Meeting to Set Expectations
Once you have identified an employee is displaying poor performance, the first step is to meet with them to set out your expectations.
In this meeting, you should:
- Explain to the employee the poor performance they have been displaying e.g. tardiness.
- Set out the standard of performance you expect from the employee to address this poor performance e.g. arriving to work on time.
- The timeframe in which you would like to see an improvement in their performance e.g. immediately.
You should allow the employee a chance to respond and explain their behaviour.
The standard set in this meeting will be the standard against which the employee’s performance will be measured against in the future.
Try and obtain agreement from the employee on steps they will take to improve their performance and a timeframe by which they will achieve those steps. It is good practice to document this in a “Performance Improvement Plan” (PIP). A PIP is a useful tool to track an employee’s performance over a set period of time and is a good way of setting expectations and milestones for both the employer and employee.
This meeting may also be an opportunity for you to coach the employee or identify training opportunities for the employee which may help them in the performance of their role.
If the employee continues to display poor performance after you have clearly set out your expectations, then you can commence the disciplinary process. This involves further meetings and issuing of warnings to the employee that their employment is at risk of termination if they don’t improve their performance.
What needs to be communicated in a disciplinary meeting?
What is discussed and communicated during a disciplinary meeting is very much dependant on the nature of the poor performance or misconduct.
In general terms, the following should be communicated:
- What the poor performance or misconduct is.
- What the standard of performance or conduct is expected of the employee. Refer to the PIP that was put into place in the initial meeting.
- The timeframe in which you expect the poor performance or misconduct to be corrected.
- Refer to any previous warnings if applicable.
- State “this is a warning” and the following:
- If it is a first or second warning – “your employment may be terminated if you do not show satisfactory improvement.”
- If it is a third and final warning – “your employment will be terminated if you do not show satisfactory improvement.”
How many warnings?
Courts and tribunals generally accept three warnings should be given before a termination of employment can occur for poor performance. However, whilst that is a good “rule of thumb”, the number of warnings to be given will vary depending on the issue and the seriousness of the poor performance. For example, you may wish to give more than 3 warnings for an employee who breaches a no smoking policy. On the other hand, you may go straight to a “first and final warning” for misconduct such as swearing at a co-worker.
Verbal or written warnings?
There is a common misconception that verbal warnings are different to written warnings in terms of severity and that a number of verbal warnings should be given before a written warning can be issued. For example, many managers assume that three verbal warnings followed by three written warnings are required before a termination of employment can occur.
There is no requirement to give verbal warnings before written warnings can be issued. It’s better practice to not differentiate between “verbal” and “written” warnings. It is best to always give warnings verbally, which is then confirmed in writing to the employee afterwards.
Types of warnings?
Generally warnings follow a pattern:
- First warning – specify the employee’s employment may be terminated if no improvement in their performance or conduct within the specified timeframe.
- Second warning – specify the employee’s employment may be terminated if no improvement in their performance or conduct within the specified timeframe. Refer to the first warning to establish a pattern of behaviour.
- Third and final warning – specify the employee’s employment will be terminated if no improvement in their performance or conduct within the specified timeframe.
The crucial difference between a “final” warning from other warnings is a “final” warning states to the employee unequivocally that their employment will be terminated if there is no improvement in their performance or conduct in the specified timeframe.
Does the employee need to agree to the warning?
No, an employee does not need to agree to a warning for the warning to stand. Employers will often ask an employee to sign acknowledgment they have received a warning. The employee is not obliged to do so and if they refuse, a file note of the offer and refusal to sign should be made and placed on the employee’s file along with a copy of the warning.
In Part 3 of our Managing Poor Performance series, I will outline the practical steps to take before a performance meeting and address some of the common responses by employees.
Article by Ni Gao
Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended to be a guide only and should not replace specialist advice.