People Leadership

Performance Improvement Plans vs. Progressive Discipline

avril 10, 2024

Performance Improvement Plans

Employers hope that all their employees will succeed in the workplace, but what happens if you notice poor performance or misconduct? It’s important to understand that poor performance and misconduct are not the same, so they require different solutions. Both issues need to be properly addressed, but each has its own process. Let’s break down exactly what performance improvement and progressive discipline are, and when it is appropriate to use which process.

What is a performance improvement plan?

A performance improvement plan (PIP) is a tool used to address poor performance. Poor performance is an employee’s inability to finish work, meet expectations, or meet the essential requirements of their role. A PIP identifies areas for improvement and offers guidelines, strategies, and a timeline to make those improvements.

PIPs are established for a set period (often 90 to 120 days) and involve regular meetings to evaluate the employee’s progress. At the end of the period, if the performance hasn’t improved, you can create a new plan, extend the existing one, or terminate the employee.

What’s included in a performance improvement plan?

A PIP typically has four components:

  1. An explanation of the poor performance the plan addresses;
  2. What actions the employee can take to improve their performance;
  3. What tools, training, or other support the employee can expect to receive throughout the process; and
  4. The consequence of not successfully attaining the desired performance expectations.

When should I use a performance improvement plan?

A PIP is best suited for performance issues, such as an employee regularly not hitting their required sales goals or failing to complete projects in a timely manner. You should initiate a PIP when you have concerns about an employee’s productivity, previous progressive discipline, performance, or leadership.

If you notice an underperforming employee, start by identifying the issue (for example, where skills are lacking). Then, inform the employee and provide further online staff training where appropriate. You should create an action plan to address the performance issues and give the employee a fair opportunity to improve to the required standard. Performance management should only address the requirements of the role, not behaviour in the workplace.

What if an employee was previously placed on a performance improvement plan?

An employee may complete a PIP then need another plan later, whether for similar or different performance issues. Invest time in the process to determine the root cause of the poor performance. If the root cause for the new issue is different than the root cause identified for the last one, then it may be appropriate to initiate a new PIP. However, if you are dealing with the same root cause, you should investigate whether it’s a misconduct issue best addressed by progressive discipline or ending the employment relationship.

Progressive Discipline

Progressive discipline addresses misconduct, which is where an employee deliberately behaves inappropriately. Misconduct involves intentional or negligent conduct (such as not caring enough to be on time for work). Serious misconduct is intentional and deliberate behaviour that is incompatible with maintaining the employment contract or poses serious and urgent harm to the business’s reputation, viability, or profitability, or to a person’s health and safety. Workplace violence, theft, and assault are examples of serious misconduct and could require progressive discipline.

What is progressive discipline?

The process of progressive discipline involves using increasingly severe steps to correct inappropriate behaviour after an employee has been given a reasonable opportunity to do so. The underlying principle of sound progressive discipline is to use the most appropriate level of discipline to correct the inappropriate behaviour, given the employee’s past disciplinary record.

When should I use progressive discipline?

Progressive discipline is appropriate when an employee violates a policy, such as:

  • Failing to follow procedures;
  • Unauthorized absences from work;
  • Lateness;
  • Workplace harassment;
  • Wilful neglect of duty; or
  • Misuse of company equipment.

What is the progressive discipline process?

A traditional progressive discipline policy follows four steps:

  1. Verbal warning;
  2. Written warning;
  3. Final written warning and possible suspension; and
  4. Termination.

Understanding the Differences

A PIP is not a step in the progressive discipline process.

Performance problems are often a result of a lack of training, skills, or understanding. Poor performance can be solved through coaching and mentoring provided through a PIP. A PIP is not a disciplinary step or groundwork to terminate an employee with cause. Rather, it is an opportunity to work with an employee to address concerns about their performance.

PIPs relate to performance while misconduct relates to behaviour.

Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between underperformance and misconduct. Here’s a simple way to spot the difference: you may be able to train away poor performance, but you can’t train an employee to not lie or steal from you. Being late isn’t doing the job poorly and lying isn’t doing the job poorly—these are examples of not doing the job, period.

While it may affect their work, misconduct is separate from the performance of the actual work. Misconduct requires progressive discipline, and it sometimes leads to termination.

Performance management requires the employer do something to help improve performance.

PIPs represent a genuine desire to help the employee achieve an acceptable level of performance and leadership. If your concerns are not about performance but rather a feeling that your organization would be better without the employee than with them, then skip the PIP and make a termination of employment strategy.

Get performance management advice from an HR expert

While performance management and progressive discipline are different, both can be awkward and emotionally draining. If you need support through either process, get instant access to our team of seasoned HR experts. Or, download our free guide, Deciphering Progressive Discipline Guide, and get started today.

Live HR Advice offers unlimited on-demand phone support by our award-winning team of HR professionals who have experience across a range of areas and industries. Whatever HR concern or problem you are facing, our advisors can tailor recommendations and strategies to your situation and workplace.

If you want to learn the components of effective PIP planning and the necessary steps to prepare a successful PIP, download our free Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) Checklist. It includes a Performance Improvement Plan Form template that you can use to start creating and implementing effective PIPs that drive change today!