Fixer: Staff member is working too flexibly

Remote worker is hard to contact but hitting their targets – am I within my rights to complain?

On top of remote working implemented because of the pandemic, we’ve also recently introduced flexible working across our small company of 25 people to allow staff to work more when, where and how they want. The trouble is, one person in our sales team seems to be taking this a bit too far. He’s somehow still hitting his targets (just), so there aren’t really any issues with productivity, but he’s very hard to get hold of when we need him, and takes ages to respond to emails, which causes problems elsewhere in the team. I feel like I’m nitpicking because he is getting the job done, but at the same time it’s hard for others. Is there anything I can do?

You say you have several specific examples of this person being hard to contact when you need him, taking a long time to respond to emails, and then associated problems for the rest of the team.

First and foremost, there needs to be a ‘how versus what’ conversation held with the person in question to explain that he may be just about hitting his targets, but how he is working is clearly not optimal.

Should the underperformance continue following this conversation, I would advocate putting in place a contribution development process (CDP) of six weeks to improve both his output and how he is working, and following that, six weeks to sustain the changes.

Hopefully, the issues will be resolved within this timeline and not have to lead into any disciplinary process.

Incidentally, I’ve never liked the term ‘performance improvement plan’ (PIP), but in these types of scenarios, your authentic intent needs to be performance optimisation of the member of staff in question with a fair process, but equally, not shy away from making those difficult decisions if improvement is not possible or sustainable.

Remember to approach the problem as if the shoe were on the other foot, and keep work human.

Dave A Barry FCIPD is People Management’s guest HR Fixer. A graduate of University College Cork’s postgraduate higher diploma in human resource management, Barry’s career as an HR professional spans more than 20 years across sectors including biopharma, cybersecurity, travel and retail. He established consultancy in 2018, is a prolific keynote speaker and lectures part time at University College Cork.

His replies are written in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of People Management or the CIPD, nor are they a substitute for professional legal advice. Not all queries submitted can be answered, and personal replies are not possible. 

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