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Safe Space #8: Poor performance and personal problems – what should I do?

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Welcome to the Safe Space – where managers can share their issues, and gain advice from top learning & development consultants.

Here at =mc we encourage every participant we meet on our programmes to get in touch if they have specific issues they want to follow up on. From this we hear some common problems, issues, challenges, and worries. In this regular feature we share some of those challenges, and our advice, for dealing with them.

This time, the issue comes from a Supporter Care Manager in a mid-sized mental health UK charity. The =mc consultants offer advice on a difficult issue which you may well identify with: handling performance when someone is having a tough time.

What’s the issue?

Hello =mc. I really hope you can help me. I work in a mental health charity.  I manage a small team in Supporter Care and we are very mindful of the mental health challenges in our work. However, as a small team we also rely on each other to get the job done. If any one person is off work, for whatever reason, it has a huge impact. Managing holidays is a bit of a nightmare but we deal with it. The challenge I’m having right now is that one of my team members is not really pulling their weight. They just don’t churn out the same level as output as the others, and I’m constantly finding errors in their work. This means I have to supervise them much more closely than the others, and re-do lots of their work, which is a huge drain on my time. They also have social anxiety disorder which impacts on how they work with the rest of the team. I’m nervous however about how to best deal with this as they are having a horrible time personally. They’ve had a medical issue, and the treatment has been pretty rough. The pandemic has made it a bit more difficult, as they basically have to go through hospital appointments, operations, and recovery, alone. So, on the one hand I really want to help them, but on the other hand the team are under pressure as a result. What am I supposed to do?

Rope being pulled

What our consultants say

Charlie

Dear Supporter Care Manager, I feel for you. This is a very tricky situation and handling performance issues with care is a real skill, especially in these circumstances. Management is so often a balancing act between delivering strategic outcomes and the emotional labour that goes into supporting people to do their best work. There is plenty of nuance here that we don’t really know so if you want to chat it through in more detail, please call us. In the meantime, it would help to step back a bit and reflect on what you have done so far. Have you been clear in your expectations around the output and standard of work you are looking for? Constantly correcting errors without giving this person feedback on what you expect them to do differently is going to create dependency on you. It may be difficult, but if you don’t set boundaries, you will be in this position for a long time coming. Start with a common error, and see if you can help them to learn in the first instance. Build from there. Show them what good looks like, and create a plan of how to get there.

Laura

Hi there Supporter Care Manager, thanks for getting in touch. Charlie is absolutely right, you need to set standards clearly for everyone in the team including this person. It may be that you also need to consider their specific needs when you set a learning plan, and consider what is a reasonable expectation for them at this time. I recommend taking a person-centred approach. Tell them where the problems are, the impact this has and ask for their input. Be direct, but also show that you want to help. What do they think would help them to get to an error-free result? What level of output can they reasonably deliver at this time given everything that is going on? What are the coping and support mechanisms they are using, or have used before, that could help now? How could work support those or enable those? Consider things like reduced hours, flexible hours, and time out for appointments with their counsellor or therapy teams if that’s useful. It also sounds like you may have a resourcing issue. In our sector resources are always under pressure, but we have a duty to care for our people to ensure they can work safely. If holidays are a problem, then there is no flexibility for the rest of life’s challenges. When this happens, you need to make a change: either bring in more resources (temporary or otherwise) or if that isn’t possible review workstreams and see what can be reduced. I’m not suggesting you chuck money at the problem; there may not be any spare cash in any organisation right now. However, could you be more creative in how you deliver work, or push back on less urgent/important areas for now?  Building some flex or slack in will help take the pressure off the whole team.

Philly

Dear Manager, I too have been in this situation. A really powerful tool I have found useful is coaching or mentoring by someone outside of the team. If your colleague is up for it, talking to another person will give them a safe space in which they can explore ideas about how to balance work and health; how to get the help they need; and how they can address the challenges they have in their work. This will be a confidential process and has the benefit of putting the power to do things differently back into their hands. It saves you time of course, and also encourages this person to find their own solutions. I wonder if they may need some training as well, on the outputs you refer to. Do you have an experienced team member who can show them their own techniques, who could hold some one-to-one sessions to get this person up to speed? That way you can be the manager, setting out expectations and monitoring results. The colleague can be the mentor – showing and encouraging learning. And a coach could be a confidante, someone to talk things through. You may find after a short time they are more confident, and improvements come through.

Yvette

Hello Manager, I agree with everything said already, and see this as a staged approach: start with feedback, ask them what they need, review resources, offer coaching and training support. Then keep checking how it is going and what else could help. I also hope you are getting some support for yourself with this. Please be assured, you are not the only manager that will have to deal with the need to support people whilst also managing a busy workload. You have done the right thing in asking for help – trying to go it alone on this one will be stressful. Laura has suggested getting some additional resources if you can. Another useful resource for you could be other managers or your HR team. Find out what help your organisation can provide for you, what other people have done in this situation that might help you, share experiences and talk it through. As a mental health charity, I’m sure you will have plenty of guides and experts who you can discuss this with in confidence. You may even have things like an Employee Assistance Programme or Occupational Health – both of which can give you practical advice on how to support someone with mental and physical health. See if you have a Capability Policy or similar. Whilst this is a formal process, don’t think of it as a negative process. It will help you diagnose specific actions that you can take, to create an improvement plan for your colleague. You don’t even need to use it now, but you can consider how you might need to do this in the future if things don’t improve with the previous interventions. I really do wish you all the best with this, your colleague is having a tough time and every bit of help for them will be important. Equally important is that you get support too.

What’s next?

If you’d like to explore ways of handling for situations like this, contact us online or call 020 7978 1516 to discuss similar challenges and how we might be able to help.

Finally, if you’re facing a challenge you’d like some advice on in the next issue of the Safe Space, email us on safespace@managementcentre.co.uk. While we can’t promise to publish all the requests we receive, we will offer advice by email as a minimum.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...

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