Let’s call the superstar SS for the sake of the story. SS has worked for me for years – she started as a junior, showed up diligently everyday, worked hard and smashed out everything I asked of her. After a year I started to give her more responsibility, and she stepped up, and up and just kept on smashing out everything. Fast-forward a few years and SS is still my superstar – the company has grown and she is the poster child. Every performance review has been glowing, with regular salary increases and promotions. SS even came to my family Christmas Eve and I can’t imagine working without her.

All of a sudden her behavior changes – she starts showing up late (sometimes over an hour) and is exhausted when she arrives. Jobs which previously would have taken her 2 minutes are suddenly taking an hour and are filled with mistakes. The most concerning part is the way she is interacting with other employees – she is snapping at them, making comments under her breath and rolling her eyes when anyone asks her to do something.

I was convinced it would be just a phase and she will switch back to her hard working, team orientated self one day very very soon…. Until a coworker asks her if she could please just make sure she puts her dishes in the dishwasher, and all of a sudden she snaps and tells her coworker to “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU PEOPLE JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND” in quite the loud tone (they heard it at the coffee shop across the street!).

So I called SS into a room for a little conversation and she bursts in tears and told me she has to go home immediately. Out she sprints in Olympic time and I was left with a sink of dishes and a pile of work to be done.

Clearly the time for action has come. All you want is for SS to go back to performing the way that she used to as she was a highly valued employee, and clearly her current work performance and behavior are not acceptable.

Left shell-shocked, I scheduled a performance management meeting with her to take place in a few days time, ensuring that I follow any internal policies – There is a fabulous guideline to this right here: HR Gurus Managing Poor Performance. The morning of the meeting SS called me to say she has gastro and won’t be back in the office for a few days. Grrrrr! I tell myself to…

Firstly – deal with the absence- I tell myself. I say to SS that I hope she will be better soon and that I was looking forward to her returning, with a medical certificate.

The next day SS calls and says she has a migraine and won’t be in again.

Something must really be up with SS, and it is also ever important to ensure that the absence doesn’t mean that the meeting slides.

The next day rolls around and SS arrives in the office! I have a moment of joy followed by terror. Now I actually have to speak with her.

I met with SS who confirmed that she doesn’t want to bring a support person. Before I can say a word she bursts into tears…. I offer tissues and my hand holding all the detailed notes, starts to shake. Will I have another Olympic sprint on my hands?

SS composes herself and says she is ready to talk. So I outline my concerns about her behavior, giving specific factual examples of when her performance and behavior has not met the standards.

SS bursts into tears.

I offered her a moment to compose herself but she shakes her head and says she wants it over with. After a few more minutes of tears she starts with “there is something I need to tell you”

OMG WHAT IS SHE GOING TO SAY?…. the suspense was killing me!

“I broke up with my partner a few weeks ago and obviously I haven’t been myself. I’m terribly sorry for the way I have behaved and performed and I would like to make it up to you and get back to my best. I’ve started seeing a counselor and that has really helped me. I’m happy to work on a plan to get on top of everything again”

PHEW!!!! Well not the breakup part – but the rest sounds good.

Relieved, I work out a plan and let her know that I am here to support her through it. Fast forward 12 months and my superstar is back to being a superstar. AMAZING!

Dealing with poor performance and behavior, absence and emotion in the workplace is never fun, however investing the time and effort into the process often ends in positive outcomes for both the employer and employee. A few handy hints –

  • Keep calm
  • Remove as much emotion as possible from the situation
  • Stick to the facts and
  • Ensure your policies and processes are up to date so they allow you to manage these situations appropriately.

If you could use help with any of this – HR Gurus are here!!

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