‘Picking on’ or performance managing? How to address grievances from ‘sensitive’ staff
Written by Alexandra Farmer on 28 February 2023
Performance management is a crucial process that managers use to evaluate employee performance and identify areas for improvement. However, at times, the process might not go smoothly, and employees may feel that their manager is unfairly targeting them. Before you know it, you have an unexpected grievance on your hands.
There are several reasons why employees may react negatively to being performance managed. They may perceive the process as solely focusing on their weaknesses and areas for improvement, which can make them feel judged or criticised. This can lead to defensiveness and resentment.
Furthermore, employees may feel that their manager doesn’t fully comprehend their role or contribution to the organisation, leading to a sense of being undervalued and overlooked. They may also feel unsupported and lack the necessary resources to do the job well, which can cause frustration and indignation.
All of these factors can contribute to a negative response to the performance management process and the emergence of grievances.
It’s crucial for managers to recognise that employees raising grievances during the performance management process is not uncommon and should be expected. However, this can be a difficult curveball to handle, so how should managers respond if faced with this scenario?
How to deal with grievances raised during the performance management process
The first step in dealing with grievances during the performance management process is to establish the nature of the grievance.
- If the grievance relates to the fact of starting a formal performance management process, for example because the employee doesn’t agree that they are underperforming, it may be dealt with as part of the performance management discussions. Evidence will be important in resolving disputes of this kind.
- If the grievance relates to the manager’s motivation for starting the performance management process, such as if the employee raises allegations of bullying or racism, the process may need to be put on hold and a separate manager appointed to hear the grievance first.
- If the grievance is unrelated to the performance management process, it can be heard at the same time and this can run alongside the performance management meetings.
In any case, where an employee raises a grievance during the performance management process, it’s important for managers to remain calm and objective. They should listen to the employee to better understand the nature of the grievance and then take the time to investigate the matter thoroughly in order to resolve the situation and ensure that the performance management process runs smoothly in the future.
If necessary, managers should seek advice professional HR and Employment Law advice to ensure that they handle the situation in the best way possible. Wherever possible, you want to reduce (if not remove) the risk of an employee going off on long-term sickness absence due to stress. Furthermore, mismanaging the situation could leave to allegations of unfairness in the performance management process, which could escalate into claims of unfair dismissal.
It’s also important for employers to highlight in their grievance policy that the grievance process should not be used to complain about reasonable action taken under a performance management procedure. This will help to prevent employees from misusing the process by raising a tactical grievance and ensure that it is used only for legitimate complaints.
Do you need support?
Speak to us for an honest, no obligation chat on:
0345 226 8393 Lines are open 9am – 5pm
Are the younger generation more sensitive to feedback?
There is a suggestion that ‘hypersensitivity’ – being triggered by feedback and reacting negatively to criticism – is a phenomenon that’s more prevalent amongst the younger generation.
Research has indicated that Gen Z and Millennials tend to have a lower tolerance for bullying and difficult conversations in general. They are also said to have adverse reactions to aggression and tension, with a tendency to feel frequently overwhelmed.
According to one source, Gen Z and Millennials have been brought up to fear failure and seek parental validation, which can lead to fragile self-esteem. This in turn breeds sensitivity and reduces openness to criticism or feedback. So, when a negative aspect is pointed out to them, it’s met with a disproportionate reaction.
This may explain why, at WorkNest, we are receiving more advice queries regarding complaints from employees who feel that receiving feedback on their performance is tantamount to bullying and victimisation, when in reality it is just them being managed.
It’s important for managers to be aware of this sensitivity, particularly amongst younger employees, and take it into consideration when dealing with both performance management issues and grievances raised during the performance management process. They should approach the situations with empathy and understanding, and take care not to exacerbate the employee’s feelings of being picked on or victimised.
One way to do this is to start by actively listening to what the employee has to say and acknowledging their feelings. Managers can then work with the employee to identify the root cause of the grievance and explore potential solutions. It’s also important to acknowledging an employee’s strengths and achievements as well as providing them with clear and constructive feedback on their performance.
By taking a supportive approach and providing feedback in a constructive manner, managers can help to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that Gen Z and Millennials may feel during the performance management process. This can ultimately lead to better outcomes for both the employee and the organisation as a whole.
Performance issue? Need practical, professional advice?
Performance management can involve difficult conversations and the process to follow can be quite detailed. WorkNest’s Employment Law and HR experts can help you to address concerns early on, conduct a fair procedure, and deal with any curveballs raised during the process so that you can maintain high-performing teams and minimise the risk of claims. We can also offer performance management training to develop managers’ skills and help them deal with these issues more confidently.
For more information about our fixed-fee service, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.