Informal counselling of probationary employees
Informal counselling and advice by the manager is the first step in addressing work problems in relation to a probationary employee. Problems seldom go away on their own and a word early on may prevent a much more time consuming and difficult process later. Often an improvement in conduct or performance can be achieved by simply clarifying what standard of conduct is required, why it is important and by explaining the possible consequences of not meeting the standard, i.e. the need for more formal action. Even if the employee does not subsequently improve, having gone through this process it should be possible to demonstrate that he or she knew what was expected of them, i.e. the standards of conduct or performance will be unambiguous.
Before undertaking an informal counselling interview all the relevant facts (and, if appropriate, records or documents) should be gathered together and a clear plan of action established. The interview should take the form of a structured conversation between the manager and employee and from the outset the employee should be put at ease. The objectives of the interview are to:
- Present the areas of concern to the employee.
- Explore the employee's explanation.
- Obtain further information on why there has been a shortfall in conduct or performance.
- Explain the standard of conduct or work performance required in future.
- Establish whether further guidance or training is required.
- Set S.M.A.R.T. targets (these should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-related).
- Explain that these will be monitored and reviewed by management within a period of several weeks to a month or more (NB. the review must be undertaken before the end of the probationary period to allow sufficient time for further action to be taken, if this should become necessary).
- Clarify that if there is not an improvement to a satisfactory standard within the relevant time-scale (or if further issues arise prior to that review) it may be necessary to consider matters further under the probationary procedure.
Key points to bear in mind are:
- Do not procrastinate: usually the sooner a problem is addressed, the more likely it is to be solved.
- The meeting is informal, it should not normally be necessary for a manager to be accompanied/assisted by another manager during a counselling interview, or for the employee to be accompanied by a representative. Over formalising such a meeting may make it confrontational, which could be counter productive to resolving the matter in a straightforward and low key manner. If, however, the employee wishes to be represented, he or she may be accompanied by a union representative, or an accredited elected staff representative, or by a colleague of his or her choice from within the University.
- Do make a conscious effort to put the employee at their ease by acting positively and assertively, adopting an open and supportive style of 'body language'. Clarify the parameters of confidentiality.
- Keep the discussion as objective and non-judgemental as possible, focusing on the facts of the matter.
- Allow a two-way discussion and seriously consider any points put forward by the employee.
- Ensure that there is a clear outcome to the discussion, so that both parties know what is expected in future.
- Keep a note of the discussion and do not neglect prompt follow-up action.
- Write to the employee after the meeting to confirm the main points. A sample proforma letter indicating the main points to include is available from the probation management page.
Where informal counselling fails to improve a probationary employee's performance or serious concerns arise Personnel Services should be consulted without delay.