September 16, 2021
Since the legal requirement to self-isolate was lifted on August 16th for many, the return to the office will be on the minds of many business owners. While working from home may have been a blessing for some, it presented challenges for others and it’s likely to be similarly unsettling now that we’re putting that in reverse.
Some businesses will see a drop in employee performance, so now, more than ever, it is important for employers to ask themselves “in light of these circumstances, how can I best manage performance of my team?”
Performance can slip for a multitude of reasons related to this pandemic, and it’s understandable. Employees have spent the best part of a year trying to adapt to working remotely, with reduced managerial supervision, no commute, taking on additional responsibilities at home (home schooling perhaps), and mental health may be under pressure. The prospect of changing routine again will cause some people stress and anxiety.
To get the best from your team, make sure you:
1. Ensure managers have regular informal one-to-ones
2. Make the most of the formal performance appraisal system (or put one in place)
3. Review company policies and procedures
4. Invest in a coach!
1. Build in regular informal one-to-ones
Being proactive is really important. If you get on the front foot and address minor issues quickly –before they develop into more serious issues – you might avoid an unwanted escalation.
One way to do this is to schedule regular one-to-ones between managers and their team members as one of the return to office priorities. These one-to-ones should be a two-way street used for sharing updates, exchanging information and addressing any issues. They can be a good way of ensuring performance niggles don’t fester and grow into something more unmanageable that potentially requires formal action.
Spotting poor performance early is key. These informal meetings should allow you to address it promptly, early on and in an informal way while also helping to build trust and reduce anxiety.
Before the pandemic one-to-ones might not have taken place, been ad hoc or simply more naturally fitted into office life but we would suggest that you make a conscious effort to schedule them into the week (and to stick to them) – whether you are back in the office, still home working or doing a hybrid of both.
2. Make the most of the formal performance appraisal system or put one in place
Alongside the informal catch-ups, review your formal performance appraisal process and KPIs – are they still fit for purpose? Could a revamp be the order of the day? If you don’t have an existing structure, consider putting one in place as it is good to have a formal focus and review for both you and your team, particularly if one-to-ones have slipped.
As well as looking at KPIs, what else should you have in mind?
At the appraisal meeting with the employee, ask if there are issues to address and then listen. Make sure you give them plenty of opportunity to set out any challenges they are facing that might be affecting them. Try to empathise. You may realise the standards of work or the targets that were achievable before the pandemic, are not any more. Is there any way you can temporarily adjust goals? Are there any medical conditions that need to be taken into account (and that might amount to a disability)?
Create a buzz about the next year and moving forward. What are the positives that can also form part of the appraisal? Continue to discuss with employees their achievements, career progression, promotions and how you can further their skills and development, possibly with training. Times might be tough now, but it’s important to keep up moral and motivation.
If you do need to move to a formal performance management plan, don’t forget to ensure you are following your own internal procedures and policies but also ensure you are acting reasonably, fairly and as appropriate complying with the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance procedures. An unreasonable failure to follow this Code can lead to an uplift in any tribunal award by up to 25%.
3. Review company policies and procedures
Are your policies and procedures still fit for purpose at this stage? Do they need to be reviewed and updated considering where your business is now, whether you have an office anymore and how your team is working. Some policies that you might want to introduce or review could be:
Flexible working policy
After 26 weeks’ service with a company, an employee is allowed to request flexible working. This could mean switching the number of hours of work, or moving to a hybrid office/home working model.
As with all employment issues, this an area where an employer can be vulnerable to claims, including discrimination claims. For example, if you agree a flexible working arrangement with some employees but refuse others.
An important first step for an employer is to get a policy in place that sets out the procedure and parameters so that workers are treated consistently. Make sure you consider all requests seriously, discuss them with the employees, , consider the feasibility of the request – different roles and varying levels of experience can impact the appropriateness of what is being requested and look at alternative options if necessary.
Finally, keep a central record of requests and the decisions made (and why).
If performance continues to be an issue with an employee, you need to ascertain whether the issue is related to conduct or capability. You may have a disciplinary procedure that deals with both or you might have a separate capability procedure for performance. Transparency is key together with ensuring you offer the individual support and training with the aim of improvement (and meeting any targets set) so ultimately formal action can be avoided.
If you determine that an employee’s drop in performance is due to their conduct (rather than capability) and therefore avoidable, then you may have to turn to your company disciplinary procedure. This scenario could come into play over the next couple of months if you find your employees refusing to work (although fully able to), not being contactable (repeatedly) or taking unauthorised absences.
Don’t make any hasty decisions. You’ll want to investigate the reasons behind the issues before leaping into action. Make sure your policy aligns with the minimum standards required in the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.
Quick note on self-isolation: The pandemic threw several curve balls our way and many employees were “pinged” or contacted by NHS Track and Trace for having been in contact with someone who had tested positive.
Current guidelines now say that anyone who is double vaccinated won’t have to self-isolate (When to self-isolate and what to do - Coronavirus (COVID-19) - NHS (www.nhs.uk).
Nevertheless it might be a sensible precaution for employees to self-isolate until they receive notification that they are negative (via a PCR test) and in line with any up to date government guidance. Anyone who has not been double vaccinated has to isolate as does anyone who tests positive.
4. Invest in a Coach
Investing in an experienced coach to support and empower staff to be at their best at work pays dividends on performance. Coaching staff can improve leadership skills, increase the team’s effectiveness, and can empower individual employees. A good coach will provide feedback, support and motivation for an entire company.
We are super lucky at Law 365 to have our own in-house professional ICF accredited coach, Louise Otton, who has helped us navigate the uncertainties of the pandemic as well as the rapid expansion of the business and our growing roster of clients. We so believe in the value of coaching that we now offer coaching services to our clients as we know the value it adds for any team.
We’ve all learned a lot about resilience and gratitude at Law 365 over the last year, thanks to Louise. Getting back in the swing of office life may take some getting used to, but she’ll give you the skills to proactively address any worries and help minimise the negative impact this could have on performance.
Coaching and Performance
Please contact our employment expert Megan O’Hara (email@example.com) for any legal assistance you need with employment matters whether it is to draft or review your policies or support with any performance management.
If you are interested in talking through what a coach can do for your business, please contact Louise Otton (firstname.lastname@example.org).