Best Practices for Addressing Underperformance

  • December 10, 2023

Whether you're dealing with permanent, contract, or temporary staff, understanding how to approach performance conversations can significantly impact your team's dynamics and your organisation's compliance with employment laws. This comprehensive guide offers insights into the best practices for managing underperformance across different employment types and key legal considerations in Australia.


Best Practices for Addressing Underperformance

Prepare and Plan: Gather concrete examples of underperformance, including specific instances and impacts on the team and project. This preparation is crucial for a clear and objective discussion.

Choose an Appropriate Setting: A private and neutral setting ensures confidentiality and comfort, making the employee more receptive to feedback.

Open with Positivity: Beginning the conversation with positive recognition can help mitigate defensiveness and open the door to a constructive dialogue.

Be Specific and Objective: Use specific examples to outline underperformance areas, focusing on behaviours and outcomes rather than personal attributes.

Listen Actively: Encourage the employee to share their perspective. Understanding their challenges or concerns is essential for finding a viable solution.

Collaborate on Solutions: Develop a performance improvement plan, set clear goals, and provide support.

Follow Up Regularly: Regular check-ins are vital to monitor progress, adjust plans as needed, and maintain open communication.


Legal Considerations in Australia

Understanding the legal framework is essential when addressing underperformance, as it varies for permanent, contract, and temp staff.

Permanent Staff: Ensure compliance with the Fair Work Act 2009, which outlines the process for fair warning and opportunities for improvement. Documentation and adherence to formal performance management processes are critical to avoid unfair dismissal claims.

Contract Staff: Review the specific terms of the contract regarding performance expectations and termination clauses. Actions taken should align with these terms, and consideration should be given to the contract's end as a potential solution to underperformance issues.

Temp Staff: Involve the recruitment agency early in the process, as they play a crucial role in managing temp staff. Ensure any actions comply with the agreement between the agency and the worker, and remember that temp staff are also protected under Australian employment laws.


Key Legal and Fair Work Considerations for All Staff Types

  • National Employment Standards (NES) and Anti-Discrimination Laws: Compliance with NES and anti-discrimination laws is mandatory, ensuring fair treatment and equal opportunities for improvement across all staff types.
  • Documentation and Communication: Keeping detailed records of all steps to address underperformance is vital for legal protection and clarity.


Effectively managing underperformance is key to maintaining a productive and positive workplace environment. By following these best practices and legal considerations, managers in Australia can navigate the complexities of various employment types. Whether dealing with permanent, contract, or temporary staff, a thoughtful, consistent approach ensures fair treatment, legal compliance, and the successful resolution of underperformance issues. This guide aims to equip managers with the knowledge and tools to address underperformance confidently and legally, fostering a supportive and high-performing team dynamic.