All workers have occasional difficulties, but when conduct becomes consistently problematic or the worker’s performance repeatedly fails to meet expectations, a serious personal problem may be contributing to the job decline. A pattern of poor performance indicates the need for supervisory action. The following article provides an in-depth discussion of performance issues and the corrective steps that should be taken to address the issue.
Three Categories of Poor Performance
Performance problems usually fall into three categories:
• Employee availability: absenteeism, excessive leave, excessive tardiness
• Employee productivity: lowered job efficiency, confusion, diminished concentration
• Employee demeanor: conflicts with co-workers, mood swings, other disruptive behavior
Long and Short-term Causes of Poor Performance
Many types of personal problems can affect an employee's short-term job performance:
• marital strife
• financial difficulties
• child care complication
More serious difficulties such as a developing or existing substance abuse problem or a serious emotional set back can cause chronic issues at work.
What the Manager Should Know An employee with a personal problem that affects behavior or conduct usually does not respond to management techniques that might otherwise be effective. The employee’s refusal to respond can cause the manager to feel frustrated, guilty, angry, inadequate, and even fearful for his employee(s) welfare. It is helpful for a supervisor to acknowledge these feelings and then consider how such feelings might affect the objective assessment and monitoring of a problem employee.
How COPE Can Help The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) serves as an effective first step for the supervisor before referring the employee to counseling. It is often difficult for supervisors to be objective, especially when a worker is disruptive. Nor are supervisors trained to assess the underlying causes of human behavior.
The EAP deliberates with the manager, works with him or her to set steps for improvement and if necessary, organizes and prepares materials for a corrective interview. This includes documenting facts on which to base future discussions and if necessary, coordinating disciplinary action with the Employee Relations Specialist and setting a time and place for the manager-employee meeting. If the employee is referred to the EAP, the consultation is conducted prior to the referral.
When Confrontation is Necessary Many managers resist confronting a difficult employee. Confrontation is seldom pleasant. The EAP counselor can play an important role, not only by reviewing the employee's performance records, but preparing the manager for a face-to-face meeting.
Role-playing is a useful technique in dealing with anticipatory anxiety. The counselor and supervisor rehearse key talking points and map out a plan to address declining performance or inappropriate conduct. They discuss how to deal with possible resistance. The supervisory should avoid trying to figure out the cause of an employee's problems. The focus of a supervisor's discussion with an employee should be performance, not his or her personal problems.
The Corrective Interview - an Effective Management Tool Once the supervisor has identified the performance decline, documented and developed a plan for addressing the inadequacies, it is time for a corrective interview. The first corrective interview is a discussion between the supervisor and employee that is designed to:
Do’s and Don’ts of a Corrective Interview
- Clarify existing performance standards and/or conduct expectations.
- Identify the indicators of performance decline or a problem with conduct or demeanor.
- Develop a plan to address the existing problem.
- Communicate the consequences of a continuing problem.
- Set a date for a follow-up discussion to assess progress.
- Modify expectations, or to initiate consequences because there has been no improvement.
- DO set the corrective interview early in the day and allow for enough time
- DO insist on uninterrupted privacy
- DO consult with Personnel and/or your EAP before the interview
- DO have facts on performance or conduct and stick to the facts
- DO listen carefully to the employee’s responses
- DO remain calm and focused on job improvement
- DO be prepared for resistance, hostility, and defensiveness
- DO recommend use of the EAP - stress that it is voluntary and confidential
- DO document the interview
- DO agree on action steps, including a follow-up meeting
- DON’T meet anger with anger
- DON’T moralize
- DON’T be diverted from the main issue by excuses
- DON’T discuss personal problems in this context
- DON’T try to diagnose the problem
- DON’T delay or cover-up
Often, a single corrective interview is sufficient to elicit a sustained, positive employee response.
The Second Corrective Interview
If there is no improvement, or only temporary improvement, a second corrective interview may be required. It should convey an increasing sense of urgency. Encourage the use of the EAP. Advise the employee that it is important for you, the supervisor, to be notified to confirm participation in the EAP.
An employee cannot be forced to utilize the EAP, but it is an available resource that is often helpful.
The crucial issue to be emphasized is that performance must improve. Assure employees that participation in the EAP will not affect future employment or career advancement. Participation is confidential and does not become part of an employee's personnel record. Any information shared with management is shared only with written release by the employee, unless the information has been court ordered.
Although constructive confrontation is never easy, devising a plan and sticking to it can facilitate this process. Dealing with problem performance promptly and firmly will provide the employee with an optimum opportunity to correct a performance deficiency and to retain employment.
Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) www.shrm.org/
If you have questions about the referral process in general, or would like to discuss a particular challenge, contact your EAP.
Written by Trish Christian, RN, MN, CS, CEAP
Edited by Mary Sue McClain