Advice

Fixer: Can I conduct a disciplinary during coronavirus lockdown?

23 Apr 2020 By PM Editorial

I'm told some employees are not pulling their weight, but I’m not sure how to deal with it

I’m an HR business partner at a company that’s been fortunate compared to many others, in that we have been able to ask all staff to work from home during the coronavirus lockdown. Staff have been able to stay pretty productive and we haven’t taken too much of a financial hit. There’s been a lot to do though, as the nature of our business means there were lots of events and scheduled activity that needed rearranging, and some opportunities to jump on. Most staff have been great at putting in the hours, even where they’ve been juggling childcare. But there have been reports of a couple – none with children – apparently not pulling their weight. What’s the best way of approaching this? Can I still conduct a disciplinary if it comes to that?

First, there are positives here – lots of examples of people rising to the challenge. Inspirational behaviour is attractive, especially in dark times, so make sure you partner with your internal comms function to capture, share and highlight the heroes in this worrying period. Don’t underestimate the power of senior leaders using your communication channels to celebrate inspirational stories and to be honest about how they feel during tough times. Authenticity and leading by example is key.

That said, in any group of people at any given time, there will always be less exemplary behaviour. Modern journalism and sensationalist social media relies on outrage to sell advertising. But for every fight over toilet rolls or every rogue trader ripping people off for hand sanitiser, there’s a hundred people volunteering for the NHS or checking in with elderly relatives or the lonely in need. Look for those shining examples and shame the rest into compliance. 

Of course, despite staff being scattered while working from home, line management and performance management principles remain constant. There’s probably a greater need for short-term goal setting and for line managers and their teams to keep in touch. The issue with the couple of bad apples is a line management one really. Drown out the rumour mill with the positive news everyone else wants and needs to hear, and leave the line managers to sort out the rogues. It is possible to conduct a disciplinary remotely, but with some tough performance management, just in time, it probably won’t come to that.

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