Managing under-performance

Informal action first

The steps involved in addressing issues of under-performance fit within the general framework of managing performance outlined within this guidance but if you are moving to more formal procedures to deal with performance please seek the advice of Human Resources.

As noted previously in this document in many cases of under-performance a relatively informal discussion at an early stage should be enough to address the issue. Human Resources can help you consider the situation and how best to approach the staff member to address underperformance informally in the first instance.

The aim of managing under-performance is to help the individual to improve and to meet the agreed standards. In doing this you will have ensured that:

  • Your member of staff is clear about the performance issue;
  • An action plan has been in place for sufficient time to allow for improvement;
  • Any support identified has been provided, and sufficient time has been allowed improvement;
  • You have a clear audit trail of all of the above with discussions noted, confirmed in writing to the individual and, where possible, that the individual has acknowledged receipt of any written communications.

When you become concerned about an individual’s performance, attitude or behaviour, then you should try to address this with the individual as quickly as possible. However, before you do this it is important to consider whether there is anything that could be causing the issue, for example, consider:

Understanding the difference between capability and conduct

As the University has both disciplinary and capability procedures it is important to be able to understand which procedure would apply.

Explanation of the difference between Capability and Conduct

When dealing with issues of conduct the Disciplinary Procedure should be used. This is because there is a presumption that the conduct is mostly in the control of the member of staff, and that with some support they should be able to improve this.

  • In relation to capability we have two separate procedures i.e. the Sickness Absence Management and the Capability Procedure. As these latter two procedures deal with capability there is more of a presumption that the issue may be outside the member of staff’s full control, and as such both procedures emphasise the need to consider various options/support.
  • Performance may also be negatively impacted if a member of staff has a concern, problem or complaint to do with their work or a person they work with, so it is important that these are addressed fairly and promptly and, where possible, informally via the Grievance Procedure.

It is also important to identify the issue as this determines which procedure should be used, however, as this is not always clear cut, if you are uncertain, advice should be sought from Human Resources.

With thanks to York University for the use of the diagram above.

Performance summary overview flow chart

Performance Summary Overview Flowchart

As a general guidance for you please find a series of scenarios and issues that you need to consider when dealing with performance issues. The scenarios are not a definitive list of considerations /actions, these should be tailored to individual situations and advice from HR is always available when needed. Managers should adopt the principle of discussing any concerns with the individual as soon as possible following becoming aware of an issue or after an event from a non-judgement, supportive and open point of view.

Scenarios and suggested actions to undertake – Performance

Scenario Informal considerations for managers Immediate Actions to take Short term considerations Long Term

Timekeeping, regularly late attending work, work meetings.

  • Have you kept a record of the dates/times individual was late.
  • Are all other team members punctual?
  • Are you aware of any difficulties being faced by the individual in or outside of work?
  • Arrange to speak with the individual in private and discuss that you’ve noted their difficulties in arriving on time.
  • Explore if there are any reasons behind this e.g. problems at home, childcare difficulties, and health problems and consider what support you might offer.
  • No reasons give, highlight expected timekeeping and monitor this over an agreed period.
  • If difficulties outside work – consider support, temporary adjustments and agree a plan going forward, confirm this in email.
  • If health – consider further support from HR / Occupational Health and refer to absence procedures.

Possible Disciplinary

Absence from work without any pre-approved leave, or any notification.

  • Are you aware of any difficulties being faced by the individual which might explain their absence?
  • Are you clear on what staff should do? Refer attendance management procedure and annual leave arrangements.
  • Contact the individual immediately to speak to them to check they are ok and find out their reason for not being in work.
  • Listen to their response and agree the reason for absence e.g. sickness, absent without authorisation.
  • Notify individual that if absent without authorisation, the day will be without pay and if further absence is likely outline how to notify you appropriately.
  • On their first day back in work, arrange to sit with individual and clarify arrangements for notifying you of absence from work referring to the attendance management policy and annual leave guidance.
  • Confirm the risk of further absence without authorisation and remind individual it may lead to potential disciplinary action if they do it again.

Possible Disciplinary

Poor behaviour, ‘snappy’, hostile, withdrawn or aggressive with other colleagues, students or customers.

  • Is this the first time such behaviour has been displayed?
  • Are you clear on what you observed, what accounts other haves have given you, write down some bullet points.
  • Are you aware of any difficulties being faced by the individual which might explain their behaviour?
  • Arrange to sit with the individual, in private, as soon as possible.
  • Explain the behaviour you witnessed, reports you have received by others and note that you find it unacceptable.
  • Express your concern for them and a wish to understand what led to them behaving in such a way?
  • If any difficulties are shared, consider what support can be offered e.g. counselling, coaching, Occupational Health support, work adjustments etc.
  • If no difficulties shared, explain the behaviours you do not expect to see in the team and monitor future behaviours.

Possible Disciplinary or Capability

Mistakes in work produced, repeat errors and failure to deliver the standard required

  • Have there been any changes to processes, systems or work requirements?
  • What learning & development has been given to the individual?
  • Are you aware of any difficulties being faced by the individual which could be affecting their work capabilities?
  • Arrange to meet the individual and highlight the areas of work you feel do not meet the require standards, being specific and giving examples.
  • Discuss these with the individual, ask for their views on what challenges they are facing with the work.
  • Agree what good performance looks like and how you can support the individual to achieve this.
  • Giving clear examples of the level of work expected and how you measure this.
  • Consider further development through short courses, shadowing work colleagues or one to one support from yourself.
  • Could mentoring provide an opportunity to learn from another individual
  • If there are any difficulties e.g. problems at home, health, look at other support through Occupational Health, work adjustments, counselling.

Possible Capability

Two members of the team are regularly in verbal disputes, creating tensions in the team and impacting on work delivery

  • Has there been some incident, disagreement which has triggered ill feeling or resentment?
  • What drives each individual, is the conflict due to different perspectives and approaches to their work?
  • Discuss the situation with both parties individually to enquire about what is behind the dispute and explain that the impact on the team and their behaviour towards each other is not acceptance.
  • Explore if they would be willing to sit down together and discuss their frustrations with yourself to try and resolve the matter.
  • Depending on the nature of the disagreement and emotions attached you may consider mediation to be a possible option and discuss this with all involved.
  • Seek advice from HR to explore the issues being raised and consider other options going forward to manage the conflict.

Possible Disciplinary or Capability

Refusing to undertake a task or activity

  • Is the responsibility included in the individuals’ job description?
  • Is the task or activity a reasonable request for the role and level of responsibility required of the individual?
  • What is behind the individual refusing to undertake the task/activity? Could they be unhappy about other aspects of their employment?
  • Seek advice from HR on the situation and discuss what you are trying to achieve.
  • Meet with the individual to discuss, explore their objection and if reasonable to ask, inform them that you wish for them to undertake the task in accordance with their job description.
  • If issues around knowledge or understanding of the task are raised, offer support through work based training or further development.
  • If other issues are raised explore these with the individual and discuss what you might work together on to address and by when.

Possible Disciplinary

Dismissive towards further development and the PDR process, not engaging in discussions.

  • Remember job descriptions state a requirement to participate in the PDR process.
  • What could be behind the individual’s lack of engagement with the PDR? Could be problems outside work, health, motivation in work.
  • Explain to the individual your expectations of them regarding the PDR process and highlight what you want them to do.
  • Remind them of their responsibility to keep their skills and knowledge up to date to successfully continue to perform their role.
  • Seek advice from HR if the individual remains.
  • If there are other issues behind the individual’s lack of enthusiasm for the PDR explore these with them and consider what you might be able to offer in terms of support.

Possible Disciplinary

Difficulty in making decisions, balancing work demands or prioritising requests.

  • Is there an issue with work load volume which might be impacting on the individual?
  • Has the individual had much experience, learning, development in time management and managing workloads?
  • Is there an issue in or outside of work impacting on the individual’s usual ability to prioritise etc?
  • Discuss with the individual informally or if approaching soon in their PDR to explore how they feel they make decisions and balance work demands.
  • Share your observations with specific examples.
  • Explore if there is anything else happening that could be effecting the individuals’ performance.
  • Offer some information support as needed to coach and build up the individual’s confidence in these areas.
  • If informal support in work doesn’t make a different, discuss and arrange for further development e.g. time management course, assertiveness.
  • Consider if the support of an independent coach would be beneficial to help them develop and discuss this with HR.

Possible Capability

Taking formal action

By the time you need to take formal action it is likely that you will have HR support however, it is useful to understand the process by which formal action is undertaken.

Formal policies and procedures include the:

  • Capability Policy and Procedure
  • Disciplinary Policy
  • Grievance Policy
  • Attendance Management Policy

Important note: Before you are able to move to any formal action HR will need you to provide detailed notes about your actions to date in terms of:

  • Facts of the situation.
  • Relevant dates of incidents and meetings.
  • What action you have taken up to the point at which you involve HR.
  • Actions taken to improve the level of performance.
  • Any other relevant information.

Following discussion between yourself and HR you may then decide to undertake formal action to address a formal issue, or that further action as part of the informal stage is required. Below is a very brief summary of the processes. You should certainly discuss formal action with HR who will advise you on the relevant procedure.

The Capability Policy and Procedure

It is important that the capability policy procedure, as with all policies, should be applied equally and consistently to all staff, except staff under probation, to which a separate procedure applies.

For academic and academic related staff each stage will constitute the procedure referred to under the relevant Statute and nothing in the Capability and Supporting Performance Procedure shall be intended to alter or amend individuals’ rights under that Statute. Stage one of the process constitutes the verbal warning stage, stage two constitutes the written warning stage and the third stage constitutes the dismissal stage.

The Capability and Supporting Performance Procedure addresses the ability to carry out a job to the required standards (the “can’t”) as opposed to issues of wilful inadequacy or misconduct (the “won’t”), which are handled through the University’s disciplinary procedure.

The Disciplinary Policy and Procedures

There are two disciplinary procedures in the University – one for academic and professional staff and the other for support staff and as with the capability procedure has a series of stages that include informal and formal stages. This policy is to deal with issues of wilful inadequacy or misconduct (“the won’t”) rather than “the can’t”. If you wish to deal with performance in this context please refer to the relevant policy and procedure and you must consult HR before embarking on dealing with disciplinary issues.

The Grievance Proceedure

Most routine complaints and grievances are best resolved informally in discussion with yourself as the manager however sometimes staff feel aggrieved about the way they have been treated, either by management or by their colleagues. In this situation staff are given the opportunity to express their views and to have the issues resolved through the grievance procedure.

In this situation a member of staff has to note their grievance in writing to you as their immediate line manager. Where the grievance is against you as the line manager, then the matter should be raised with a more senior manager.

The complaint is then investigated and you should collect information and investigate the complaint as necessary to resolve the matter. If the matter can be resolved by simply acknowledging and rectifying the grievance, then it may not be necessary to have a meeting with the member of staff. However, if the grievance cannot be resolved in this manner, you should invite the member of staff to attend a hearing to discuss the grievance. After the grievance hearing has been held, you should respond in writing to the member of staff and explain clearly what action(s) will be taken to resolve the grievance or, alternatively, why you consider the grievance complaint to be unfounded.

If it is not resolved at this stage the procedure outlines further stages to address the issue.

Managing absence

If it is established that a member of staff’s unsatisfactory performance is due in part or in totality to sickness, ill health or disability, advice should be sought from HR in this situation the University’s Sickness Absence Policy is followed. In circumstances where you have to deal with performance and absence you need to be very clear about following the University’s processes to ensure that you deal with these circumstances in a fair and sympathetic way.

You should deal sensitively with individual staff but also consider the impact of long term absence on the team.

Just as a quick reminder please note that all staff are required to; notify in person their line manager (or appointed deputy) no later than half an hour after their normal start of work on the first day of absence, or if taken sick at work, before leaving work. In terms of longer absence:

  • Absence up to 7 calendar days – A self certificate must be completed on their return to work.
  • Absence of 8 calendar days or more – A Statement of Fitness for Work (Fit Note) is required from their doctor.
  • Sickness absence that results in 5 episodes or 20 days (short term absence) within a 12 month rolling period or 20 days (long term absence) continuous absence should be reviewed by you as a manger.

As a manager you should ensure that:

  • Staff are aware of the sickness absence procedures and that they are applied fairly and consistently to all staff.
  • Ensure the original self and medical certificates are sent to Health & Safety Services.
  • Make suitable arrangements to cover the period of absence and to ensure that key tasks and responsibilities are dealt with in an appropriate manner.
  • You are expected to keep in contact with the long term sick at a minimum of 6 weekly intervals. This contact is a key factor to helping staff to return to work effectively.
  • Undertake return to work interviews following each episode of absence, following ‘fit for work’ guidance from GPs where appropriate. This may include: a phased return to work plan, adjusting hours of work and workload; temporary alternative tasks; redeployment and reasonable workplace adjustments. Phased returns (usually for a period of up to four weeks) do not result in a reduction in pay.

Sickness absence summary overview flow chart

The manager is notified about the health problem preventing a person from attending work

  • Record the reason, date(s) and duration of sickness absence and the barriers preventing a return to work
  • Take a copy of the Fit Note for your records and immediately forward the original certificate to Health & Safety Services for payroll purposes

Short term sickness absence

  • The self certification period lasts 7 calendar days.
  • Managers are not expected to contact staff who are off work with short term illnesses. It is the responsibility of the member of staff to inform the manager they are unable to work and to inform when they expect to return to work.
  • Managers should seek advice from their nominated HR contact should their advice be required.
  • A monitoring period should be confirmed with the employee and reviewed accordingly.

Repeated short term and medium term sickness absence

  • Managers should conduct an absence review meeting with those who have suffered a 5th episode / reached 20 days of short term absence within 12 months and those returning from medium term sickness absence (7–20 days).
  • Should absences continue formal action will continue as per the short-term procedure.
    Managers should keep HR involved. This could lead to a final written warning / dismissal on the grounds of capability.
  • Managers should seek advice from their nominated HR contact should their advice be required.
  • A monitoring period should be confirmed with the employee and reviewed accordingly.

Long term sickness absence

  • Establish and maintain welfare contact at 6–8weekly intervals and ensure payslips are forwarded to the member of staff.
  • HR are responsible for notifying employees in advance of the date of sickness absence reducing salary.
  • The Occupational Health Practitioner will offer guidance to the member of staff and manager to support a return to work or, if relevant, assist with the process of ill health retirement.
  • Long-term absence could also lead to discussions around redeployment, alternative duties, retraining etc.
  • If ill health early retirement not be an option and all other avenues for a return to work explored and / or the member of staff is not likely to return to work in any capacity in the foreseeable future then ill health dismissal will result.

Scenarios and possible actions to undertake – Absence

Scenario Informal considerations for managers Immediate Actions to take Short term considerations Long Term

Intermittent short term absence

Through return to work interviews establish if there are any underlying health issues or personal matters that might impact on attendance.

Attendance management meeting to be held on the first day of return to work at which the absence is discussed further and if necessary a timescale for improving attendance is agreed and a monitoring period is instigated.

  • University best practice trigger points (see above) are instigated in a timely manner.

Move to long term absence or capability process.

Long term absence

Through receipt of fit note review reason for absence and the potential impact on the work of the individual and the team.

In accordance with the University’s policy maintain regular contact and arrange for an Attendance Management Meeting with HR and Occupational Health.

  • Should further support be required the member of staff, manager, HR and Occupational Health to agree reasonable adjustments to support an effective return to work.

Capability process with possible consideration of ill health retirement or termination on the grounds of capability / ill health.