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Are The Green Shoots of Economic Recovery Being Adversely Affected by Poor Work Performance?

There is some really encouraging economic news at last! After some years of scrutinising hoped-for growth through a microscope and often seeing a sad shrivelled up little green shoot, The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) reports that the economy is finally gaining momentum. It has increased its 2013 growth forecast and now expects to see growth of 1.3% this year, up from 0.9%. Forecasts for 2014 and 2015 were increased to 2.2% and 2.5%.

Against this background The Office for National Statistics report that the number of people out of work fell by 4,000 to 2.51 million in the three months to June There was no change in the unemployment rate of the economically active population at 7.8%. The number of people in work is 29.78 million. The BCC has said that it anticipates the unemployment rate, will fall to 7.5% of the workforce by autumn 2014 and to achieve a further fall to 7% by the end of 2015.

There are still risks to the recovery, in particular those posed by counties struggling in the Eurozone, as well as Middle East problems and the economic slowdown in China.

The BCC suggested that the government could do more to support the recovery by providing financial support for the building of new infrastructure, improving the access to loans for fast-growth business, and by helping exporters gain access to foreign markets.

While this is generally good news as employers we have to do all that we can to protect our margins. For most employers the greatest cost both in time and money is the human element. Most employers waste a startling amount of both because they simply do not take the steps to tackle under-performing employees. Some don’t even recognise that there’s a problem they can do something about.

I liken poor work performance to have a very small stone in your shoe. You know there’s something wrong, and it nags away at you but it doesn't stop you doing your job so you just put up with it. If you stop to remove the stone just think how much more effective you can be.

It never ceases to amaze me that when I ask the million dollar question “do all of your people meet all of your workplace standards nearly all the time?” that is often the first time that a manager realizes there is a problem he can do something about.

The benefits of managing poor work performance effectively are obvious:

  • increased financial returns, e.g. profit after tax, earnings per share, market share
  • increased productivity, decreased wastage
  • reduced staff turnover and levels of absence
  • improved feedback from employee or customer surveys less quantifiable but equally important information, such as staff satisfaction and staff development.

It really doesn't take much to address poor performance.

Gather the facts. This includes a clear expression of the standards that you require, example of what success looks like, evidence of what the employee is actually achievable and some examples of this. It’s much harder to deny the facts, so preparation for a conversation of this type is essential.

Start by having an informal meeting. The aim is to explain your concerns, provide guidance and agree a performance improvement plan. Find out if you need to make any adjustments to help the employee. It can also be helpful to set the bar slightly on the low side to start with and work up over time, Roger Bannister didn't wake up one morning and decide to run a mile in four minutes. He had to work up to it.

Be prepared to deal with “screamers”, the types who allege bullying and/ or harassment as soon as you indicate that they are not performing. As like as not, these are the people who then go off sick with “workplace stress”. Don’t be put off and get help to deal with them if they pull this stunt. So long as you draw their poor performance to their attention politely and reasonably it’s not bullying and they have a duty to meet your standards. We’re always being called in to deal with such cases simply so the employer can have a sensible conversation with the individual.

Set a realistic time-scale to assess progress, usually around three months. Review regularly. If at the review date the issue has been resolved that’s the result we wanted and it’s good news. If it has not, we can start the formal process which may ultimately end in dismissal, though we will continue to help and support the employee to try to get him to meet the necessary standards.

The economy may be recovering slowly but none of us have room for passengers. Make sure you have employees in your organisation in the right place performing to the required standards.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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