How to Handle Disciplinary Issues and Help Employees Improve Their Performance

It is important to handle any disciplinary situation quickly, fairly and appropriately.  Small businesses often find it easier to deal with an incidence of misconduct informally particularly when the issue is minor in nature.  Hold an informal meeting to ensure that the employee understands why their behaviour has been deemed unsatisfactory and seek agreement/agree steps to ensure that the behaviour does not continue or recur. 

If informal warnings have not produced the desired result and the unsatisfactory behaviour continues, the next step is to arrange an investigation by an impartial Manager.  An investigation should include review of HR records and any previous warnings/issues that may have occurred, talking to other Managers with knowledge of the misconduct and interviewing any witnesses.

Should the investigation indicate that there is a disciplinary case to answer then you will need to invoke a formal disciplinary procedure.  Most companies operate a 3-stage process: (1) written warning, (2) final written warning, (3) Dismissal.  There is no legal obligation to start at the beginning of the procedure.  The type of warning issued will depend on the seriousness of the offence.

In the event of an act of gross misconduct, i.e. an act of such a serious nature that it fundamentally breaches the contractual relationship between employer and employee then you have the right to dismiss the employee immediately without notice or pay in lieu of notice.

Bribery Prevention

Do you understand how the Bribery Act 2010 could affect your business and the measures you need to take to prevent you from falling foul of acts of criminal bribery?  Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Undertake a risk assessment and draft an anti-bribery policy that is relevant to your business operations and your employees
  • Ensure top level commitment to the policy and put in force a zero tolerance approach
  • Communicate your policy to your staff, customers, suppliers and any other parties associated with your company
  • Ensure your employees are trained and understand the implications of the Bribery Act
  • Update your contracts of employment to include acts of bribery in the context of gross misconduct
  • Ensure appropriate approval processes for any payments, gifts or hospitality requests
  • Ensure good record keeping and audit trail – record any incidents where ethical standards may have been breached and how it has been dealt with

How to ensure your employees are performing to the best of their ability

Your people are the heart of your business.  By investing in them you are investing in your success.

Here are our top 10 tips to help you get the most out of your most precious asset, your people!

  1. Provide a vibrant and stimulating working environment and a culture that values the contribution made by each and every individual.
  2. Actively embrace the diverse range of skills, expertise, experience, attitudes and backgrounds of all your staff.
  3. Encourage your staff to reach their full potential! Provide opportunities to develop their expertise, both in terms of technical and soft skills
  4. Provide formal and informal performance reviews on a regular basis.
  5. Set clear objectives and achievable targets and allow your staff to air their concerns within an environment of trust and honesty
  6. Deal with issues as soon as they arise, don’t wait for them to become  a significant problem
  7. Equip your managers with the skills required to deal with difficult situations confidently and effectively
  8. Reinforce/reward good performance
  9. Offer a clear career path that incentivise employees to be the best they can be.
  10. Conduct regular employee questionnaires to highlight areas for concern and ensure staff feel that you value their opinions

Implications of the Bribery Act 2010

Are you aware that it is an offence to offer, promise or give a bribe as well as to request, or accept one with the intention to obtain or retain business, or commercial advantage in the conduct of business?

Facilitation payments such as those made to Government officials for carrying out or speeding up routine procedures such as planning permission; gifts given to secure advantage during a tender process or to encourage customers to buy products or services; and any payment/gift given by an employee to obtain new contracts can all be considered acts of criminal bribery.  You will be pleased to hear that corporate hospitality is permitted but it is important you take a common sense approach.  If it looks too good to be allowed it probably is!  Ensure the hospitality is offered in good faith with the sole intention of establishing or maintaining good business relations and not to secure an advantage for your business or influence the impartiality of the recipient.

What prevention measures can you put in place?  Firstly, undertake a risk assessment and draft a zero tolerance anti-bribery policy, with top level commitment, that is relevant to your business operations and your employees.  Secondly, ensure your employees are trained and understand the implications of the Bribery Act 2010 and that contracts of employment are updated to include acts of bribery in the context of gross misconduct.  Finally, put in place a stringent  approval processes for any payments, gifts or hospitality requests and keep an audit trail that includes a record of any incidents where ethical standards may have been breached and how they have been dealt with.

With prison sentences of up to 10 years and confiscation proceedings the likely outcomes for getting it wrong, you really cannot afford not to be aware of the risks.

Annual Appraisals

The success of your business relies on your employees; by getting the best from your team you get the best for your organisation.  Employees need to feel appreciated, supported and that you are invested in helping them progress their careers.   On the flip side, your business can suffer both commercial and reputational damage if issues of underperformance are not managed effectively.

Annual appraisals play a key role in helping to recognise and reward good employees, and identify and coach those whose performance or conduct is falling short of the mark.  If done correctly appraisals will reap rewards – by improving performance you will in turn boost the bottom line of your business.

Preparation, preparation, preparation?  This is without doubt the key to ensuring appraisals are constructive, meaningful and successful.   It is vital to track performance throughout the year; keep a log of any memorable incidents or projects; look back at previous appraisal information/job descriptions to ensure objectives are being met; and gather views from line managers and peers.

A good appraisal is one in which the conversation is free flowing, with range of views expressed by both parties freely and without fear of repercussion.  Evaluations should be based solely on performance, not personality, and the approach must be tailored to the individual.  Feedback should positively reinforce the good or, in the case of underperformance, help the employee understand the impact of their actions/behaviour and what corrective action needs to be taken.

A good appraiser is someone who listens to what the employee is saying, does not interrupt or inhibit the flow of conversation, pays attention to non-verbal communication such as body language, and gives feedback based on fact not subjective opinion.

Well planned and executed appraisals will help you harness the talent and aspirations of every person within your organisation, solve problems and ultimately improve performance.  Are you getting it right?


Despite every effort, even the best run business may encounter problems of misconduct from time to time.

Misconduct can range from a minor incidence of unsatisfactory behaviour to an act of violence, theft or malicious damage.  However, the one thing they all have in common is that if handled incorrectly they could not only damage your reputation but leave facing the prospect expensive unfair dismissal claims and employment tribunals.

It is often easier to deal with a minor incidence of misconduct informally by simply explaining to the employee why their behaviour has been deemed unsatisfactory and seeking agreement/agree steps to ensure it does not continue or recur.  However, if this does not have the desired result, or closer investigation reveals that the problem is bigger than initially thought, then it might be necessary to invoke a more formal approach. Most companies operate a 3-stage process: (1) written warning, (2) final written warning, (3) dismissal.

Avoidance is better than cure!  The key to protecting your business is to have in place a clear and fair disciplinary procedure that defines what behaviours you consider to be acts of misconduct relevant to the type of business you undertake and that this is communicated to every member of staff at the outset of employment.  The procedure should cover a range of circumstances, the different types of work performed by your employees, health and safety issues, risks to your business, timekeeping, use and care of company equipment, bullying/harassment, claiming expenses and use of email and internet.

Finally, whatever approach you take, always keep full and detailed records.  This is just as important for minor breaches as it is for acts of gross misconduct and will ensure that if the behaviour occurs or escalates you will find it easier to defend any subsequent claims of unfair dismissal and protect the reputation of your company.

HR Policies Procedure

With unemployment rates depressingly high, a double-dip recession looming and competition in every area in industry more fierce than ever, now is the time to fine tune your HR policies and procedures.  Working in a preventative rather than reactive way will enable you to recruit and retain the best talent, increase productivity and protect your company brand.

Your business needs operate like a well-oiled machine.  Each working part should be fit for purpose and maintained for optimum performance, rather than simply fixing individual problems when they occur.  This way it will be less likely to breakdown.  This is the essence of Preventative HR!

Do you have a thorough recruitment process in place?  To be working in a preventative way you must have comprehensive job descriptions and clear views about what skills new employees must have and what you need them to do.  Likewise, when people join your business you need to ensure you induct them properly.  Even skilled and highly experienced employees need to understand the unique ways in which you conduct business in order to prevent mistakes.

Performance management plays a key role in Preventative HR.  Include a probation period in every contract of employment to set the foundation of your relationship and a benchmark for future performance.  Set on-going objectives for each employee and get into the habit of giving feedback regularly both informally as part of your appraisal process, this will give you the chance to give praise for work well done and identify instances of poor performance before they become major issues.

Communication, communication, communication.  Keep your staff informed about how the business is doing, what can they do to help and how their job fits into the bigger picture this will ensure they feel valued, engaged and focussed on the success of the company.  Similarly listen to their needs and aspirations and encourage training and development opportunities that help employees reach their full potential.  In return turn they will perform better and make a bigger contribution to the overall success of the business.

Finally, be a good boss!  When your employees leave they will tell everyone what a great company you were to work for. There is no better advertising than that!