Do you know how to manage underperformance in remote workers?

Employers across Australia are doing their best to ensure that the impact of COVID-19 on performance is managed as fairly and efficiently as possible.

Employers across Australia are doing their best to ensure that the impact of COVID-19 on performance is managed as fairly and efficiently as possible.

In these challenging times, it is particularly important that any management action taken to solve performance issues is fair and reasonable, with a view to all of the circumstances relevant to both the worker and the organisation.

The impact of COVID-19 on remote worker mental health is a real issue for employers, and one that needs careful management – particularly when underperformance arises as an added complication.

We explore the key issues around how employers can best manage the underperformance of remote workers.

Underperformance of remote workers

Even without a global pandemic to contend with, managing the performance of remote workers can be a sizeable challenge for employers. Without day-to-day, in-person monitoring, it can be difficult to gauge performance, as well as to swiftly implement remedial measures where necessary. KPIs can provide some indication, yet work quality and client engagement are just some of the more nuanced performance factors that need close attention before alarm bells are raised.

The impact of COVID-19 on remote work

When COVID-19 hit, employers and workers scrambled as quickly as possible to maintain business-as-usual. Remote work became the norm, with organisations doing their best to implement Zoom meetings, VPNs and similar virtual systems in order to maintain secure and productive workflows. Yet despite the best attempts to pivot, the negative impact of COVID-19 on some worker performance has been an undeniable reality. Not only are remote workers dealing with new ways of working, some also contend with social factors such as home schooling, elderly care responsibilities, plus the isolation that comes from missing out on the social ‘watercooler’ side of on-site work.

Reasonable management action for underperformance

Suspected underperformance by remote workers must be addressed appropriately and with a case-by-case approach. Although the current COVID-19 situation has caused great stress to employers, it is essential that this does not flow through into unreasonably harsh action being taken. When investigating suspected underperformance, management action must be reasonable throughout the entire process. Such action will be fair, transparent and will account for the unique situation faced by remote workers in the COVID-19 era.

Avoiding harassment claims

Reasonable management action cannot simply be ‘phoned in’ in an abrupt or impersonal way. Remote workers may claim harassment if management acts rashly in relation to alleged underperformance. Such action needs to be carried out in a clearly reasonable manner, including with thoughtfulness, good listening, and consideration of the individual circumstances. Remote workers are particularly susceptible to developing mental health issues, and the manner in which underperformance is handled is therefore of vital importance. Employers should also ensure that remote workers have the right to respond to any allegations, and that their wellbeing is at the forefront of investigations.

MyKludo provides excellence in investigation services to employers across Australia. Visit our website to find out how we can help you manage difficult cases easily.

To find out more about managing employers duty of care, mental health and investigations, we welcome you to register for our symposium on Mental Health and Investigations on March 4, 2021.


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