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  • Writer's pictureJoy Beckett

Performance Improvement Programs

Do they constitute victimisation?

Recently, we have been receiving a fair amount of enquiries about how staff should deal with their employers placing them on performance management programs.

More often than not, employers surprise their employees by instituting informal performance discussions in situations where there has been a decline in performance and or productivity. Employees often employ (excuse the pun) a knee-jerk reaction to the situation that can end up with them believing that their employer is out to "get them" and/or wants to terminate their services in a sneaky manner.

Contrary to these beliefs, it is extremely important for employees to realise that employers are entitled to manage their employees’ performance in regards to all work completed and or expected to be completed. The employer is entitled to set the standards they expect to be met, but their duty is to ensure employees are aware of their expectations by issuing comprehensive job descriptions or employment letters that specifically outline their tasks.

Are you an employee stressing about being ambushed in a performance management session? Here’s what you need to know:

Before your services can be terminated, the employer needs to follow a specified procedure set out in Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act. There has to be a substantive reason, and fair procedure has to be followed:

  1. Before starting the process, an employer needs to ensure that you are aware of the performance standard expected. This is done by giving you a job description, informing you of measurable key performance areas, and conducting regular performance appraisals.

  2. Before an employer places you on a formal performance review, they have to begin with informal counselling sessions. The purpose of this is to make you aware of their dissatisfaction with your performance – something which is normally conveyed through performance appraisals.

  3. During these discussions, the employer has to give reasons as to why they are unhappy with your performance and discuss ways of improvement.

Formal Procedure

  1. During this formal procedure, the employer needs to serve you with a "notice to attend" a Poor Work Performance (PWP) counselling session.

  2. During this session—normally conducted by an independent third party or HR practitioner—the company has to discuss your reasons for the alleged underperformance and set a time frame to meet any targets required by the company. Furthermore, the company has to provide guidance, training, and counselling to ensure they provide you with all the necessary tools to meet the performance standard they set out.

  3. Once this first stage has been completed, the meeting is adjourned and you are given a specific time frame in which to improve your performance. This time period is agreed upon in the first session.

  4. A specific time frame has passed or even during, a review counselling session is held, where a discussion is held as to whether your performance is improving and whether you have met the set standard. In the event that you have not met the standard, the company will inform you of the consequences of your failure to perform.

  5. A final PWP counselling session will be held after the initial period and/or after a review period has passed. If the standard has been met, the process ends there. However, you will be informed that a failure to meet your performance target in the future could lead to the continuation of this process.

  6. If your performance does not improve, a discussion as to why there is no improvement will take place. During this discussion, your employer will try to determine if there are any external factors that have played a role. In this final session, all possible solutions and alternatives to dismissal are discussed. If no possible alternative can be arranged, then it is possible that you could be dismissed – but only if and when a procedure has been followed.

So, whether you are an employee or an employer, if you are going through this procedure, you will definitely know that a performance management programme has taken place. This does not necessarily mean that the company is victimising you, or that you, as an employer, summarily have the right to dismiss. Instead, this just means the company is invoking their rights the same way an employee would invoke theirs. And it is the start of a process that could still turn out with a sustainable long-term relationship being upheld.

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