Performance in the Workplace

Failure to meet deadlines. Substandard reports. Mediocre results.


For the employer, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of. But, when an employee is failing to perform, what can the employer really hope to do about it? At Red Pepper Consultants, we pride ourselves on knowing the ins and outs of labour law. In fact, as experts in human resources, we’d like nothing more than to share a few tips of the trade with you.

When it comes to employee performance in the workplace, the employer has certain rights.


Firstly, the employer can go ahead and set requirements regarding output and standards to be met, provided that these are reasonable. It simply would not do, for instance, to insist that an employee take on the workload of a team of twenty! Yet, provided that an employer is fair, the employee is expected to achieve the standards set. Failure to do so gives the employer every right to start the dismissal process. In such cases, termination of the contract is considered due to incapacity on the part of the employee.


In a nutshell, incapacity is all about whether or not an employee can actually get the job done. Does the employee have the necessary skills to perform? Is key knowledge or experience lacking? Is it a case of incompetence, carelessness or negligence? Would additional training and mentoring set the employee on the right track? These are the sorts of questions which the employer ought to ask.


Simply put, failure to perform does not give the employer immediate grounds for dismissal. The employee has to be made aware of the required standards in the workplace. Communication is crucial in this regard and it is for this reason that a written contract between parties is so important. While awareness is critical, so is providing the employee with the opportunity to meet the performance requirements. It is just not the done thing to expect employees to meet and even exceed expectations within the first few days. Patience goes a long way here, but, of course, months or years into the job is another story entirely.


So, what can be done about shoddy performance?


As can perhaps be expected, it starts with a meeting. Call your employee in for an informal chat, all the while ensuring that records are kept along the way. Spend some time discussing exactly where the employee is falling short. It is not enough to say, “You need to try harder” or, “You need to do more.” Be specific. More than this, use these meetings to map the way forward. If the reason for poor performance is a lack of skills or knowledge, training might be the solution. If the employee is battling with personal problems, the employer might want to offer counselling. Remember, at this early stage of the game, it is all about discussing, advising and teaching, rather than seeking punishment, demotion or dismissal.


Of course, the employee needs to be made aware that inferior performance cannot continue indefinitely. After all, the employer cannot be expected to pay out for a job not done. As a result, it is essential to warn the employee of the consequences should performance not improve. But, bear in mind that employers may need to conduct a number of counselling sessions. Workplace performance simply will not reach the desired standard overnight. In fact, it might take several weeks or months for the employee to catch up.


There are, however, cases where the employee is incapable of ever meeting performance requirements. If this is so, the employer has the right to begin the dismissal process. As every employer knows, this can be tricky indeed. But, armed with the law, an employer can see the procedure through. Demonstrate that the employee failed to meet performance standards, despite awareness of these requirements and ample opportunity to improve. Show that dismissal is fitting given the circumstances, especially where the employee performs a key role. It takes time and paperwork, but first, remember that training, mentoring and communicating might well make all the difference.


In the end, the employer should know that there are remedies for poor performance in the workplace. While it is often a journey requiring patience, time and even resources, there is a method to turn those nightmares into sweet dreams.