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How to manage poor performance effectively

We've teamed up with our friends at Ellis Whittam Limited to bring you a series of guidance notes on a variety of topics.

Employers know that their employees are integral to the business’ success. This is why it is important to manage poor performance in an effective way to build a positive and responsive workforce and make sure your Company’s productivity remains high.

Is it a performance or conduct issue?

It can be confusing knowing where to draw the line between performance and conduct.

When we are talking about performance, it’s about the employees that can’t do something. This should be dealt with through your performance/capability procedures.

When we talking about conduct, we are talking about someone who can do it, but won’t. This should be dealt with through your disciplinary procedures.

Motivating your staff

There are a number of ways to motivate employees who are underperforming in their role. Examples include recognising good work, linking pay to performance, giving them the chance to progress up the career ladder and give them chances to attend training. These could all act as incentives to make the employee want to perform better.

Reviewing performance

Managers should be having regular meetings and reviews with employees, giving them frequent feedback, holding an annual appraisal and keeping records of all performance, whether good or bad. The Acas Code of Practice says that employers should carry out an investigation before holding a formal hearing and these documents will help with this.

Try to resolve informally

Dealing with an employee’s performance is part and parcel of manager’s day to day duties. The employee’s line manager can talk to them to make them aware of the performance issue, identify the reasons for their under-performance, and inform them of what the correct level of performance is and how they can improve.

It becomes increasingly difficult to bring up problems if a staff member has been doing the same for weeks, months or even years and nobody has ever called them up on it, so it is better to nip it the bud. Admittedly it may be a hard conversation, but it can produce good results as the employee understands what is causing concerns and what they can do to make it right. 

If this doesn’t work...

Unfortunately, the informal approach does not always work and may require formal action.

You should invite them to an initial performance review hearing, giving them information about the poor performance concerns and the possible outcomes that could come out the meeting.

At the hearing, it is a chance for you to delve into the issues and clarify what is required of them, identify those key areas of concern, find out what the causes of poor performance are, pinpoint any training needs and set targets and timescales for improvement.

A significant part of this is allowing the employee to ask questions, present evidence and respond to the concerns. It also involves listening to the employee and assessing whether their targets are too ambitious? Is the workload simply too much? Have there been changes since those original targets were set? Have they been given training? 

If it is considered that performance is unsatisfactory, you should give them an improvement notice, which specifies what they need to improve on, the period of review and the potential outcomes if their performance doesn’t improve.  This also includes offering appropriate support or training.

If performance is still not improving...

If the deadline passes and they still haven’t brought up their performance the level required, you may need to hold another performance review hearing or extend the period of review. It may also be appropriate to give them a formal first or final written warning.

 If improvement does not appear, you may ultimately consider dismissal or any options just short of dismissal (e.g. redeploying them into another suitable job).

Employees should not normally be dismissed for performance reasons unless they have received previous warnings. However, if the employee has been so negligent that they have caused the Company serious loss, they may be dismissed without prior warning and/or without notice.

Remember the ACAS Code of Practice...

Employers need to follow the main principles of the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, which sets out the main principles and steps that need to be taken when dealing with poor performance issues (e.g. allowing the employee to be accompanied at the disciplinary hearing and allowing an appeal).

For further advice and support on this topic, please contact the British Sandwich Association Advisory Service on 0845 226 8393 and quote “PAPA Member” and your membership number.  Alternatively, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.