Will terminating underperformers safeguard the remote working setup from toxicity?

Performance assessment in a remote working setup can be as challenging as dealing with underperformers say HR experts

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The pandemic has led to a majority of the workforce working from home. With remote working come several challenges, most of which revolve around people management. Allowing employees to work from their homes — amidst a host of domestic distractions, and without any supervision at all— makes it difficult to distinguish the productive ones from the slackers. Tackling underperformers has been a challenge for many managers and organisations are finding their own ways to deal with it.

Low performers can impact other members of the workforce. They can lower the morale of the team or increase the burden of work. Their lack of motivation can bring down the energy level of the entire team. However, the biggest challenge here is to spot those low performers and work on them. If this was a difficult task when employees were working out of their offices, it gets trickier when they are working remotely. The question is, how to deal with such employees who can become toxic for other team members? Is termination the only solution?

NV Balachandar

“We are only six months into the performance year. It is too early to say if there are underperformers or not. We did see some cases where performances were not up to the mark, but we gave them time to settle down. However, over a period of time, if we see people slipping, we will have to think of how to address that.”

Anuranjita Kumar, senior HR leaders and practitioner, says that the process of assessing performance is bigger than performance or underperformance. “To me, assessing somebody remotely is a bigger challenge than the outcome of that challenge. You need to have a clear milestone and outcomes. You cannot really assess connectivity and behaviour online. Once that challenge is overcome, their underperformance or overperformance can be dealt with just the way it usually is in the office.”

A few HR leaders also believe that having a dialogue with the slackers can help them scale up their performances. Citing the way they have handled certain issues during the pandemic, NV Balachandar, executive director, Ashok Leyland, mentions the 3 Cs model of compassion, collaboration and contribution that the Company has introduced to make its employees more comfortable in these testing times.

“We encourage more conversation. We wanted to shift the focus from performance to how they want to contribute to the organisation at this point of time. Performance always has a negative connotation. That is why, performance appraisal is feared, because one tends to go after what has not happened rather than focusing on what has happened,” explains Balachandar.

While many experts argue that the best way to avert the possibility of ending up with a toxic work environment in the remote working setup is to weed out the source of the toxicity, Kumar disagrees. “Termination is the last nuclear option to use. I would not resort to that unless it is clear to me. I would rather change their jobs and assign them lighter tasks that do not involve the same level of stress. It is important to have a conversation with them and move them elsewhere, where they may perform better,” Kumar opines.

Balachandar, however, is of the opinion that it is too early to go looking for underperformers in the system. Although, he did speak about addressing the issue, if it persists. “We are only six months into the performance year. It is too early to say if there are underperformers or not. We did see some cases where performances were not up to the mark, but we gave them time to settle down. However, over a period of time, if we see people slipping, we will have to think of how to address that.”

Anuranjita Kumar

“Termination is the last nuclear option to use. I would not resort to that unless it is clear to me. I would rather change the jobs of the underperformers, and assign them lighter tasks that do not involve the same level of stress. It is important to have a conversation with them and move them elsewhere, where they may perform better.”

Both Balachandar and Kumar are all for having a dialogue with low performers — through mentoring, coaching, digital learning — and figuring out the actual problem. They believe that having a conversation with such employees can help them get back on track. They are not alone here. Many HR managers across the world too believe there is nothing that dialogue cannot fix. In these times, when people are confined to their homes, empathy and compassion have become the cornerstone for assessing employee performance as part of a team. However, if push comes to shove, some decisive action will have to be taken.

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