Monday, December 17, 2007

Increases in legal fees may also reflect poor workers performance

Advice on how to tackle poor performance in the workplace ...

The Scotsman reports :

The real costs of poor performance in the workplace may be legal fees


WITH the latest annual report from the tribunal service revealing that the number of employment tribunals in the UK increased by 8 per cent last year, it is not surprising that increasing numbers of business owners and line managers are worried about challenging staff over poor workplace performance for fear of becoming embroiled in a costly tribunal claim.

Recent high-profile cases, such as Helen Green vs Deutsche Bank, have raised the profile of bullying in the workplace. In this case, the judge stated that "employers could be held vicariously liable for any harassment caused by workers in the course of their employment", significantly shifting the onus for monitoring staff behaviour firmly on to the company concerned.

Failure to tackle poor performance, however, can prove extremely costly for businesses, with UK employers wasting more than £30 million a year on under-performing staff, according to a survey by Personnel Today magazine.

If 96 per cent of HR managers admit to facing issues with poor performance, and 29 per cent admit it is a serious problem, just what can companies and line managers do? According to ACAS guidelines, bullying may be characterised as "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient". The definition does not include legitimate and constructive criticism of a worker's performance or behaviour or reasonable requests made of workers.

As a manager or employer, it is important to remember that managing other people's performance is a legitimate part of your job and one that can have a significant impact on office morale and, ultimately, the company's financial performance.

While it is never pleasant to be involved in work-place disputes, provided you treat staff fairly and adhere to the company's disciplinary and grievance procedures, the risk of claims can be minimised. In some cases, an informal word in an under-performing worker's ear will quickly resolve the problem.

If this fails to resolve the situation, it may be necessary to begin a performance management process. Following the correct procedures can increase the chances of an improvement in performance and go some way to protecting managers against bullying or harassment claims.

In the first instance, you should arrange to meet with the employee to discuss the issue and agree an improvement plan and a realistic timescale, details of the support they will be given and the date of a follow-up review. When giving negative feedback on performance, ensure that it is given in a constructive way, and refer also to the positives – ie things they are doing well. If their performance fails to improve, employers are then entitled to issue performance related warnings and, ultimately, move on to dismissal.

Anyone preparing to commence this process should take legal advice early to ensure they are up to date with the latest legal procedures. Training sessions and multimedia services, such as Pinsent Masons' i-pod-based HR Network TV, can prove particularly useful at these times, allowing managers to review the legal requirements of the performance management process before embarking on a meeting.

Handling awkward situations is all part of the job when you are a manager, but, if handled correctly, any spurious tribunal claims of bullying or harassment are likely to be thrown out at an early stage.

• Kirsty Ayre is an employment partner at Pinsent Masons

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