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How to have ‘the talk’

Your mouth is dry. Nerves are on edge. Discussing poor performance with an employee is tough, unless you follow a clear plan and act early.
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How to have ‘the talk’

How to have ‘the talk’

27 July 2017

Your mouth is dry. Nerves are on edge. Discussing poor performance with an employee is tough, unless you follow a clear plan and act early.

With the increase in the unfair dismissal high income threshold to $142,000 effective from 1 July meaning a greater number of employees now have access to the unfair dismissal regime it’s more important than ever to ensure you don’t find yourself in front of the Fair Work Commission.

The amount of compensation payable for an unfair dismissal claim, which is capped at the lesser of six months’ pay or half of the high-income threshold, has also increased - the maximum amount of compensation that can be awarded in an unfair dismissal matter is now $71,000.

If you do need to address an employee’s poor performance, it pays to adopt best practice procedures right from the start, so that if you need to terminate their performance down the line, you can be sure you’re ticked all the boxes.

Workplace solution Workplace Assured suggests a “Traffic light” approach for dealing with employees’ performance issues:

Green light scenario

Severity: An issue that could be a problem but has not escalated
Goal: Dealing with behavioural issues
Action plan:

  • Have an informal discussion in a private environment and find the reason behind the behaviourial issue.
  • Explore a solution and make sure  both parties agree.
  • Follow up in writing and keep records of all communication.
  • Follow up on the employee’s performance every two weeks.

Amber light scenario

Severity: An issue that is beginning to impact business operations and other staff
Goal: Having a firmer and more formal conversation
Action plan:

  • Set up a formal discussion.
  • Review KPIs and closely track performance and look at KPIs to see where you employee is falling behind, such as monitoring targets for someone in a sales position.
  • Track performance against KPIs.
  • Set a calendar entry for a monthly review of KPIs.

Red light scenario

Severity: An issue with significant implications on the business and other staff
Goal: termination of employment
Action plan:

  • Set up a formal meeting.
  • Explain why an employee is losing their job, their entitlements and their leaving date.
  • Follow up with termination letter.


If you do find yourself facing a “red light”, make sure you have reviewed your termination process, letters and templates with a workplace relations expert of lawyer. With so much at stake, this isn’t something you should wing.

Do you need some guidance on how you can conduct a difficult conversation? Ask a professional workplace relations expert advice for free by calling our Workplace Assured Advice Line on 1300 496 955.

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