It’s Just Not Working Out


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Every manager, at one time or another, will face a situation where an employee is just not working out. It may be an existing employee whose performance or attitude is not meeting required standards, or a new hire that is unable to develop the skills required. Here are some best practices for handling such sensitive situations.

It is important to recognize the warning signs and to address them quickly, fairly, and consistently realizing that there will only be one of two outcomes — you can work with the employee to get them back on track, or if no improvement is shown, you will ultimately sever ties and terminate employment. Avoiding or ignoring the situation is detrimental to employee morale, performance, and creates the perception that substandard performance is acceptable.

First, identify the problem. Is the employee aware of the expectations; are they aware that their performance is not where it should be? Do not assume that expectations are clearly understood; sometimes it is helpful to have the employee sign a job description detailing requirements and expectations. Do they need additional training? Are personal issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, finances, or substance abuse negatively affecting their performance?

Communicate your concerns with the employee. You want to ensure that the employee is aware of the expectations and is given the opportunity to improve through a progressive improvement/disciplinary plan.

Have a Progressive Discipline Procedure in place, train your supervisors, apply it consistently, and document each discussion. These discipline plans will hold the employee accountable for their actions and behaviors. Your employee should never be surprised or caught off guard by a termination. They should be aware that there is an issue which needs corrective action on their part, and if no improvement is shown, will result in their decision to sever ties with the organization.

Most importantly, document your discussions with the employee. You may choose to have a witness or HR representative present for these discussions and more serious steps of the process.

Progressive Discipline/Performance Improvement Plans will typically include the following steps:

  1. Discussion/Verbal warning
  2. Written warning
  3. Final written warning/Probation/30 day Performance Improvement Plan
  4. Termination

 Discussion/Verbal Warning — Your goal is to come to an understanding that a problem exists, and to agree upon a solution.

  • Meet in a private area
  • Explain your expectations
  • State the employee’s actual performance
  • Specify the steps needed to be taken in order to improve the situation
  • Indicate the resulting consequences if no improvement is shown
  • Express confidence in their ability to achieve the necessary changes
  • Schedule a follow up discussion
  • Document your verbal discussion

 Written Warning(s) — should include:

  • Specific Statement of the problem
  • List prior discussions or warnings
  • Include a Statement of company policy
  • Actions to be taken, with dates for improvement and plans for follow-up
  • Consequences of failure to improve performance or behavior

Written documents should include comments such as … “Failure to provide immediate and sustained improvement may result in further disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.” Remember to have employee and manager sign, date, and to add comments if necessary.

Final written warning/Probation/30 Day Performance Improvement Plan — One last chance for improvement, and notification that the next occurrence may result in termination. This can take the form of a Final Written Warning, an unpaid or paid probation leave,  or a 30 day Performance Improvement Plan, performance should be monitored closely over the next 30 day Probation Period.

Finally, evaluate if termination is necessary. Determine if the action is fair and consistent with your policies and practices, based purely on performance/behavioral issues, and ensure there is accurate documentation to support the decision.

You may choose to seek legal counsel prior to making employment decisions that may have discrimination implications (age, race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, etc.)

Remember that these improvement plans should be corrective, fair, consistent, and progressive. And that ultimately it is the employee’s responsibility to make adjustments to their behavior and to correct the problem.


Posted In: ACCA Now, Management

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