Alex was made redundant from her existing role in the accounts department of a financial services company and redeployed into a new credit control role at another office. Her new manager, Brenda, was unsympathetic to her need to adjust to her new role and has been alleging demonstrable, although to a degree understandable, under-performance.
In truth Brenda was not keen on the redeployment, as Alex had a bit of an inflexible and under-performing reputation prior to the redeployment. Consequently Brenda handled the management and performance issues badly and this undermined Alex’s relationship with her. A written capability warning was issued by Brenda and in response Alex raised a long and confusing grievance, in part against Brenda for bullying. The grievance included a statement that Alex had experienced considerable stress as a result of the treatment she had received since the move.
A thorough grievance investigation by an independent manager upheld some of Alex’s allegations and the outcome included a limited apology for the poor handling of her integration into the new role and of the capability procedure. She was also given assurances that appropriate steps had been taken to improve and monitor the situation.
The grievance outcome also stated that the material findings of under-performance and the resulting objectives and performance monitoring were appropriate in the circumstances.
Chandra in HR believed that the conditional apology (and Brenda’s resulting written warning and training) were a reasonable (possibly generous) response, but Alex clearly did not and soon after receiving the grievance outcome went off sick with GP-diagnosed ‘work-related stress and depression’. Alex has appealed against the grievance outcome in general terms via her solicitor, but will not attend a grievance appeal meeting as she is said to be ‘too ill’. During her absence, Alex has been receiving full pay (for six months) and could receive half pay for another six months before sick pay finally runs out.
- As the grievance outcome shows, Alex’s induction into the new role was poorly handled by her manager.
- The attitude of the manager and HR appears to be that Alex is taking advantage of the situation rather than being absent for genuine health reasons.
- No one seems to have advocated for Alex or attempted to mediate the situation.
- Actions have focused solely on performance and health needs have not been addressed.
The escalation of this situation to the point where the employee is off sick could have been avoided. Following the grievance investigation, given that Alex had said that she had been under considerable stress, the employer should have taken steps to address her health needs. The outcome focused solely on the behaviour of the manager and employee in terms of performance management procedures, failing to recognise the links between performance and health. If, as seems likely, the employee’s under-performance is linked to ill health, the solution, at least in part, should be health focused. There has also been a subsequent failure to assess the health impacts of the acknowledged poor management the employee received, all of which have culminated in this crisis.
Now the situation has reached this point, Chandra in HR should seek to bring in third-party mediation. It is clear that the battle lines have been drawn which means that both Alex’s health and her employer relationship are being damaged. At very few points during the course of this episode has compromise been sought or her health needs been addressed. A third party – either from HR or from an external organisation like a local Mind – could help the two sides to explore the issues and identify solutions to move forward, rather than focusing on blame and perceived past failings on either side.
Chandra has two options:
1) To call Alex and ask her some simple questions. How is she feeling? What would Alex like to happen? How would she like this to happen? What support might she need to manage her health needs alongside her role? If Chandra works from the basis that Alex would like to come back to work, then the interaction will be more positive.
2) If empowering Alex to return to work is not effective, external mediation should be tried.