Workplace ethical dilemma: poor performance due to inadequate training


If a graduate employee is failing to meet expectations due to a lack of training, who is responsible for their improvement? Three AHRI members respond to this ethical dilemma.

In part two of HRM’s new content series with The Ethics Centre, where we ask AHRI members to respond to made-up ethical dilemmas, we explore performance issues related to the poor training of a graduate employee.

The ethical dilemma

Brad is a graduate employee working for a leading accounting firm. During his graduate training, he was placed in the ‘risk’ function, where he showed great promise and confidence. However, at the conclusion of the graduate program, no positions were available, so Brad was transferred to work in remediation. 

Under the terms of Brad’s contract, he can be placed in any area of the organisation that carries his position of employment. 

However, Brad has no experience in this new area and feels concerned about his capacity to perform. He flags this with his manager, who arranges for Brad to attend a two-day workshop to get direct training in the work of remediation. 

Brad completes the program, but says he still doesn’t feel equipped to work directly with clients. He is told that he will have to ‘learn as he goes’ and is put into client-facing engagements. 

Due to a lack of staff, Brad is offered little to no support during his probationary period. At his three-month review he is informed he is underperforming and will be placed on a performance plan. It’s clear to Brad that he is being managed out of the organisation, and he requests a meeting with HR. 

In the meeting, Brad documents his requests for support and training, and his feeling that he was inadequately prepared for client-facing work in this specialty. On any objective criterion, he is underperforming. What should you do? 

Andrea Sumner, Employee Relations and Negotiations Specialist, Red Wagon Solutions

If Brad has been put in an area where he hasn’t got experience and there aren’t any resources to adequately train and develop him, then firstly, that’s not Brad’s problem in this timeframe. 

If the performance plan is being appropriately used, then this should be utilised to help Brad improve in the role. But why is he being put through a formal process (that could result in termination) in the first place? The level of supervision and support is arguably what he should be given in an informal setting to help him develop in the role. 

Ultimately, the organisation is going to spend time and resources developing someone in the role, particularly if it’s an entry-level position, so why not Brad? Rather than spending resources reacting to a problem, the same amount, or most likely less, could be spent appropriately managing and mentoring staff who could go on to bring value and loyalty to the company. 

The difference between the two scenarios and the return on investment would speak for itself. 

John Farren, Director, Farren McRae Workplace Lawyers and Consultants

Brad has completed the firm’s graduate program, so it’s likely he has been employed by the firm for over six months. The firm is large enough to have an HR function, so is likely to have 15 or more employees. As a graduate accountant, Brad is likely earning less than $158,500 per annum. As such, Brad is likely a person protected from unfair dismissal under the Fair Work Act 2009 and must only be dismissed for a legally valid reason, following a procedurally fair process.  

Therefore, I would have a meeting with Brad’s manager and inform them of this risk and the need to ensure that Brad is given sufficient training, supervision and support to perform this new role to the requisite standard. 

I would discuss the criteria for determining ‘harshness, etc.’ in s. 387 of the Fair Work Act to ensure that the performance management process is being carried out in a fair and defensible manner. 

Finally, I would discuss any relevant organisational policies and procedures to ensure that they are being followed. 

Nicole Bedingfeld Head of People, Disrupt Digital

Although Brad showed great promise and confidence during his graduate program, it seems to me that Brad’s competencies are now significantly misaligned with his new job requirements.

 Ultimately, as the company has placed Brad in an unsuitable position, the right thing to do is to provide additional support for him to succeed in his new role. 

I do not believe that a performance plan is appropriate [if] Brad is within his probation period. Rather, I would recommend that the supervisor conduct a training needs analysis and formulate a training plan which includes regular one-on-one meetings to monitor his progress. This could be termed as a ‘development plan’ that clearly shows the role and responsibilities of the supervisor to provide the resources that Brad needs to succeed. I would also suggest that the supervisor be held accountable for this plan. 

My final recommendation is to include a section in the graduate program policy on considerations post-completion of the program to avoid such a situation reoccurring.

How would you respond to this ethical dilemma? Let us know in the comment section. You can read the first instalment in this series here.

This article first appeared in the December/January 2022 edition of HRM magazine. If you’re struggling to find the path forward on an ethical conflict at work or at home, there is a free service that can help. Ethi-call, run by The Ethics Centre, is a helpline dedicated to guiding people through life’s hardest choices. Make a booking at ethi-call.com. And, to learn more about how you can facilitate an ethical workplace culture, sign up to AHRI’s short course on the topic.

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2 Comments
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Max Underhill
Max Underhill
4 months ago

The issues discussed would become obvious in normal operations/management if a outcome based competency approach was adopted. This would have identified gaps in competency at selection time as well as on-going through empowerment with continual monitoring of outcome quality. Competency is largely made up of knowledge and application. An employee might have the qualification I.e. knowledge but not necessarily the application. This should have been picked up in the interview and a development plan included in the letter of offer (formal knowledge &/or “coaching”. The need for coaching is not uncommon in customer facing positions. The key is an outcome… Read more »

Lenae Watson
Lenae Watson
4 months ago

Was this really an ethical dilemma? I assume as mostly HR professionals viewing this site, I imagine we would all agree that while approach may differ slightly between individuals or departments – the responsibility ultimately lies with the organisation in some form or another. Thought this was going to be harder.

More on HRM

Workplace ethical dilemma: poor performance due to inadequate training


If a graduate employee is failing to meet expectations due to a lack of training, who is responsible for their improvement? Three AHRI members respond to this ethical dilemma.

In part two of HRM’s new content series with The Ethics Centre, where we ask AHRI members to respond to made-up ethical dilemmas, we explore performance issues related to the poor training of a graduate employee.

The ethical dilemma

Brad is a graduate employee working for a leading accounting firm. During his graduate training, he was placed in the ‘risk’ function, where he showed great promise and confidence. However, at the conclusion of the graduate program, no positions were available, so Brad was transferred to work in remediation. 

Under the terms of Brad’s contract, he can be placed in any area of the organisation that carries his position of employment. 

However, Brad has no experience in this new area and feels concerned about his capacity to perform. He flags this with his manager, who arranges for Brad to attend a two-day workshop to get direct training in the work of remediation. 

Brad completes the program, but says he still doesn’t feel equipped to work directly with clients. He is told that he will have to ‘learn as he goes’ and is put into client-facing engagements. 

Due to a lack of staff, Brad is offered little to no support during his probationary period. At his three-month review he is informed he is underperforming and will be placed on a performance plan. It’s clear to Brad that he is being managed out of the organisation, and he requests a meeting with HR. 

In the meeting, Brad documents his requests for support and training, and his feeling that he was inadequately prepared for client-facing work in this specialty. On any objective criterion, he is underperforming. What should you do? 

Andrea Sumner, Employee Relations and Negotiations Specialist, Red Wagon Solutions

If Brad has been put in an area where he hasn’t got experience and there aren’t any resources to adequately train and develop him, then firstly, that’s not Brad’s problem in this timeframe. 

If the performance plan is being appropriately used, then this should be utilised to help Brad improve in the role. But why is he being put through a formal process (that could result in termination) in the first place? The level of supervision and support is arguably what he should be given in an informal setting to help him develop in the role. 

Ultimately, the organisation is going to spend time and resources developing someone in the role, particularly if it’s an entry-level position, so why not Brad? Rather than spending resources reacting to a problem, the same amount, or most likely less, could be spent appropriately managing and mentoring staff who could go on to bring value and loyalty to the company. 

The difference between the two scenarios and the return on investment would speak for itself. 

John Farren, Director, Farren McRae Workplace Lawyers and Consultants

Brad has completed the firm’s graduate program, so it’s likely he has been employed by the firm for over six months. The firm is large enough to have an HR function, so is likely to have 15 or more employees. As a graduate accountant, Brad is likely earning less than $158,500 per annum. As such, Brad is likely a person protected from unfair dismissal under the Fair Work Act 2009 and must only be dismissed for a legally valid reason, following a procedurally fair process.  

Therefore, I would have a meeting with Brad’s manager and inform them of this risk and the need to ensure that Brad is given sufficient training, supervision and support to perform this new role to the requisite standard. 

I would discuss the criteria for determining ‘harshness, etc.’ in s. 387 of the Fair Work Act to ensure that the performance management process is being carried out in a fair and defensible manner. 

Finally, I would discuss any relevant organisational policies and procedures to ensure that they are being followed. 

Nicole Bedingfeld Head of People, Disrupt Digital

Although Brad showed great promise and confidence during his graduate program, it seems to me that Brad’s competencies are now significantly misaligned with his new job requirements.

 Ultimately, as the company has placed Brad in an unsuitable position, the right thing to do is to provide additional support for him to succeed in his new role. 

I do not believe that a performance plan is appropriate [if] Brad is within his probation period. Rather, I would recommend that the supervisor conduct a training needs analysis and formulate a training plan which includes regular one-on-one meetings to monitor his progress. This could be termed as a ‘development plan’ that clearly shows the role and responsibilities of the supervisor to provide the resources that Brad needs to succeed. I would also suggest that the supervisor be held accountable for this plan. 

My final recommendation is to include a section in the graduate program policy on considerations post-completion of the program to avoid such a situation reoccurring.

How would you respond to this ethical dilemma? Let us know in the comment section. You can read the first instalment in this series here.

This article first appeared in the December/January 2022 edition of HRM magazine. If you’re struggling to find the path forward on an ethical conflict at work or at home, there is a free service that can help. Ethi-call, run by The Ethics Centre, is a helpline dedicated to guiding people through life’s hardest choices. Make a booking at ethi-call.com. And, to learn more about how you can facilitate an ethical workplace culture, sign up to AHRI’s short course on the topic.

guest
2 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Max Underhill
Max Underhill
4 months ago

The issues discussed would become obvious in normal operations/management if a outcome based competency approach was adopted. This would have identified gaps in competency at selection time as well as on-going through empowerment with continual monitoring of outcome quality. Competency is largely made up of knowledge and application. An employee might have the qualification I.e. knowledge but not necessarily the application. This should have been picked up in the interview and a development plan included in the letter of offer (formal knowledge &/or “coaching”. The need for coaching is not uncommon in customer facing positions. The key is an outcome… Read more »

Lenae Watson
Lenae Watson
4 months ago

Was this really an ethical dilemma? I assume as mostly HR professionals viewing this site, I imagine we would all agree that while approach may differ slightly between individuals or departments – the responsibility ultimately lies with the organisation in some form or another. Thought this was going to be harder.

More on HRM