How to deal with unproductive employees

corporate investigations

An unproductive employee will work slower or not work at all, meaning every task takes longer to complete or is never completed.

This will impact on the efficiency, output and end profit of the company. In some cases, this can be the difference between a business thriving or failing. After all, an employee is being paid to do a job because the business needs that job to be done; if that job is not done the company does not get paid and likely loses any chance of repeat business as well as the good reputation they had built up.

The unproductive employee is losing the business income, yet at the same time the business continues to be liable for the expense of paying wages to that same employee that is not making them any money. 

It’s a vicious circle and a frustrating situation to say the least and needs to be tackled for the health and survival of the business, as well as the wellbeing of colleagues and management who are having to pick up the slack that the unproductive individual is leaving in their wake. 

But dealing with unproductive employees can be a minefield and no business will benefit from ending up in a tribunal or legal action over breach of contract, discrimination or unfair treatment or dismissal. So, what is the best way to approach the situation, and how can a fair and satisfactory outcome be reached for all parties?

Initially, the business has a duty and responsibility to reflect on its own behaviours and possible contributions to the situation that has arisen, before they take the step of approaching this with the employee in question; 

  • Put yourself in their shoes: It’s useful to consider what it is like being an employee for this company? What is it like being that specific employee doing that specific job? Try to imagine spending a day or shift performing the role they are employed to do. This will help to develop insight and empathy and may even give the answers required without needing to go any further. 
  • Has something changed? Has there been a drop in wages or have they not increased at an acceptable level in relation to rises in living costs? Has there been an increase in expected productivity, workload or demand? Has something gone wrong or altered in the chain of production that has made work harder to complete, to take longer or to place additional strain, stress or burden on the employee? Has there been a change of management which has caused damage to working relationships or productivity on some way? Has the job changed in some way and now the employee just doesn’t really know what they are doing  or have not had adequate time, induction or training in their new role to become competent within it?
  • What does the company do to motivate staff and ensure employee wellbeing and engagement at work? Does company pay reflect the requirements and responsibilities of the job and allow the work to feel worthwhile to the employee, the employee to feel valued and have enough money to provide a decent quality of life? Are there any incentives or rewards for good work and committed employees? Does the company offer training and prospects to encourage workers to invest in their job and have ambition and hope of something more or better to strive for? Consider how communications between management and employees impact on staff; are these respectful, positive and inspirational or critical, degrading and demotivating? How does the company promote a sense of belonging and cohesion within the employee body? 

If you feel that you can provide a fair and reasonable response to all of the above, and that the business is doing its bit to support staff and provide a positive and rewarding workplace environment, its probably time to have a conversation with the employee in question themselves to try to gain further understanding.

It’s important to initially approach this in a non-confrontational, non-accusatory or hostile manner and to present as curious, interested and caring to demonstrate to the employee that you are not seeking to reprimand but to open lines of communication to find ways to understand the situation better and identify mutual solutions to the problem. 

Consider the context in which the lack of productivity has been identified; has this employee previously been a good worker who has recently changed in their attitude towards their work and the manner in which they conduct themselves?

Is this a long-term problem that has been raised several times before but improvements have never been achieved? Is this a more recently employed member of staff who just hasn’t been meeting expectations since day one? This will impact on how willing you are to be understanding and for how long, and how you approach the employee.

Ensure privacy and confidentiality in approaching the employee; calling them into the manager’s office in front of all their colleagues is going to be humiliating and demeaning and won’t improve relations or output.

A quiet invite or brief email is a better way to set the scene for a productive meeting.  Be open and transparent with the employee when explaining why you have requested to speak with them and ask them for their views on this and let them speak.

Show active listening and take on board what they are saying; maybe they have a reason for their recent lack of productivity? It could be that they are having mental or physical health difficulties, or perhaps they are dealing with issues in their personal or family life at present.

Possibly they are feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope with the current workload, have lost motivation for some reason or are experiencing burn out. If any of these difficulties are affecting their productivity there are various ways an employer can support with this such as suggesting the worker take some time off to enable them to recover or focus on other matters for some time or that they reduce their hours whilst they address this, reducing workload on a temporary basis, providing counselling or involving occupational health or asking the employee what might help them at this time.

Feeling that their employer cares and is understanding about their situation and views them as a valued human being will enable trust and open communication with the employee, positive resolutions to be mutually agreed on and long term will improve productivity.

If the employee is unwilling to recognise the problem after reasonable and respectful discussion, or if there is no capacity to work towards mutually beneficial solutions it may be time to take a more heavy handed approach, If, as an employer, you feel that you need to work towards dismissing the employee it is important that you adhere to correct procedures around this to avoid any future claims or legal action being taken against the company; the ACAS Code of Practice provides advice and guidance on correct disciplinary and grievance procedures and is a useful reference for employers seeking to take disciplinary action against a member of staff.

If, as an employer, you are concerned about not having grounds or evidence to support disciplinary or dismissal procedures it could be helpful, and prudent, to employ the services of a private investigation company who can assist with obtaining and providing robust evidence around an employee’s actions and behaviours both in and out of their place of work.

This can be submitted to a tribunal if needed at a later date as evidence and our corporate investigators can also submit witness statements.

This can prove an invaluable safeguarding action for your business and can support in achieving a mutual agreement with an employee on how to handle the matter or in protecting your business and justifying your actions should the employee not be willing to accept accountability.

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