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The Pitfalls of Ignoring Poor Performance

Posted on 11/04/2016 by Jo Hodge


Charities are continuing to feel increasing economic pressure and this is having a negative effect on staff morale. 

60% of charity staff have experienced redundancies in their organisation, and 55% feel their workloads are getting heavier, leading to stressed and unproductive employees.  And with half of voluntary sector leaders expecting their organisation’s situation to worsen over the next 12 months, the situation is not likely to improve in the near future.

However, not for profit organisations can be reluctant to tackle poor performance in the workplace - only 57% of staff reportedly receive useful feedback on how they are performing.  With over 218,000 employment tribunal claims brought last year, and charities particularly vulnerable to claims, failure to manage underperformance can have serious consequences for charities.

In this article, TPP examines the most common reasons for failing to tackle poor performance, and why these are misconceptions.

"Nonprofits should be kind"

This is an extremely common problem in the not for profit sector.  Most charities recognise that their staff often accept lower pay than in the private sector but expect a higher level of job satisfaction.  Combined with the fact that charities exist to promote ethical values, this can often lead managers to want to be “kind” to their employees, and turn a blind eye to underperformance.

However, failing to tackle poor performance at an early stage is more often than not an unkindness, both for the organisation, whose effectiveness will suffer, and for the employee themselves, who will continue to underperform until their manager has to tackle the problem, which can be a set up for an unfair dismissal claim.  Unproductive employees are also usually unhappy in their job, and treating the problem can improve morale all round.  Being a supportive manager, who proactively handles performance and develops their employees, is not being unkind. Allowing people to fail is unkind.

“We need to follow this through by managing poor performance when it arises. Anyone who hides behind the charity mask on this one and feels it is not compatible with being nice to people is not being professional or businesslike - nor maintaining the charity ethos.”
Valerie Morton in Third Sector magazine

Fear of litigation

Charities are usually heavily reliant on their public image to bring in funding and volunteers, and so are reluctant to enter situations where litigation might result which will give them negative press.  Charity employees can be more willing than most to bring a claim against their employer if they feel they are being treated unfairly, as they have an innate sense of justice and fair play.  This means that voluntary sector managers can be unwilling to speak to employees about poor performance and scared of getting into situations which they feel may eventually lead to dismissal.

Once again, the solution to this is to tackle poor performance at an early stage, rather than simply ignoring it.  Properly handled, an employee may well improve their effectiveness, avoiding the need for dismissal.  But if it does get to that stage, an employee is more likely to feel aggrieved about being dismissed if their employee has not attempted to address and solve the issues leading to the underperformance, and will almost certainly have a stronger case at tribunal because of this.

Worrying about morale

In the current economic climate, when many charities have experienced downsizing, many managers are concerned about maintaining the morale of their team and fear that confronting an employee, particularly one that is popular with the rest of the staff, about their performance may lead to a wave of fear among the team and a drop in morale.

In this scenario, managers are assuming the worst.  Handling unproductiveness sensitively and at an early stage can lead to the employee becoming both more productive and more satisfied, which is likely to positively affect the rest of the team.  If this does not happen, and the process eventually leads to a dismissal, there certainly is a risk that the rest of the team will become worried, but reassurance and support can help to tackle this.  However, leaving that employee to carry on as they are will definitely lead to a drop in morale as the rest of the team have to make up the slack.

Extenuating circumstances

A common reason for underperformance can be personal problems that are unrelated to work.  If a manager is aware of these circumstances, they could very well be tempted to let poor performance slide on the assumption that the employee’s effectiveness will improve once the situation has been resolved.  However, simply ignoring the issue is doing the employee no favours.

Talking through the issue with the member of staff will alert them to your concerns, demonstrate your support in their situation and may lead to a mutually beneficial solution, such as allowing them to take a paid leave of absence.

Losing a star performer

Sometimes, an employee can be a high performer in numerical terms, but can still require performance management for unacceptable behaviour, such as negativity, dishonesty, harassment or bullying.  Managers may be reluctant to tackle this behaviour, even if it is having a negative impact on the rest of the team, for fear of losing their star performer.

Leaving this kind of behaviour untackled ends up sending a message to the rest of the staff that conduct like this is acceptable as long as targets are met.  Staff may become disillusioned and leave due to perceived unfairness.  Performance management should always have the welfare of the team as a whole in mind, not just that individual.


If your beneficiaries are likely to suffer due to a drop in team productivity and morale, is there really any excuse that could be valid for failing to deal with poor performance early on?  A good manager should be able to effectively communicate and document an employee’s poor performance in a timely manner, so that any disciplinary action is never a surprise. If it does happen, it should only be the culmination of a process where the manager is sincerely working to change an employee’s behaviour for the betterment of the organization.


Further advice on performance management and involuntary redundancy:
KnowHow NonProfit
10 point checklist for confronting poor performance
Crash Course: Seven ways to manage poor performance

CS Skills Centre - Managing poor performance
The Centre - Managing poor performance, absence and stress

Healthcare Conferences UK - Managing Poor Performance and Supporting Nurses in Difficulty

Forms & Templates
Various forms are available from HR Bird

Finally, for further guidance on how NOT to conduct a performance review, learn from the master - David Brent.