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What happens if I have to have an awkward conversation with a member of staff?

From time to time, employers are likely to run into problems with a member of staff who is no longer living up to their full potential or underperforming.

However, while such situations can prove frustrating – and ultimately damaging for workplace productivity and morale – it is important that employers handle such issues properly in order to avoid the likelihood of a workplace dispute or Employment Tribunal challenge arising.

First and foremost, before any issues of this nature arise, business owners and line managers should regularly review their processes and policies for dealing with members of staff who aren’t hitting the mark – to ensure that these are water-tight.

Furthermore, all employees should be subjected to regular performance reviews, particularly in instances where the nature of a job role or workload is consistently changing.

Employers should adopt a strategy of transparency and honesty at all times – as it can often be difficult to admit to someone who has worked for the company for many years that they are no longer meeting expectations if their performance has not been reviewed for a long time.

There is a typically an expectation of at least an annual review in most workplaces, but this is often not enough, especially where one member of staff suddenly starts to underperform. When an issue arises, it is wise to start out with a relaxed, but confidential discussion before any formal procedure is initiated.

Employees should still be welcome to bring along a representative if they wish and a written record of all meetings should be kept, as well as copies of formal letters inviting staff to such meetings.

In addition to this, every company’s employee handbook should clearly state what expectations the company has of its employees. This should be laid out in a policy, which outlines what action the company will take if these standards are not met. The policy should then be regularly reviewed to ensure it is line with the requirements and expectations of the business.

If having carried out these procedures and provided additional support you still feel that the employee is underperforming then it may be time for them to exit the business.

If it reaches this stage, however, employers need to tread very carefully. It is important to follow the disciplinary procedure suggested by the Acas code of practice and to think very carefully about whether a dismissal is really the right solution.

If you have concerns about an underperforming member of staff and would like advice, please get in touch with our employment law expert Amanda Hyam.

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Amanda Hyam

Amanda Hyam

Associate – Dispute Resolution / Employment
I have specialised in Dispute Resolution, Civil Litigation and Employment law for more than 15 years.  I understand how daunting the prospect of litigation can be and because of this I am always available to discuss concerns.

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