Managing poor performance crops up as one of those well-worn HR topics that is bandied around the minute someone starts a sentence with “I have a problem with one of my staff …”
Easier said than done, dealing with poor performance and managing expectations and behaviours in the workplace can quite easily turn a teeny tiny output problem into a major industrial relations nightmare. Lawyers and employee advocates across the nation are responding in droves to the outcome of poorly managed employee relations matters, and profiting handsomely.
Under the Fair Work Act, the way in which we deal with addressing poor performance or poor conduct has changed and it has left many HR people unprepared and working with managers who are none the wiser.
Just telling them to get on with it
A fair and thorough employee relations process is the driver in keeping the settlement-savvy applicants off the Fair Work Australia gravy train. Managers need to sit up and take notice that the good old days of “just telling them to get on with it” have well and truly gone. Proper investigation and reporting of employee incidents involving poor conduct takes time – time that no one wants to spare. Using a well coached manager, HR member or independent third party, you need to put in the hard yards to determine exactly what took place, and when, where and why it happened (ie other factors FWA may consider relevant). So often, managers try to determine the outcome of an incident prior to any investigation taking place, and for that reason they rush into making a non-evidence based decision. If it was you in the firing line, you wouldn’t want the firing squad to be just getting it over and done with so they could focus on more important issues of the day, would you?
Where there is smoke…
Working closely with people brings conflicting ideals and values on a daily basis. It’s how we interpret these conflicts and communicate with each other that is the key. Even if your issue is just a small spark on a well-manicured lawn, using e-mail to resolve the dispute will most likely deliver you an out-of-control grass fire in no time. Like a fire and a change in wind direction, poorly worded e-mails shoot through organisations and copy in everyone around them. They are not confined to the workplace and can be rapidly transported onto public reading space in seconds. Use e-mails to confirm appointments and confirm attendance at meetings, but avoid them where they could give rise to a contagion of meaningless opinions and baseless comments.
Proper employee relations management is not difficult, but it is time-consuming because it is a process to be followed as opposed to being skipped over to get to a speedy outcome. We know dealing with employees fairly, openly and honestly works well. We also know poorly handled people management results in people leaving or becoming bored and angry, which puts the brakes on people working hard (lack of engagement, retention, lost productivity and so on).
So now is the time to start training your people managers in what to do when they have a problem or an incident with one of their staff. Get them trained by someone who can talk them through the Fair Work employer obligations and best practice process. And do get someone with a decent fire safety plan!
About the author
Louise Bowers was formerly a full-time HR professional, with experience in retail, FMCG and insurance companies. She is curerntly undertaking contracting work and writing about the profession.