One of my favourite sayings relating to employment is:
“Employers should treat their employees as if they are the best case scenario, but plan for them as if they are the worst”.
This means everyone hopes their newest employee is a dream come true, but that shouldn’t stop you from being prepared if they are not. If you are an employer or thinking of becoming one, it’s because you have a need for growth and it is very exciting to see that growth happening. However, you don’t have to talk to an employer for long before you realise that not every employee is a dream, and some employment relationships start off on the wrong foot or go down a difficult path for varied and complex reasons.
Many business owners I encounter are not prepared when things do start to go wrong, as they are still caught up in the initial new phase of hoping everything will work out well – and they don’t want to change gear.
The trick is to not change gear. The trick is to start the journey in the right gear and keep it as consistent and smooth as possible, regardless of the bumps along the way. So how do you do this, when you have so many other competing priorities for your time and attention? The best way is to be prepared with the right processes from day one of the journey.
The induction process sets out what is expected of the employee, what the company policies are, and allows the employer to be clear about how they will communicate moving forward. As it is the first process in the employment relationship, it sets the tone for the whole relationship.
The job description should be used and linked to expectations, and a regular schedule for check ins and reviews should be put in place. This is also the process that ensures the company policies and procedures are explained and understood. If you later wish to hold an employee to account over a policy, you need to make sure they have read it and indicated their agreement with it.
Without a clear induction process that covers the policies, procedures, expectations and review periods, an employee is setting out on their journey blind, or driving without the company knowing. If an employee stumbles and falls in the early days, all eyes will be on you as the employer and how well you prepared them for the road ahead.
Probationary period review
The induction process should roll nicely into the start of the probationary period. Most contracts have a 3 month probationary period as standard, yet very few employers I have worked with know what the purpose of the period is or how to use it effectively.
The probationary period is designed as a testing period to ensure the person has the right skills, competencies, behaviours and attitude for the role. A probationary period that is utilised to its fullest potential will detail the expectations and regularly review performance against them; therefore any issues that arise can be detailed, tracked and measured against the original expectations.
An employer has a great deal of flexibility around probation periods, and can extend them if required or end an employment contract with them if it is clear the circumstances are not working. Not using them is a wasted opportunity, and one that many employers come to regret later when the problems get out of hand and dismissal becomes harder.
Performance management is a tool that is often seen as a form of disciplinary action, because it can be used to correct performance based issues. However, it should be a tool that is utilised with every employee on an on-going basis.
Every job role has some form of performance that is expected, therefore it makes sense that every employee’s performance be defined, measured and reviewed. Using a performance management process will give an employee genuine, uninterrupted, face to face time to discuss all the factors contributing to their happiness and success within the job. It will also give a manager an excellent insight into what is going wrong if someone is struggling.
For star players, it will help the manager understand how they are performing well, allowing some due diligence over that performance rather than taking it on face value, while also exploring if there are best practises that can be adopted by the wider team.
If performance management is used consistently across a business, no one employee is singled out – it is business as usual to all the other employees. It also allows a manager to reinforce values and behaviours that you want to see more of, and allows you to challenge behaviours rather than letting them coast under the radar.
If a problem arises with an employee, then well documented performance management reviews will help form the picture of what happens next. Have they demonstrated throughout the process the desire to improve, grow and be challenged? Or are they continuing to be a problem regardless of how many times they have been told improvements are required? No one wants to be in a position where they have to dismiss an employee; however the task becomes very difficult if performance management reviews have never been a part of the preparation.
I am sure you are aware that as an employer you need to use a disciplinary process if you want to dismiss an employee over a significant breach of the rules. However, dismissal is only one possible outcome of the processes and should only be used as the last straw.
The phrase I often hear around dismissal is “the straw that broke the camel’s back” which always leads me to ask, “if that was the last straw, how were the smaller straws that contributed to it dealt with?” Employers will tell me they are dismissing an employee for one significant reason, but within that they often detail all the smaller reasons that went by un-dealt with and undocumented.
At its essence, employment law is contract law, and in contract law it is held that if someone breaches their side of the contract repeatedly but it is ignored, then the breach is considered accepted. For example if someone is late every day, they have breached the contract. The employer knows full well they are breaching the contract but lets it slide as a minor violation. The employee then goes on to do something more damaging to the contract and the employer wants to go back and cite all the violations, including the lateness. An employer who ignores the rules for the small things will not find much help if they want to use it as mounting evidence later.
It’s important to know that there are many different outcomes to the disciplinary process;
- Informal warning
- Verbal warning
- Second verbal warning
- Written warning
- Final written warning and so on and so forth.
The outcome should reflect the seriousness of the offence (such as informal warning first for being late, verbal warning for repeating the behaviour). However, in all cases the fact that a disciplinary process was used and an outcome documented will serve as the evidence you need if the person does ever eventually become more of an issue.
The point of all of these processes is two-fold: you as an employer will have good documentation that you set clear expectations that you have measured and reviewed results against, and the employee will know exactly where they stand and what their expectations are. But ultimately, having good processes in place will allow you to focus on enjoying the growth of the business that your employees can help provide, without worrying about how you will respond if the relationship doesn’t work out.
I include 10 of the most important things your business should have in place when bringing on an employee in my Employment Essentials Guide.