If you have an employee who is falling below the standards required in your business, whether it is poor performance or misconduct, you have a duty to discuss it, understand the issues and do what you can to help and support him or her. There’s only so much you can do. The employee has to make the effort to meet you half-way. If the employee can’t or won’t achieve the level required, you have to consider a parting of the ways.
But it can be awkward to have that conversation in a small business and employers often put off what they see as a potentially confrontational conversation, sometimes for years. The longer you leave it the harder it gets.
Last week a client contacted me about Jeremy. I know of Jeremy of old. I sometimes think he was put on this good green earth to drive decent employers crazy. But it’s the employer’s fault for not managing him.
This was the tale of woe: Jeremy agreed to work on flexible furlough from the start of January. The employer is making up his pay so he will get 100%.
There is a safety element to Jeremy’s work. During the flexible furlough period he is (unless otherwise agreed) supposed to be on site Monday to Friday mornings with half an hour each day spent at the end of the day doing security checks. This was all agreed in writing.
The manager has been working at home during the lockdown and if she comes to site she normally mails Jeremy. But she knows he is slippery so decided to do a spot check one morning. He wasn’t there and he had not contacted her to say he would not be there.
She phoned his mobile to find out where he was. The call went to voicemail and she left a message asking him to call her back. He called back about ten minutes later. Jeremy admitted that he wasn’t on site but said he had been there at 8am to mend some equipment but had felt ill and so had to get out.
She has supported him in every conceivable way – but Jeremy never steps up to the mark. She wanted to make the matter formal and if possible, to open up a protected conversation with a view to a managed exit.
I chased up a few days later and found that they want to have an informal guidance conversation (they’ve done this ore times than I care to count); they think they might make the role redundant in about a year (we’ve has this conversation before too); and anyway, they think Jeremy will go sick if they deal with it via the disciplinary route.
They don’t lack courage. It’s the disruption they dread.
What??!!! Don’t waste a good crisis (a Churchillian motto). Not dealing with this appropriately sends the wrong message to other staff. Indeed, it may trip them up if they try to discipline staff in the future: “Jeremy has done this that and the other and you have never disciplined him. How can it be fair to discipline/dismiss me?” It’s a fair question.
The aim is to get Jeremy into a situation where he will listen to an exit offer. He will only consider it if he is outside his comfort zone. The manager told him he would hear from her and he went all emollient (as she described it “sorrowful puppy dog eyes”). He knows he deserves a rocket. If she does nothing now (and another informal discussion is just that) he goes on thinking he’s untouchable.
I told her not to waste this opportunity. We can deal with it if he goes sick. I’d even see it as a good buying signal that he would like to resolve the situation. Ultimately, it’s her call and I hope she decides to act.
My view is that employers must communicate clearly, help, and support all the employees on the workplace bus. But all passengers must earn their keep. If they refuse and the matter can’t be resolved reasonably and sustainably, then steps must be taken to put them off the bus.
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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.
Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.
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