When performance doesn't meet expectations

The Rio Olympics ended up being one of our most successful Olympics ever. But for a time it looked like it was going to go pear-shaped. From the moment we woke up to learn our men’s sevens team had lost to Japan (most of us not getting up to watch the game given we were a shoo-in) we all started to get that ominous sinking feeling that things were not going to pan out quite as expected. Thankfully some of our less favoured athletes managed to ensure we came home strongly and our final medal count saw us end up in a very respectable overall position.

For some sports, however, the Olympics were a bit of a disappointment. Now I don’t want to jump on the band wagon of overreacting. The Olympics is the premier sporting event in the world. With everyone bringing their “A” game no one can ever be certain of medaling.

When performance doesn’t reflect effort

I also want to make the point that all our athletes go to the games having trained for years; making sacrifices and working harder than we can imagine. They all go to represent us with pride, and I’m sure no one will say our athletes didn’t give everything they had to try and lift us in the medal table. But the reality of the situation is that our expectations were high and, for some sports a least, the outcomes didn’t quite match up.

So where to for those sports which didn’t perform as well as they had hoped? Listening to coaches and athletes alike it seems some are going to undertake a review, trying to find out exactly where things “went wrong”. Perhaps selection wasn’t right. Maybe athletes were overtrained. Or maybe we just expected a bit much in an arena where everyone wants to win; and everyone is giving it all they’ve got.

How is this relevant to employment law?

Well employers can often be put in situations where their expectations don’t match up with reality. Take an employee’s performance for instance. Sometimes we expect employees to do things a certain way, or to be able to work without oversight, or simply be better than they have been. And as with the Olympics, when our expectations are not met this can cause disappointment. It can even cause some to react hastily and throw the baby out with the bathwater. But before taking drastic steps it is better to look at why our expectations are not being met.

Perhaps something can be done to change the employee’s performance. If there hasn’t been clear communication as to what is expected then is it any wonder performance is not what it should be? Maybe a bit of extra training now will pay dividends down the track.

Without looking into the “why”, any action may be an overreaction.

Look at Mahé Drysdale. Leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics we all had great hope he was going to bring home gold. Drysdale was even selected over former Olympic champion Rob Waddell. Yet Drysdale was destined to get bronze in Beijing. We all know why. The fact Drysdale was able to get bronze whilst suffering from a violent bug, which caused him to lose 5 kg in weight, is remarkable. But the point is that after finishing below expectations Drysdale went on to become back-to-back Olympic champion.

‘Why?’ comes first

So this is how I am going to tie all this back to employment law. Employers are entitled to expect a certain performance from their employees. They are entitled to take action if those expectations are not being met. But there is a difference between action and overreaction. To ensure an employer is not doing the latter perhaps, as with the Olympics, it is best to start by asking “why”. Answering this question before doing anything drastic may end up saving the employer in the long run. You never know, if the “why” can be fixed then the employee may end up exceeding expectations in the future.