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The Right and Wrong Way to Manage Poor Performance in the Workplace

Published 01 July 2016

There are effective ways to deal with underperforming employees but lining them up, spanking them and cutting their hair is certainly not one of them.

A video has emerged online showing a motivational trainer punishing Chinese bank staff for their poor performance after telling them to ‘get their butts ready’ before spanking each of the group four times with a wooden paddle (1).

One of the distressed women can be seen trying to move away after being struck, before she is spanked again. It is reported that other members of staff at the Zhangze Rural Commercial Bank were forced to have their heads shaved as part of the punishment (2). Two executives at the bank have been suspended as a result (3).

The best way for any reasonable employer to deal with concerns about poor performance is to use a fair capability procedure. Managing poor performance is not often easy, and when done fairly it can be a protracted process. The employer should:

  • Have a clear supportive procedure in place to address any concerns about an employee’s ability to perform to acceptable standards.
  • Provide support such as supervision, training and counselling to help an employee perform to the expected level.
  • Detail the steps that will be taken to terminate employment if performance does not reach a satisfactory level.

There can be many reasons why an employee may be underperforming and getting a clear understanding of the cause is crucial in order to ensure the capability procedure is applied in a fair and correct manner (4). If it is due to a disability, then reasonable adjustments in the workplace should be considered (5). In cases where an employee has medical problems, the procedures for dealing with absence due to ill-health should be used as appropriate (6).

If poor performance is down to a failure to maintain adequate standards of behaviour instead of a lack of skills or application, it should be dealt with through the disciplinary procedure (7). Capability and conduct should be treated separately. In cases of dismissal, a failure to distinguish between the two can put an employer at risk of a successful unfair dismissal claim. It is good practice to have separate procedures for dealing with capability and disciplinary matters (8).


  1. Connor N. Video shows staff at China bank being spanked [Internet]. The Telegraph. 10:41 [cited 2016 Jul 1]. Available from:
  2. Chinese bank staff beaten for poor performance on course | World news | The Guardian [Internet]. [cited 2016 Jul 1]. Available from:
  3. Video shows China bank employees being spanked [Internet]. BBC News. [cited 2016 Jul 1]. Available from:
  4. Taking disciplinary action against an employee - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2016 Jun 21]. Available from:
  5. Duty to make reasonable adjustments at work - what must employers do? - Citizens Advice [Internet]. [cited 2016 Jul 1]. Available from:
  6. Top Tips on How to Manage Sickness Absence [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. 2016 [cited 2016 Jul 1]. Available from:
  7. Disciplining an employee: 12 most common breaches of the ACAS code of practice [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. 2016 [cited 2016 Jul 1]. Available from:
  8.  HR Policies [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. [cited 2016 Jul 1]. Available from:

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