Edu BlogMarch 31, 2022

Human Resources Guide

Human Resources Guide: Three steps to deal with underperforming employees

Disciplining staff, while never pleasant, is an unfortunate reality for business managers and line supervisors. The truth is any employee can underperform in their role at any time and how an organisation deals with the situation will have implications.

South African labour legislation is clear and is based primarily on procedure.

The employer must follow the steps to the letter if the offence is serious enough to warrant dismissal. Labour Guide spells it out and says that open and constant communication is the best and most effective way to deal with minor issues.

Sometimes employees fall into bad habits. It’s s a manager’s duty to recognise these and rectify them immediately through a conversation about the behaviour or the outcomes to be achieved to rectify the situation.

The Council for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is clear in its distinction between counselling and disciplinary action.

Counselling always comes first – disciplinary action is the last resort and always follows a rigid procedure that is non-negotiable. Employers can find themselves in serious trouble if these procedures are not followed -a trip to the CCMA or the Labour Court could mean serious reputational damage.

Counselling can take the form of alerts via email or one-on-one meetings or even informal conversations. However, the best managers always put an issue down on email – for the record.

Always follow these steps:

  1. Verbal warning
  2. Written warning
  3. Final written warning
  4. Suspension without pay (for a limited period)
  5. Demotion, as an alternative to dismissal only
  6. Dismissal

Obviously, no one ever wants to reach this point. It also means that organisational culture becomes extremely important.

Human Resources must be on top of its game and ensure that all managers are equipped to have honest conversations with their teams.

Their interactions must be balanced and provide consistent feedback on Key Performance Indicators or KPIS, workplace standards, work ethic amongst other factors.

These conversations should not only happen at “bonus time” or during performance reviews. It is an ongoing process. If managers aren’t doing this as a matter of course with the right demeanour and tone – they are not doing their job.

The result? More disciplinary issues and a downward trend in performance.

The message is: stop underperformance at the root.

  1. Performance management

Performance management and setting of expectations is critical and must be part of any professional environment. These expectations must be communicated. Expectations and outcomes are clearly defined leaving no grey areas for any misinterpretations or misunderstandings. The staff member is aware of their roles and duties.

  1. Training

Once again, South Africa incentivises companies to train people. The Skills Development Act is quite clear. Everyone in the organisation must be clear about the goals of the Act and ensure that training budgets are spent. Identifying staff that need training or refresher courses is the job of the supervisor or manager. They need to ensure that Human Resources are briefed, and that training is actioned.

Not only does this help staff to reach their targets, but it’s also a morale booster – which in most cases achieves greater productivity.

Upskilling managers is always a good idea in order to grow a department and the business, learning from staff development to sales.

  1. Workplace Policies

Internal policies, like a code of conduct policy or an internet and email policy, represents one of the significant guidelines for anyone having to deal with underperforming staff.  There is nothing implied or “that’s how things are done around here”. These rules are foundational, and employees sign up to them – and take full responsibility for knowing them – when they start to work. Therefore, this is the least an employer expects of their staff or an individual employee. Not having workplace policies in the workplace is like having one arm tied behind your back when dealing with performance or disciplinary issues. Having these policies updated and known in the workplace is a vital HR service.

When in place and part of the culture, policies are a huge help for anyone in a managerial, position and HR. This is half the battle won, so to speak. Policies guide the employer into a working system of what is expected. When monitoring any behaviour pattern that is out of line the policies are easy to fall back on. So, the HR team with the Executive Committee must do the hard work upfront; write, update, and popularise the company policies. Ensure that everyone has an easy-to-understand copy and that the rules can be sourced easily, both digitally and in hard copy format.

What is the CRS solution that can help in this area?

Remember managing people and giving constructive feedback is a delicate issue, if you need any assistance with drafting any procedures and workplace policies, please contact Nicol Myburgh at

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