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Managing Underperforming Employees during Coronavirus


Before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, many managers were reluctant to fully embrace remote working because of fears about productivity. However, with the introduction of social distancing rules and the government-mandated lockdown, the majority of workforces are now compelled to work from home. For many employees, the experience is a positive one, with productivity not an issue, but some managers are becoming aware of underperformance issues amongst their workforce. If this is something that you are having to cope with, what steps can you take to resolve the issue?

rradar employment solicitor Heather Jefferson examines your options.

How to tell if an employee is underperforming

One of the first things that will need to be considered is how you can effectively access information about an employee’s performance. For example, have you spotted that the employee is taking liberties with the use of social media or have you been unable to reach them when needed? You should ensure you have procedures in place for monitoring an employee’s performance before taking any potential action against them. This may include monitoring the following criteria (depending on the role that the employee is carrying out, other criteria may be applicable):

  • how many emails the worker is sending;

  • the number of phone calls they make;

  • their financial performance;

  • whether they have met their targets or output;

  • how able they are to meet deadlines.

If you are not able to monitor an employee by any of these criteria, there is an alternative method you could use. This involves providing employees with a reward of further home working in future ‘non-crisis’ times if this period goes well. You may want to suggest that there may be a business case for remote working, but it must show that employees are productive during this period, so you place the responsibility back on the employee to improve.

If you suspect an employee is underperforming, you need to ensure you have sufficient evidence to prove your suspicions before proceeding further. Once you have established a concern is legitimate and genuine, you can then consider what course of action you should take.

How should you address these concerns with the employee?

It is important to remember that these are difficult times for employees as well as businesses, and a decrease in productivity could be linked to mental health problems caused by, or exacerbated by, home working. The focus should be on assisting the employee, and a more positive approach will almost always give better results than a negative one.

Your approach should include the following:

1. Start with a conversation to find out what may be causing the decreased productivity.

2. Ask the employee if they are finding things difficult.

3. Consider whether there could be any distractions at home, such as childcare.

4. Offer to help the employee and be supportive.

5. Be careful not to use a heavy-handed or distrustful approach as this could have a damaging effect on staff morale and engagement.

6. Place trust in the employees to manage their own workloads.

If you still have concerns with an employee’s performance after adopting a positive approach and there are further signs of decreased productivity/underperformance, then you could consider whether formal disciplinary action should be taken. In that instance, you should treat the situation like any other disciplinary proceeding by following the ACAS Code of Conduct and relevant guidelines.

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Looking for more advice or guidance on this matter, or any other business-related issue?

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