Performance Management Without Bullying

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Performance Management Without Bullying

The use of performance management should be a last resort made with full consideration of all the alternatives and as an admission that either the recruiting process failed the organisation, or the organisation failed the employee in some way. One of the alternatives include the retraining of the employee to meet the skills required of the position they were employed to do or are now required to do within there capabilities. If the employee’s capabilities are the issue, then career development processes need to be used to provide the employee with work processes that meet their abilities. Where training or redeployment are not effective, performance management should be used to efficiently resolve the issue without delay and with full knowledge that the likely outcome is either sufficiently improved performance, termination of employment or unreasonable behaviour that may lead to bullying.

Without proper training the performance management process can cause bullying where the supervisor extends the process beyond a reasonable time frame through their unwillingness to make the tough decision to terminate the employee’s employment. Alternatively, delays may take place through the supervisor’s lack of skill or experience to a point where it results in unreasonable action which poses a risk of bullying. The proper application of performance management includes conflict resolution skills, together with anti-bullying and conflict de-escalation techniques. This is because the process will usually result in conflict which is likely to escalate as a result of the severity of the likely consequences including termination of employment for the employee.

Supervisors are often put in the position of performance management of their staff without enough training or experience at the request of the supervisor’s own manager. Without proper conflict de-escalation skills, the supervisor may also be subject to reverse bullying where the power advantage of the supervisor over the employee’s employment is reversed. In this case the employee may focus attention on the supervisor’s failure to resolve the issue as the organisation or their senior manager expects. This shift in the power relationship is consistent within any conflict where the party whose argument is the stronger holds the superior power in the conversation. As points are successfully made by the parties the power balance shifts from person to person. Prolonging the conflict for an unreasonable time or escalation to unreasonable behaviour creates the conditions for bullying to occur. The key to recovering a productive discussion is the use of conflict de-escalation strategies and without these skills supervisors can find themselves inadvertently bullying employees without any intention of doing so.

The legal ramifications of getting performance management wrong include claims of bullying, discrimination or adverse action and particularly unfair dismissal in the Fair Work Commission. The frequency of unfair dismissal claims particularly reflects the extent of this problem rather than the problem of deliberate acts of bullying by supervisors. The tendency for reverse bullying in cases of uncontrolled conflict is likely to urge a terminated employee to make an unfair dismissal claim in retaliation for perceived bullying during the performance management process regardless of the likelihood of success. Ensuring employment contracts support performance management decisions is also vital to protect against legal action. However, the legal costs and loss of witness’s productivity in these claims can be substantial, regardless of any payment for a successful judgement.

The key to performance management without bullying includes implementation of proper policies and application of those policies. Proper training in conflict management and emotional awareness is essential to the process. Choosing the most appropriate course of action before performance management commences, is essential where acceptance of the current level of performance, career development or training would have been more appropriate for the employee in the circumstances.

Kevin Gilmore-Burrell LLB MBA

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