Poor Performance in the workplace: what should employers do?

Employing people can be a challenge to both large and small employers.

Employers will want to consider how they manage staff to inspire them to be the best they can be. Employees should also be thinking similarly how they can contribute to the organisation to assist it in standing out against other businesses competing in the same market.

It is vital that employers ensure that managers are recruited for their problem-solving abilities and are equipped for the task in hand. Often people are recruited or promoted into positions on the strength of their technical skills and without regard to their people management skills.

If an employee is underperforming, it is important to identify the cause of poor performance. Some of the most common causes of poor performance are within an employer’s control such as:

  • Failure to train staff  to the required standard
  • Line managers not providing sufficient direction or support
  • Failure to align policies and procedures with working methods – or to explain them properly
  • Excessive workloads and unrealistic targets

An important factor affecting performance is the company’s culture. This shapes workers’ behaviour – from senior managers downwards. Companies that operate within a ‘high trust’ framework have higher overall performance, as workers can voice opinions about work-related concerns, share ideas and make suggestions for improvement, or feel able to discuss personal weaknesses.

In a ‘low trust’ environment people put other concerns first, such as the fear of getting into disagreements that might damage relationships. They are also less likely to raise issues.

Poor performance should be tackled early. Informal feedback and guidance, with regular line manager intervention, is highly effective. Employers should keep notes of informal and formal conversations and meetings.

A lack of capability means a person is incapable of doing their job as they do not have the necessary “skill, aptitude, health or any other physical or mental quality”. Incapability is not carelessness, negligence, or bad attitude. Consider giving the employee an opportunity to explain why they think they are performing poorly and give them a chance to improve. Warn employees of the consequences of not making a sustained improvement. Set out a reasonable amount of time for an employee to reach a satisfactory level of performance.

Employers are expected to train their employees to meet the standards of the job and help them keep their skills up-to-date. If the employee is not making the requisite progress within a reasonable time a warning can be issued. The warning is to encourage improvement. It is also evidence of how reasonable the company has been. This should be done using the ACAS code of conduct. Of course, employers should consider seeking legal advice to ensure issues are tackled without risk to the business.

Written by June Salmon – Bates Wells & Braithwaite – 01787 880440

June Salmon

June joined Bates Wells & Braithwaite in 2015 and is a specialist employment law solicitor.

June has over 20 years of litigation and employment law expertise gained first in private practice and later in her role as an employment lawyer in a local authority in London where she dealt with highly complex tribunal cases including TUPE matters, sex, race and disability discrimination claims.

Outside of work June is a governor of a local sixth form college and enjoys a busy family life.


Please note that Bates Wells & Braithwaite are still operating during the Covid-19 crisis and will be throughout.


During the current lockdown we are operating a closed door policy - only those with appointments will be permitted access to the reception area.  If you are dropping off documents please use the trays in our "service entrance" (the next door along the road, it has a notice on the door) - for anything else, including providing ID please telephone reception for assistance.


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Thank you

The Directors of Bates Wells & Braithwaite

Last updated: 11/01/2021