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  • Performance management

    You’ve been called in by hospital admin for a performance meeting. You are concerned that this means the hospital is unhappy about your work and you’ve been up all night worried about it. Here we outline what is performance management and what you can do to be prepared and reduce your anxiety. It is important for you to seek help and support during the process if you need it.

    Performance management is a stressful process for everyone, whether you are the doing the performance management or you are the subject of performance management.

    Performance management should be a regular part of every employment relationship. Good performance management involves:

    • setting performance standards,
    • providing regular feedback, and
    • conducting regular performance appraisals.

    What can sometimes be forgotten is that performance management is as much about recognising good performance as it is about managing poor performance.

    Rewarding good performance

    It is important for doctors to recognise and reward the good performance of their staff. This might be through financial or other rewards or it might simply be through recognition of a job well done. A simple “thank you” or “you’re doing a great job” goes a long way to keeping employees happy and motivated in the workplace.

    One of my employees is not doing their job properly. What should I do?

    Sometimes you may need to manage an employee’s poor performance in the workplace with the aim of bringing the employee’s performance up to the expected level.

    Most managers find performance management confronting and difficult and tend to “put it off”. Many are concerned about the risk of a bullying complaint or a stress claim. Generally, an employee’s performance will further decline if you do nothing so it’s important to act.

    If you engage in “reasonable management action in a reasonable manner”, you will be able to defend any bullying or workers compensation claim that might arise. “Reasonable management action” includes performance management where the employee is not performing to your expectations, taken “in a reasonable manner” means that you should deal professionally and politely with the relevant employee. You should not, for example, yell at the employee, micro manage the employee or insist on unreasonable performance standards.

    As far as possible, you should actively manage an employee’s poor performance when performance issues arise rather than waiting for the annual performance review or another regular meeting. You should speak with your employee on an informal basis about his or her performance. If your discussions are ignored or become more regular, you may need to think about formal performance management.

    The steps below are relevant for the formal performance management of an employee. The information below is general. You should review the employee’s contract, your policies and procedures and any other documents setting out terms and conditions of employment to ensure they are consistent with the information below. If not, you should follow your own specific requirements.

    Step 1

    Organise a formal performance management meeting. You should let the employee know what the meeting is about and tell the employee they can bring a support person if they wish. You should arrange a meeting away in a quiet location where other employees will not interrupt.

    You may wish to have a witness at the meeting also. Your witness can take notes of the matters discussed during the meeting.

    Step 2

    During the formal performance management meeting, you should speak with the employee about your performance concerns (for example, repeated inappropriate communication with patients or providing the wrong medical information to patients).

    During this discussion, you should:

    • let the employee know your performance concerns;
    • tell the employee what you expect of them – be reasonable and be as specific as possible;
    • give the employee a timeframe in which to improve their performance;
    • ask the employee if they have anything to say about the concerns you have raised and properly consider anything that they say;
    • offer training and support that may be required to assist the employee to improve their performance;
    • let the employee know the consequences if their performance does not improve (for example, they may be dismissed);
    • if appropriate, let them know that you intend to provide a written warning.

    Step 3

    Following the meeting, you should:

    • make a detailed file note of the meeting – signed by those attending the meeting;
    • confirm the content of your discussion (including any written warning) in writing including any action the employee is required to take to improve their performance. You may wish to enclose a performance management plan;
    • provide any necessary additional training or support to enable the employee to perform in accordance with your expectations; and
    • continue to monitor the employee’s performance and provide immediate feedback in the event of poor performance. You may wish to make a file note of your discussions.

    Step 4

    You should organise a further meeting at the end of the review period.

    If the employee’s performance has improved, you should end the formal performance management process but continue to monitor the employee’s performance on an informal basis and provide immediate feedback if issues arise.

    You should repeat Step 2 if there is no or not enough improvement in the employee’s performance and provide a further opportunity for them to improve. You may need to repeat Step 1 on several occasions depending on the issue and the content of the warning letter.

    Step 5

    If you reach the point that you consider it appropriate to terminate the employee’s employment, you should seek advice before taking further action. In broad summary, you should then:

    • ensure you have a valid reason for the termination related to the employee’s capacity or conduct;
    • tell the employee the reason you intend to dismiss them;
    • give the employee an opportunity to respond to your intention to dismiss him or her and properly consider the response;
    • ensure the employee is aware of their right to have a support person in any meetings about their dismissal and allow such a support person if requested;
    • confirm the dismissal in writing.

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    Tools and Resources

    Being performance managed or having to performance manage an employee can make it difficult to concentrate and inevitably results in you bringing your anxieties about work home with you. This can lead to sleepless nights and increasing anxiety. There are many places where you can seek help:

    Your employer’s Employee Assistance Program

    Key support services

    Avant Medico-legal Advisory Service

    Doctors' Health Advisory Services around the country

    The AMA in your state or territory

    Your Union

    Your organisation’s human resources department

    I am being performance managed in the workplace. What do I need to know?

    Your employer has a right to manage your performance if it does not meet their expectations. In doing so, your employer should follow the steps set out above.

    Being involved in a performance management process can be stressful and can undermine your confidence. It is important to remember that your employer is not criticising you, rather your employer is reviewing your performance and looking at ways that your performance can improve. It’s very difficult not to take it personally though.

    You should absolutely seek advice and support if you require it, including from your treating medical practitioners.

    Cautionary Tale

    Tips

    Tips for a formal performance management meeting

    • If you do not feel able to attend a meeting for medical reasons, you should speak with your treating medical practitioner about it. It may be that your treating medical practitioner certifies you as unfit to attend the meeting. If you are a doctor, you should be aware that such medical certification may be provided to Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency (AHPRA) and you may find yourself in a medical assessment process.
    • If the proposed meeting time does not suit you or your support person, you should ask for another meeting time.
    • Be prepared. You can ask your employer what will be discussed at the meeting so you are able to think about how you will respond to the issues of concern.
    • Take an appropriate support person to the meeting with you.
    • You should listen carefully to what your employer has to say. Don’t interrupt.
    • If your employer’s concerns are legitimate, you should accept those concerns and agree to meet your employer’s expectations in the future.
    • If your employer’s concerns are not legitimate, you should explain why in a respectful way.
    • If there are personal issues which impact on your work performance (for example, you are on IVF or you are caring for a sick relative), you should let your employer know. Most employers will be sympathetic to your circumstances and will work with you to ensure your personal issues can be accommodated and your performance can improve. This is also an opportunity to ask your employer for any other assistance you may require (for example, a change in working hours or some leave).
    • If there are work issues which impact on your work performance (for example, you feel bullied in the workplace), you should let your employer know.
    • You can ask for a break during the performance management meeting if you need one.
    • You may need to consider whether you will ever be able to meet your employer’s expectations. If not, it may be time for you to look for another job.