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Managing employee underperformance is not bullying

I’ve recently been working with a number of clients on their challenges with employee underperformance.

The background scenario is nothing out of the ordinary; people are people and sometimes, performance at work can decline. There can be many reasons for employee underperformance: issues at home, interpersonal differences with colleagues or manager, hitting a plateau, not having sufficient resources, not having the ability, not caring…the list goes on. But bottom line for you as an employer? When someone’s underperforming, they’re taking dollars out of your pocket.

In my experience, there’s three primary reasons for an employer not acting when faced with employee underperformance:

  1. Not knowing how to address the matter
  2. Wishing to avoid conflict
  3. Concern about the possibility of a workplace bullying claim

We’ve posted about addressing employee underperformance on this website before. We’ve also posted on conflict avoidance and using the psychological concept of exposure to face the scenario (in this case addressing underperformance as soon at this occurs) so your anxiety lessens and your fears decrease.

Now let’s clarify your rights as an employer. What is and isn’t bullying when it comes to managing employee underperformance?

Persons conducting a business or undertaking have rights and obligations to take appropriate management action and make appropriate management decisions. They need to be able to make necessary decisions to respond to poor performance or if necessary, take disciplinary action and also effectively direct and control the way work is carried out. For example, it is reasonable for employers to allocate work and for managers and supervisors to give fair and constructive feedback on a worker’s performance. These actions are not considered to be bullying if they are carried out in a reasonable manner that takes into account the circumstances of the case and do not leave the individual feeling (for example) victimised or humiliated.

Sounds logical right? It should…it’s a direct extract from the Fair Work Commission’s Anti-bullying benchbook. The benchbook goes on to state:

Behaviour will not be considered bullying if it is reasonable management action carried out in a reasonable manner. The following are examples of what may constitute management action:

  • performance appraisals
  • ongoing meetings to address underperformance
  • counselling or disciplining a worker for misconduct

Getting the best from each person in your team on an ongoing basis can be challenging…and on top of everything else you’re doing to try and keep your business afloat at this difficult time. But things are easier when you know your rights and that your actions are backed by employment law.

Bare Bones Consulting knows the Fair Work Act…and the best ways to apply the content of the Act to your business. Why not contact us to find out how we can help you? While you’re at it, follow us on Facebook…you’ll find tips on HR, employment law, managing people through the coronavirus crisis…plus some humour. And everyone needs that last one right now, no?

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Note: Bare Bones Consulting provides HR services for employers. Employees seeking advice on workplace concerns should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.