideration of other management actions (more information, clarification, better leadership, extra training, coaching or counselling) to fix the employee’s performance issues.

Managing Formal Intervention - Warnings and performance improvement plans

There is no specific requirement under employment legislation to give employees a series of warnings before dismissal. However, in a performance management situation a series of warnings is the most appropriate approach as it allows the employee to fully grasp what the performance gaps are and gives them time, with support, to get to the standard required.

With most performance issues it would be best to start with an informal process. Often an issue can be quickly resolved without going through a formal process.

Your employment agreement or policies may specify how many, and the type of, warnings that may be used. Where this is the case then you must follow the terms and conditions of employment as set out in the employment agreement.

Where the number and type of warnings are not specified, then it’s best to err on the side of caution and give at least: a written warning, and a final written warning before terminating an employee. What is appropriate must be what a fair and reasonable employer could do in the circumstances. Try to stand back and consider objectively.

Remember, when making decisions on the nature, type and number of warnings, you need to take into account such things as:

  • the difficulty and type of tasks involved
  • the impact of any ongoing performance issues on the organisation (eg the size of the organisation and its ability to absorb/carry the under-performance)
  • the employee’s length of service and experience
  • the effort and progress toward improvement made by the employee
  • whether the performance issue was contributed to by the employer (lack of role clarity, job structure, expectations not clear, cultural misunderstandings, etc)
  • whether the employee has personal (ie non-work related) issues going on, for example physical or mental health, family;
  • and finally whether there is in fact a ‘performance issue’ as opposed to the employee having a personality clash with his or her direct supervisor, team leader or manager.

Oral Warnings

Some employment agreements require the use of oral or verbal warnings before any written warnings are issued. If this is required then follow this process. If not, then it’s best to avoid oral warnings (as they’re difficult to ensure a clear process has been followed and may be contested). If you do feel the need to ‘warn’ an employee informally, you may choose to say that you are issuing them with a ‘caution’.

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