Mention bullying or harassment in the workplace and thoughts automatically turn to disability, sexual or racial harassment cases. However the setting of unreasonable and unrealistic targets can also be construed as bullying or harassment.
In order to avoid allocating targets for employees which might result in such claims, employers should ensure that such targets are reasonable and achievable.
Bullying or harassment is the abuse of power at the expense of an individual. It can take many forms some of which are more subtle than others. It is not the intention of the perpetrator but the deed itself and the impact this behaviour has on the recipient which constitutes bullying or harassment.
The deliberate setting of unattainable targets would definitely constitute bullying and could result in the employee raising a formal grievance. This would need to be dealt with in accordance with the statutory procedure. The situation could also result in employees claiming constructive unfair dismissal.
Even if the setting of unattainable targets does not result in a harassment claim it is still likely to have a cost for the business. Bullying costs employers more than £2bn per year in sick pay, staff turnover and loss of production, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
Targets should help employees to develop their own skills while achieving the business’ aims and are, therefore, likely to be a challenge. Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (Smart).
While you are likely to want to set targets which will stretch your employees, it is important to do so within certain bounds. Acceptable objectives should be specific and measurable. This means that the employee should have a clear understanding of what they are expected to achieve and that it should also be quantifiable.
In addition any objectives should be both attainable and realistic. This means that the employee must be able to complete the objective with the resources that are available to them. Finally, each objective should have a deadline associated with it so that the employee knows when they are expected to have completed it.
Properly used, targets can be a valuable tool for a business. They can be used by the employer to measure the performance of their employees and also ensure that the employees are aware of the end goal. Employers should not be discouraged from setting targets for their employees but they should do so within the Smart framework.
Louise Mackie is an employment law adviser at Empire HR, employment law and HR support services adviser.