Why making it easier for companies to sack under-performing staff may be counterproductive

When the UK government was considering the length of the qualifying period for employee protection against unfair dismissal, a leaked Downing Street report recommended abolishing the right to claim unfair dismissal altogether.

The report, commissioned by the Prime Minister and written by  venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, proposes a system that would allow employers to sack unproductive staff with basic redundancy pay and notice, enabling organisations to dismiss poorly performing staff and replace them with more capable ones.  Beecroft claims that ‘a proportion of employees, secure in the knowledge that their employer will be reluctant to dismiss them, work at a level well below their true capacity; they coast along’.

The report recognises that employers could potentially abuse the proposed changes and get rid of staff simply because they did not like them.  ‘While this is sad’, Beecroft says, ‘I believe it is a price worth paying for all the benefits that would result from the change’.

An additional flaw in the proposal is the assumption that organisations will easily be able to find more capable people to replace those they are dismissing.  Presumably at the time of hiring them, the employer considered these people to be capable.  This suggests there might be a flaw in the recruitment process, or something has happened subsequently to turn them into under-performers.  These are both serious management issues that need to be fully explored, otherwise there is a risk that the problem will just repeat itself.

The law as it stands allows employers to dismiss staff where there are fair grounds for doing so; it also protects individuals from unfair treatment.  Making it easier to dismiss staff may provide a quick fix, but it doesn’t help organisations address the underlying problems.  Managing poor performance can be difficult, unpleasant and time consuming – it is however central to a manager’s role.