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Misconduct or Poor Performance?

Deciding on appropriate action when dealing with employees.

Deborah Hartung

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Many employers are unsure of what action is appropriate to take, under what circumstances, within the workplace. Should an act be dealt with by means of a written warning, or worse still, a disciplinary enquiry that may lead to dismissal? Or was it just a mistake, a human error that could have been corrected by means of a less formal, counselling approach? Fear of making the wrong decision and paying dearly at the CCMA or a Bargaining Council often causes many employers to simply take no action at all.

Misconduct

‘Misconduct’ is defined as the blameworthy breach of a workplace rule or a rule of relevance to the workplace.

Incapacity due to poor work performance

‘Poor work performance’ on the other hand, refers to a situation where an employee is not able to perform the duties and tasks associated with their position, at the standards that are required of them by their employer. In many cases, this poor performance may be as a result of the fact that the employee requires some additional training on the use of equipment, or they need help with their time management and planning skills.

But many incidents that occur in the workplace seem to inhabit a grey area between misconduct and poor performance, causing confusion for line managers on what the appropriate action would be under the circumstances.

Consider the following example:

Your business has grown to the point where you now have 250 employees and you hire John as your new full time HR Manager. He has 10 years’ experience working in HR and employee relations and you are confident that he is the right person for the job. Part of John’s job is to ensure that the annual employment equity report is completed and submitted to the Department of Labour. Three (3) months after the report was due for submission, a labour inspector visits your premises and you learn that your company didn’t make a submission. You are livid and when you confront John about this, he says that he got busy and he totally forgot – it just slipped his mind.

Two Questions to test for Misconduct

In order to determine the appropriate action to take in this situation, you need to answer two simple questions. If you answer both of those questions in the affirmative, then you are dealing with an incident of misconduct and you would need to take appropriate disciplinary action, instead of some kind of performance management and improvement initiative.

Did an act or omission occur?

In this instance, John has omitted to submit the annual EE report, so you can answer this question in the affirmative.

Is there any form of blameworthiness – either intentional or negligent?

The question here is whether John can be held responsible for his actions in any way. We have no evidence that he intentionally did not submit the report, but his actions may have been as a result of negligence.

The legal test for negligence, is to ask yourself ‘would a reasonable person, given the same circumstances, have acted differently?’

If your answer is ‘yes’ then you are dealing with negligence.

So, in this case, would it have been reasonable to have expected of John – someone with 10 years’ HR experience – to know when EE reports are due and to take action to ensure that your report was completed and submitted on time?

Definitely! This is not merely a little ‘mistake’ or human error that should be addressed by means of a relatively informal counselling session, but an act of misconduct that would most likely be addressed in a disciplinary enquiry.

If the misconduct is of a serious nature and you are intending taking formal disciplinary action (such as a disciplinary enquiry) it is extremely important that your charges are framed correctly and it is advisable that you seek assistance from an employment law professional, in ensuring that you have drafted the correct charges.

Everyone makes mistakes in addressing situations at work and in their private lives. They often think that they would have done something differently, had they known better at the time. By asking the two crucial questions herein, you can ensure that you always differentiate between misconduct and performance problems and that you start addressing these serious workplace issues, in the correct manner.

Deborah Hartung has almost 15 years’ experience in Human Resources and Labour Relations management and has consulted across various industries. Visit the Hartung website or the HR Guru site should you require assistance with any matters relating to HR or Labour Law within your organisation, or should you wish to improve your knowledge through attending informative training sessions and workshops.

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Managing Staff

How The Digital World Has Impacted HR

Here are a few ways in which HR has changed.

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Almost every conversation that happens within a business environment is around growth and how technology is changing the way we do business. With few industries left untouched, the digital world has radically changed the way individuals work, creating an even bigger demand for real-time experiences.

The HR department deals with an influx of messages and emails on a daily basis, so in order to make things easier, digital has introduced a variety of different online tools that have certainly helped set the tone for the future of organisational management. With employee cultures, engagement and productivity being a few of the most important topics circulated internally, HR has a fundamental part to play in getting existing employees to adopt a digital mindset that supports this new-age culture.

The quicker businesses take advantage of technology to manage performance, make the hiring process easier and give people access to their own personal information, the quicker it will separate traditional workplace thinking from today’s thinking.

Here are a few ways in which HR has changed:

Cloud computing and online apps

With previous admin and other HR tasks being done by hand, cloud computing has now made everything faster and simpler. Professionals now have access to the latest online tools that will help streamline processes and allow individuals instant access to their own personal information without having to ask for it. This also speeds up the process and takes a lot of extra, unnecessary work off HRs shoulders.

Related: Is Leveraging Your Resources Getting The Job Done Properly?

In the upcoming years, companies can expect cloud-based HR systems to become more automated and mobile friendly. This means that HR and management will be able to access employee payrolls, CV applications and more, with just the click of a button.

People analytics

One of the many benefits that digital has created for HR is the availability of employee data. More companies have started using online applications to monitor employee performance and company productivity. HR departments have started tracking employee behaviour and patterns through their selected app, making employee feedback easier and more efficient. If any employees have complaints, questions or queries, logging these requests online will make it easier for HR to deal with, considering the amount of content they receive, every day. This will also help them to make more effective decisions.

It’s no secret that a company’s most valuable asset is their people, and when looking to motivate employees, track employee training and individual performance or set up a training programme, then online is the way to go. By having a more holistic understanding of your people and how they’re performing, HR can better support a culture of feedback, engagement and motivation. This kind of approach will also enable employees to better align their personal goals to bigger business objectives.

Real-time feedback

Because the digital age has created the impression that things can get done quickly, in real-time, employees feel the need to give and receive feedback with an instant response. Real-time evaluation is much more effective for something that needs to change than an annual or quarterly review would be.

If new procedures, policies, meetings or activities get announced, employees can immediately give their feedback on a specific topic or outcome. This will also help you know when to make changes both within the organisation and with employees. For example, employees who don’t measure up to their KPI standards can be subjected to additional training or can be let go in favour of someone else who can come in and do the job better than they do.

Related: What Happened To The Workplace? How To Make It More Human

AI, VR and AR

Gone are the days where robots, VR and AR were simply jargon used among tech geeks. These terms have officially made it to everyday conversations, between business owners, employees and HR leaders. Virtual Reality (VR) which can be identified as a recreation of reality, is now being harnessed by companies in their training activities, as well as Augmented Reality (AR) which enhances technology. These elements are starting to become far more integrated into internal activities, helping employers engage better with employees, making activities more interactive and fun.

While many advancements have been made to the HR department and even HR management courses at colleges, there are countless others to look forward to. New tech innovations are introduced every day, creating even greater opportunities for businesses to align their goals with HR.

Professionals will need to keep up to date with the latest trends and develop their own strategies to stay within the path of progress. Much like all things digital, we all have mixed emotions when it comes to new trends but in order for companies to stay relevant, they will need to adapt their company goals to meet these challenges. Technology is only going to keep moving forward.

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Managing Staff

A Culture Of Discipline Critical For SMMEs To Thrive

Employees are the heart and soul of every organisation, especially for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs).

Thabang Rapuleng

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Employees are the heart and soul of every organisation, especially for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). As a result, the implementation, as well as enforcement of clear workplace policies and practices is critical to the success of these companies.

With South African Labour Law as strict as it is, we are still finding a significant number of SMMEs that do not have any formal policies and procedures, which increases the risk of these companies not complying with labour laws.

This is often as a result of SMMEs not having the necessary manpower or finances to have fully-fledged human resources (HR) departments. It can therefore be a common occurrence to find SMME owners at the helm of HR divisions.

An owner-run HR department will also not necessarily be overly familiar with labour laws. The company will often do something that is “good for business” but not advisable in terms of the law. This could lead to poor decisions being made and could be detrimental to the future of the company.

Related: 3 Steps To Find And Keep Top Talent In Your Business

Poor communication of policies and procedures is another area of concern for many SMMEs, resulting in employees often being unaware of HR policies and making them likely to infringe on these policies. New employees may also find it difficult to adapt to the business and employees could end up losing what could have been a valuable asset to a growing business.

A culture of discipline is essential

Discipline with regards to the enforcement of policies must be considered as a day-to-day management function, rather than a once-off or ad hoc event. This approach will ensure an issue is resolved before it spirals out of control.

For example, if an employee takes an extended lunch break, and the employer allows it to happen, it will send a message to other employees that this is perfectly acceptable. Employers will soon find other employees adopting a similar approach, possibly resulting in a large-scale disciplinary process. If the employer took the time and initiated a disciplinary discussion with the one employee, it would have communicated to other staff that this type of behaviour is not tolerated, avoiding a potentially bigger issue.

This is not just an issue in SMMEs. CDH often finds large corporates also struggling to maintain discipline on a day-to-day basis. In some cases, corporates tend to wait until an employee has made a significant mistake or serious act of negligence before intervening.

Record-keeping is your ally

Keeping a record of all disciplinary matters is an essential part of creating a culture of discipline in the workplace. It is critical that all verbal and written warnings are recorded and kept in the employee’s file.

Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?

Under South African Labour Law, an employee must always be allowed to state his/her case in all disciplinary matters, irrespective of the seriousness of the infringement.

Before the employer issues a verbal or written warning, the employer must notify the employee of his/her infringement. The employees must then be given the opportunity to state their case and if the employer is not satisfied with their explanation, the employer may then legally issue the warning.

For more serious matters, which verbal or written warnings will not solve, you must follow more formal steps, such as disciplinary hearings. However, if you maintain a culture of discipline on a daily basis, you will rarely have issues escalating to such a degree.

Correcting an overall workplace culture is far more difficult than rectifying a small incident. When an employer has to correct an entire culture that is deeply entrenched in their business, the process can be more expensive and take much longer.

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Managing Staff

8 Ways To Upskill Your Call Centre Team Before Year-End

For South African call centres, November is the busiest month of the year, so to get in on the action, it’s only appropriate for Olico to provide a few tips on how to upskill your call centre agents.

Gareth Moutain

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As we’re heading into the 2017 home-stretch, many companies will be concerned about hitting those final sales figures. Apart from being a tough year financially, traditionally sales tend to lag behind at this stage. But there is hope.

For South African call centres, November is the busiest month of the year, so to get in on the action, it’s only appropriate for Olico to provide a few tips on how to upskill your call centre agents.

1. For sales, balance is key

A firmly held belief is that the more leads allocated per seat, the more sales that seat will bring in. That’s incorrect. Give the agent too many leads, and they will give up too easily on a call, stopping at the first hurdle experienced. Too few leads mean they might miss out on sales opportunities. Finding the right balance is essential, bearing in mind that all leads should be made the most of.

2. Improve the opening script

In a call centre environment, agents must know how to capitalise on that brief period of time to get a foot in the door. The opening script is absolutely vital, and it can be enhanced by simply adding personalisation to it. Make sure the person is greeted by their name/surname, with agents encouraged to add some energy to the lines to make it stand out from other call clutter.

Related: The Festive Season Might Be Over, But There’s No Rest For Call Centres

3. Provide the origin of the lead

Tying in closely to the above, sales will improve if agents know where the lead comes from. If the lead is from a person who responded to an email campaign, it must be mentioned in the script. Once the person knows the call is related to a request they sent, they will immediately form rapport with the call centre agent.

4. Product refresh training

Much like a car sometimes need a retouch to bring back the shine, so too do call centre agents need a refresh on the products they are selling. Products also evolve, so providing agents with a short course on new benefits, while re-emphasising the key ones, is a great idea.

5. Objection handling

Closing a sale through the telephone is hard work, and call centre agents must be made aware of all the tricks of the trade to seal the deal. If a consumer is not keen, sell harder. If there are regular excuses, find their counterpoints. Is the client’s home language isiZulu? Find the agent who can help. Give them a reason to stay on the phone.

6. Stick to the appointment

Time is money they say, so if the person requested a call back on a specific time, make sure the appointment is kept. Customers don’t respond well if a time slot was missed and yet another call catches them at a bad time.

Related: Why Tyra Banks Cold-Called Zappos’s Tony Hsieh

7. Improve quote ratios

It’s easy – more quotes mean more sales. If the potential customer is provided with a quote, the chances of them converting to a sale is considerably more certain. Where the problem comes in, is guiding a lead through the call to be able to quote. For call centres this means tailoring the script to elegantly move from “Good morning, Mr. Williams,” to “Our life policy will cost you R350 per month”.

8. Incentivise!

With the holidays and Christmas coming up, everyone needs that extra cash, that’s why the time is now to really incentivise sales. Big paydays for agents and teams who sell the most will provide the kindling needed to get those sales fires burning.

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