At Work: Human resources - HR clinic - How to handle an averageperformer

John Burnell, director of Personnel Solutions

We have an employee who is doing just enough to keep her nose clean but never contributes positively to team morale. What can I do about her?

You can't expect everyone to be a high flyer. If they were, there's a risk of rivalry and tension as everyone jockeys to be the next chief executive. Provided she's meeting her targets, my initial reaction is to say that you shouldn't be too worried.

But there might be some underlying problems that ought to be addressed.

Perhaps she's not very interested in the job or has got bored and is growing out of it. Maybe she's overqualified and could do better in a more demanding role.

Struggling

Or it could be that she's struggling just to achieve the basics and doesn't have the capacity to contribute any more.

Perhaps she has an undisclosed medical condition such as ME, which prevents her from over-exertion. Maybe she only comes to work for the salary and her priorities lie elsewhere.

You might still want to do something about it, particularly if her lack of drive is having a debilitating effect on the rest of the team. If you don't address the question with her now, you could finish up addressing the same one with them later.

As part of your regular supervision sessions with her, explore what her expectations might be and observe, as positively as you can, that compared with her colleagues she doesn't seem as interested or committed to the work of the team as they are.

Depending on her response, you might consider extra training for her in her current job, career development advice, adjustments to her working patterns to cope with personal challenges, or perhaps flexible working arrangements so she achieves a better work-life balance and becomes more productive.

Adequate

She might simply resent the fact that you're raising the matter at all when she believes she's doing a perfectly adequate job.

In these circumstances, you can emphasise the impact she's having on the morale of the team and say that, in the interests of all, you are intending to raise her targets, including attitudinal ones. Tell her you will be supporting her to achieve those targets and will be monitoring her performance to ensure this.

Don't make her targets any harder to hit than those of her colleagues, but you can reasonably expect her to become at least as good as the next weakest performer.

And if none of that works and she's still a liability? Well, you can always invoke your capability procedure and eventually dispense with her services.

- Send your HR questions to personnelsolutions@btopenworld.com.

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