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Managing poor performance is a crucial aspect of effective human resource management. When employees underperform, it not only affects their individual productivity but also impacts the overall success of an organisation.  It can also impact the individual’s colleagues whose workload may increase as a result.

Informal Performance Discussions

When an employee’s performance falls below the expected standards, it is essential to initiate an informal discussion early on. The objective of this stage is to provide feedback, address concerns, and identify potential reasons for the poor performance.  During the discussion, it is crucial to maintain a supportive and constructive tone, focusing on the improvement of performance rather than assigning blame.  Where poor performance is due to conduct, the matter should be dealt with under the Company’s disciplinary policy and procedure.

If it is ascertained that the gap in performance is a result of a training need, the manager should ensure to provide appropriate training as well as any resources that may assist the employee to achieve the necessary improvement in performance.

Managers can help facilitate the discussion by outlining the specific areas of underperformance and establishing clear expectations for improvement, including realistic timeframes for improvement.  If appropriate, the Company may issue an informal performance warning/letter of concern prior to initiating formal proceedings.

Formal Proceedings

If the employee’s performance fails to improve within the given timeframe or if their performance declines further, it may be necessary to move to the formal performance management stage. The manager should ensure to follow the Company’s performance management policy and procedure.

The manager should write to the employee to invite them to a formal performance improvement meeting.  The letter should outline the performance concerns, the previous informal and formal attempts to address the issue, and the potential outcome if it is determined that the performance has not improved as required.  The employee may be accompanied at the meeting by a trade union representative or colleague.

If at the end of the meeting, the manager concludes that the employee has failed to make the necessary improvements, then a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) should be initiated.  The PIP should provide some clear objectives for improvement; a suitable timescale (“review period”) for the achievement of these (the review period will vary in length depending on the objectives/PIP plan) and a description of the support the Company may be able to provide to assist the employee to achieve the necessary improvements.

The meeting may also result in a formal performance warning, which should be confirmed in writing following the meeting.  The letter should include the right to appeal the decision and the appeals process.

If an appeal is lodged, the appeal hearing should ideally be heard by a different manager (usually more senior) unconnected with the case.  This may not be possible in very small companies.

Employers will normally give at least one, sometimes two performance warnings and one or two review periods.  An employee may be dismissed for further failure to improve where there is an active final performance improvement written warning on their record.  Alternatively, an employer may consider other actions short of dismissal, including demotion or redeployment to another role, or extension of a final written warning with a further review period.

Where underperformance is due to a disability (as defined in the Equality Act 2010) the employer should consider what reasonable adjustments can be made prior to considering dismissing an employee on grounds of capability.

myHRdept will guide HR Outsource customers throughout the whole process and can attend site to help or even chair investigations or hearings. Our HR18 and HR24 packages include 1 or more site meetings per annum for this purpose, other customers may choose to pay for a site visit & non myHRdept customers can obtain support under our HR Projects service.

Typical employment law pitfalls may include:

  • Poor or no investigation (or no documents to support).
  • Procedural flaws in handling the performance process.
  • Failure to properly investigate the performance gap, reasons for it, or provide measures to assist the employee to make the necessary improvements.
  • Failure to consider reasonable adjustments where under performance is due to a disability.
  • Inconsistent treatment of employees in similar circumstances.
  • Unnecessarily harsh sanctions or unrealistic review periods.
  • Intimidatory style in performance meetings.
  • Failure to allow companion to be present or participate.
  • Evidence that the employer has prejudged the outcome of the process (e.g. having a pre-prepared warning letter to give to the employee at the end of the hearing).
  • Using the performance process as a convenient way of “getting rid” of an employee for other reasons.
  • Failing to allow an appeal etc.

It is important to remember that even if a performance management outcome is justified, if there are procedural flaws, this will make the decision automatically unfair. Thus, knowing and adhering to your own processes and procedures is of paramount importance.

Further resources:

Our series of videos explaining performance processes

ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures

Help and support

Please contact us immediately you become aware of a potential performance issue. We will conduct a case review with you, advise you of a course of action to follow and (depending on your tariff) prepare appropriate letters and documents for you to use. Under some circumstances & if you require it, we may attend hearings with you.

If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR, payroll or employment law needs, why not contact myHRdept? Call us on 01628 820515, email us at to discuss your requirements, or contact us via our website and we’ll call you back.




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