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Perfect Tense

You need the patience of a saintly robot to be an employer. The pressure to be perfect is unrealistic, yet unrelenting. We are supposed to know all there is to know about employment law (and every other sort of law come to that),never put a foot wrong, never cuss or kick the company cat. Even the most serene managers gnash their teeth sometimes and say things that are distinctly impolite.

I sometimes wish that employers could sue employees for being a pain in the derriere. Mind you, the tribunal system (never a byword for speedy and efficient administration) would be choked with such claims, so perhaps it’s just as well not...

Recently we have helped a client through what should be a fairly simple performance matter. There is clear evidence of poor performance. The employer is taking advice, drawing a deep breath and going through things a step at a time. The employee is in absolute denial (despite clear proof). This is what made the whole thing so wretchedly painful.

It all started some months ago when he was put on a performance improvement plan. During the period of the informal PIP, his manager had met with him fortnightly to review progress and review objectives. Despite intensive coaching he was still making fairly silly mistakes, so after four months, the employer decided to explore matters formally.

He first tried to argue that there had been no informal process. Then he tried to submit a grievance saying that we were bullying him. He was referred to the lines in our grievance procedure which says that if a manager reasonably asks an employee to carry out an achievable task it is neither bullying nor harassment.

When the employee received a first stage warning, despite admitting to certain errors, he didn’t hesitate in appealing. Despite his companion making a point of saying how fairly he thought the process had been conducted, the employee didn’t give any thought to whether he might just possibly need to improve his performance.

This lack of emotional and intellectual honesty is becoming more and more common. It’s always someone else’s fault. This is horribly draining for an employer. Prevention is the best way to deal with this. Recruit properly and resolve problems early. If they can’t be resolved, get rid of the employee. Give people the chance to do better. It’s up to them to decide what to do. You can’t do the job for them.

The individual in question is awaiting his appeal and this week refused to work on objectives (which were issued almost a month ago and should have been delivered this week) because of the appeal. He said he finds it too challenging to concentrate. We have drawn to his attention our concerns that he has only raised this at the last moment. We will wait, but only until the appeal has been heard in two days’ time. Thereafter it’s business as usual. This has all been put in writing so if he ever does try anything at tribunal the court can see how reasonable we have been and how unreasonable he has been.

The two managers who are dealing with this have been almost superhumanly patient with this employee, but they confess that it is wasting a huge amount of time and frustrating them because he just doesn’t accept responsibility for anything. I’ve no idea who he thinks is supposed to be doing his job for him.

If you need help sorting out poor performance get in touch. It’s always easier if you have a third party who is emotionally uninvolved.

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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