You have an inefficient employee in your department. Simple projects take hours longer than other similar tasks, reports come days late, and other efficient teammates are noticing the impact their lack of productivity is having on their workloads. The chatter reaches management, who spends a few weeks seeing if it will play out on its own.
Then, the employee gets into a car accident.
They’re on leave for an extended period of time due to their injuries, and when they return, the performance issues are still present. But how can you address them now when the issue wasn’t addressed earlier, in the moment? The employee may assume any conversation or discipline around performance would be retaliatory or related to their injury – the organization at risk of a lawsuit. Meanwhile, teammates are unhappy to see this person return, and morale is slipping by the day.
When do you address this with the employee, and how, without getting your company into hot water or upsetting the teammates by waiting longer to address the issue?
This is certainly a case of getting of being proactive when it comes to performance management. (But to give you a quick answer to the scenario above – there are ways to approach performance issues within that type of unique situation, but you’ll need to be very aware of all the details of the situation and get an employment attorney involved to advise, especially for any unique situation.)
Managing these kinds of issues upfront and avoid downstream issues. Here’s a step-by-step walkthrough of how to manage a performance issue with an employee:
Ensure that you have a training schedule prepared for all new employees. Check in with the employee to ensure they are completing the required training as scheduled. As their supervisor or manager, follow up with and make sure they’re understanding everything. Feedback and conversation are crucial, so set the standard and expectations for these initially on how everything is going for the new employee and that they’re getting all their questions answered.
Informal check-in conversation
If it seems like the employee is not keeping up, start with a private conversation. Ask how things are going and about the particular area of their work you’ve noticed an issue in. Let them answer, then say, I’m noticing that these should’ve been done three days ago, let’s talk about what’s going on and the impact it’s having on the team. Ask about how they organize themselves, whether or not they went through all the training, do they need any additional training or support, and what you as their manager can do to help. Get the employee’s input on a solution. If they contribute some suggestions, they’ll have more ownership over the process and will feel like they’re part of the solution, working together with the company to solve the problem.
Give the employee the chance to correct their behavior. Adjust the time you wait based on the impacts their mistakes could have on customers or your financials or whatever the case may be. Allow the person to be successful. You took the time to hire them, you’ve invested them, continue to do so and maybe it’ll end up working out.
Second check-in conversation
If issues continue, connect again with the individual and ask similar questions as before. Ask how things are going. Mention that you’re still noticing some problems, and ask the employee what they need to be successful.
It’s a difficult conversation sometimes when somebody’s not progressing like they should, but the compassionate thing to do, though, is to share that information with them. You hired them for a reason, you saw something in them, so be sure to give them the chance to succeed by communicating about issues. Then give them the opportunity to correct their mistakes again.
Create a written plan/counseling document
If issues persist, it’s time to begin a more formal corrective action plan. You could also arrange to schedule some time to work with them and see what they’re doing.
Take some time to determine the implications of their work and any mistakes made. Did it cause a customer problem? Did it make us lose money? Measure the impact they’re having when doing a coaching session.
What to do when it’s not working out
By the time you’re sitting down to have a conversation about termination, the employee should not be surprised, since you have been communicating with them about their under-performance all along. If they are taken by surprise, something has gone wrong in the performance management conversations and in the formal corrective action plan. By the time you sit down, they should fully understand why their performance has resulted in termination.
A lot of times, organizations ignore these issues and let them go on too long. Then they become frustrated and just want someone gone. However, that’s where companies increase the risk of a lawsuit. To the individual being terminated, the decision may seem like it’s coming out of nowhere if no other conversations took place, and they may take it upon themselves to look for other explanations. If that person belongs to a protected class, they may wonder if they are being discriminated against.
Ultimately, this is why it’s crucial to have a direct connection with the employee about performance. It can be challenging in a fast-paced organization to make the time to have these conversations, but if you’re a growing company and you want people to feel supported and encouraged to take ownership over their productivity, it goes a long way to demonstrate how you take care of your people and respond when those issues arise.