Tips For EAP Practitioners: Counselling Performance Issues | EAPA-SA

Counselling an employee over the issue of their poor performance is one of the toughest challenges a manager can face, but when it is done properly, not only the employee, but the team and the whole organisation stands to benefit.

Here are five tips for counselling employee performance issues:

  1. Act swiftly to improve the situation

You may believe that a new employee’s struggles will be come right as they settle in, or perhaps that a more experienced or long standing employee is just going through a rough patch. However, if poor performance persists, it’s important to act decisively, for both the good of the employee and the organisation.

  • Firstly, identify the problem performance areas and assess whether the company may be partly at in fault for certain issues, such as a lack of training or the person being a bad match for their job.
  • Secondly, meet with the employee to clarify your expectations for satisfactory performance.
  • Finally, if there is no improvement after 2-4 weeks, it might be time to necessary to engage in formal counselling.


  1. Follow a process
  • A three stage process can make counselling more productive. It is important to document each step of the process and to follow up on action steps.
  • Stage One: Address the employee’s performance issues and outline action steps for change and a timeframe for change.  Document employee shortfalls and the improvements needed.  Both manager and employee should sign the document. At this point, there is no need for formal HR involvement.
  • Stage Two: If there is no improvement over the stipulated time frame, your counselling and documentation needs to state the consequences of failure to improve and should now become part of the employee’s personnel record. It is important to reinforce the consequences if improvement does not occur.  Specify a timeframe for ongoing and sustained change and have both parties sign the document that goes to HR.
  • Stage Three: If after another 30 days the employee is not achieving or demonstrating the desired outcomes a formal document should be drafted clearly stating that the employee’s failure to improve and meet standards will result in termination of employment.


  1. Keep the timeframes for change appropriate

Different performance issues require different timeframes for change.

  • Absenteeism, arriving late or missing meetings: No change in 1-2 weeks will typically be long enough to move to the next level.
  • Controlling negativity or the employee adapting to change: This might require more time to monitor that change is taking place and is sustained.  Generally 30 days is reasonable time frame.
  • Demonstrating the ability to meet job standards: Generally 30 days is enough for most situations, but it may be necessary to ensure sustained change by extending the period of time in which the employee should demonstrate their mastery of the job.


  1. Ensure employee ownership

From the beginning of the counselling process, ensure the employee’s engagement in the process.  Ask your employee to summarise the discussion and recap the action plan. This will help you gauge their understanding and a desire to change.


  1. Recognise success

After a period of time, write a note to the employee to recognise that counselling was completed successfully, that their improvement has been sustained, and that they are performing to desired standards. Add this note to their personnel file and incorporate their improvement into their annual performance appraisal.

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