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Conduct vs Capability at Work

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When employers become aware of performance issues with an employee, it is important that you assess if they are just being complacent or if they are simply unable to complete the task as required.

What do we mean by conduct and capability?

It is important that employers are aware of the difference in definitions between both. “Conduct” refers to the employee’s attitude or behaviour at work. Where the employee generally has control over their actions/conduct at work. While “capability” refers to an employee’s skills, ability, aptitude and knowledge in relation to the job that they’re employed to do. These are generally issues that are outside of the employees’ direct control.

The main point to take away between the difference between the two is that conduct is when the employees won’t do something, and capability is when they can’t.

Examples of Conduct

As mentioned, conduct is where an employee won’t do something and is generally when they fail to follow the company procedures or fails to follow reasonable management instructions. Firstly, prior to taking any action, it is important that you check that they know and understand what the procedures are. With conduct, they are likely to be capable to do the job and have completed it correctly in the past but just do not apply themselves to achieve it.

Examples of Misconduct issues are:

  • Breach of health and safety procedures
  • Timekeeping issues
  • Failing to correctly adhere to contact procedures during absence
  • Attitude to fellow work colleagues, clients or customers

It is important to note that conduct is split into three categories; misconduct, serious misconduct and gross misconduct depending on the severity of the issue.

Examples of Capability

As mentioned, Capability concerns arise when the issue is generally outside of the employee’s control.

Examples of Capability concerns are:

  • inadequate or insufficient training;
  • poor quality or inadequate supervision and/or support;
  • unrealistic targets or deadlines that are virtually impossible for the employee to achieve; and
  • physical or mental ill health, for example where the employee’s state of health, or medication taken to deal with it, is causing tiredness.

Why is it difficult to tell the difference between the two?

It is difficult for managers to tell the difference between the two because:

  1. Employees may not want to admit that they are not capable of carrying out their role and will make out that it can be improved and is a one-off conduct issue.
  2. The process for capability is longer than conduct as you need to provide support and allow time for the employee to improve, and so some managers prefer to go down the conduct route instead of capability.
  3. And sometimes it is a mix of both, that parts of their role they are struggling to grasp and other parts that know how to do but are being complacent.

It is important to note that it is more common to find occasions of conduct concerns than genuine capability issues.

What to do when you recognise an issue with an employee’s performance

When you first recognise there is an issue with an employee’s performance it is important to address it straight away. This should initially be in an informal discussion to go over the issue, if they have made this mistake previously and if they understand what the negative effect is of their actions on their colleagues/ the business. Use this meeting to establish if they have performed this task in the past and so are aware of what is expected of them or if they are unable to perform the task due to capability. This will determine if the route you go down is through managing it via conduct or performance management proceedings.

Further Support

If you would like further HR support, please contact us through enquiries@fdpeople.co.uk or call 0141 221 2984. We also have plenty of FREE resources to help you and your business over at our FD People Hub.

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