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Managing concerns about an employee’s performance during a pandemic


Tue 20 October, 2020


A tricky dilemma facing many employers in the current climate is how do you judge and manage an underperforming employee?

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has forced us all to assess and change how we do many things.

For businesses it has meant policies and formal process have had to be urgently assessed and adapted.

In these extremely testing times, with workforces being decimated and businesses facing unprecedented challenges, it’s never been more imperative for employers to have workers performing at their very best.

But, there can be many factors that negatively have an effect on an employee’s work performance.

For numerous workers their place of work has changed as a result of the pandemic and in accordance with government advice. This will inevitably impact and influence if they can perform all of their expected duties and how well they do so.

The current guidance in England is that employees should work from home where they can and only return to the workplace if they cannot do so (1).

Workplaces that are open have had to be made Covid-secure, which again will affect how an employee completes any work expected of them.

Changes to places of work as advised by the Health and Safety Executive include updating risk assessments and the introduction of social distancing (2).

Employees performing well has always been good for business, and underperforming workers will always give rise to cause for concern.

Performance management is a generally used process in which managers and employees work together to plan, monitor and review an employee’s work objectives and overall contribution to an organisation. (3)


NASUWT the teachers’ union has briefed teachers and school leaders on performance management, which takes particular account of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic (4)

The union is adamant that no teacher should be disadvantaged as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, either in terms of their ability to access pay progression or in respect of perceptions of their performance during the course of the performance management cycle.

Agreed objectives and target setting are key parts of the performance management process for any employer.

How performance is currently measured against established goals will need to be fairly reviewed and assessed.

Reasonable consideration must be given as to how feasible any set objectives and targets are given an employee’s current way of working.

Office for National statistics figures show that in April 2020, 46.6 per cent of people in employment did some work at home (5). Of those who did some work from home, 86 per cent did so as a result of the pandemic

Whenever an employer has any concerns about an employee’s performance good communication is always key.

A meeting should be arranged, in line with current public health guidelines, to enable a manager to discuss the matter with the individual.

Performance management should aim to encourage an employee to improve, give them a chance to get better, stop any further problems arising and identify any necessary reasonable adjustments or support needed.

It is always vital that managers understand the reasons for poor performance. This is especially important, given that it is feared that lockdown may have a detrimental impact on the mental health of employees.

It is something which has been highlighted by The Mental Health Foundation, which has produced comprehensive advice on looking after your mental health while working during coronavirus (6)

If an employee is considered to be performing poorly or unable to do their job for any health-related reason, it can be a capability issue.

It is not always clear whether an employee's poor performance is due to capability or conduct. This is why an employer should always carry out a full and fair procedure, which takes into account all factors that come with working during a pandemic.

If there is any doubt about how to manage poor performance, it is always advisable to seek expert advice.



(1) Work at home where you can [Internet] [Cited 20.10.2020]

(2) Introducing social distancing [Internet] [Cited 20.10.2020]

(3) What is performance management? [Internet] www.acas, [Cited 20.10.2020]

(4) Performance Management from NASUWT [Internet] [Cited 20.10.2020]

(5) National Statistic Figures of working from home [Internet] [Cited 20.10.2020]

(6) How to look after your mental health whilst working during coronavirus. [Internet] [Cited 20.10.2020]


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