Acting to improve the performance of an employee who isn’t coming up to scratch is key to maintaining the quality and output of work. Poor performance can impact engagement, the team, relationships with customers, the reputation of your business and is more easily dealt with as soon as issues become apparent.

Communicating the issue

Speaking to an employee about their underperformance can be daunting – it’s a sensitive issue. They may be in denial about their performance or genuinely oblivious to it. It’s best to start with an informal chat as this may do the trick. Ask them if something is behind the underperformance. There could be an issue in their personal life, for example. Maybe they are a new employee and an aspect of the job hasn’t been explained properly. Outline what needs improvement and offer support or training. The line manager will be key in making any improvements as they will be the person providing the necessary support. HR Think can provide coaching for leaders who find they struggle with difficult conversations.

The importance of realistic targets and support

It is worth considering if the targets you are setting your employees are realistic and achievable. Are you overloading the employee? Are they stressed? Is their capability to do the job an issue? Is their line manager offering enough support and distributing work fairly? Do they need further training?

Probationary Periods

There is no legal requirement for probationary periods, but they are a useful way to focus both the employee and the employer on getting new starters up-to-speed in a specific time period. During the probationary period it is important for the employee to have targets and to conduct regular reviews to ensure those targets are being met. Then, if there is a performance issue, the cause can be identified, and efforts made to improve the employee’s performance early on in their employment.
The probationary period can also be the point at which the employer comes to understand the employee cannot achieve the level of performance required and it becomes a necessity to dismiss them for a failed probationary period.

Reviewing performance

Outside of the probationary period it is still important to review performance regularly this can be done well with regular employee/manager one-to-ones and appraisals with constructive conversations. Coaching can help managers hone their own coaching skills.
If issues with performance arise it is important to find out early on. Employees who cannot perform can affect the rest of the team and cause resentment as well as affect your bottom line. If it is ascertained that the employee doesn’t have the aptitude to carry out the role then dismissal is likely to be the ultimate response but an alternative role, a change of duties or demotion can be the answer too.

Disciplinary and dismissal


If an employee is in their probationary period or has under 2 years’ service, then you don’t necessarily need to use your full disciplinary procedure unless there are other factors which may add to the risk of not doing so. It is best to obtain HR advice on this situation.
It is good practice to follow up any discussions with the employee about poor performance in writing or make notes of one-to-one meetings or probationary review meetings. You then have a record of how you’ve tried to assist the employee in improving their employment and if any improvement has been achieved.
You need to give a deadline for improvement and if that goal hasn’t been met then you have no option other than to discipline them for poor performance which could include to dismissal.

If you need guidance for a performance issue or coaching for your managers, do get in touch. Liz Jewer 07803 007591 or liz.jewer@hrthink.co.uk

Get in touch

Contact Liz Jewer on 07803 007591 if you need advice about this topic or HR related services HR Think offer.