HR Blog: What to do when an employee keeps forgetting things

Forgetfulness. It happens to all of us at one point or another. From forgetting to call someone back to defrosting the food you had planned for dinner or even missing an important anniversary.

Causes of forgetfulness are varied, and there are different ways in which it can crop up in your business.

For example, if an ordinarily well performing employee forgets something on occasion, it could be down to a busy schedule or a miscommunication on what needed to be done and when.

However, if this employee starts to forget things on a regular basis, there could be other factors at play that need investigating.

Then there’s the less engaged employee, who may be pushing forgetfulness as an excuse for their lack of interest.

Whatever it is that’s causing an employee to be forgetful, it needs addressing, to prevent problems from arising in your business, but also to check-in on the health and well-being of your staff.

Working out the cause of forgetfulness

You may have an idea as to why an employee keeps forgetting things. Be warned though, speculation is risky. Memory loss can occur for several reasons and is not always age related. It can be a symptom of stress, depression, hormonal imbalance, or a disease such as early-onset Alzheimer’s which can start in a person’s thirties.

To avoid discrimination, tread carefully when trying to find out what’s causing an employee to be forgetful. Make no assumptions.

The first time it happens, have an informal chat to follow up with the employee on an unsubmitted task or missed deadline. This gives them the opportunity to provide you with their reason.

The conversation may reveal that it was an honest misunderstanding, in which case you may feel that no further action is necessary. If this conversation becomes regular however, following a process can be helpful.

Addressing forgetfulness with employees

At this stage, you have had your initial chat, but the problem is persisting. What happens next?

This time a more formal conversation or a private 121 review is a good idea. Use this time to show evidence of the employee’s forgetfulness and to find out if anything serious is bothering them.

If the conversation reveals that they are struggling due to stress, try to establish if it’s due to work or other reasons. They may need support with their workload or from a professional counselling service such as that offered on an employee assistance programme.

When discussing recurring forgetfulness with an employee that doesn’t have an obvious cause, it’s a good idea to signpost them to their GP for evaluation. Be mindful that they could feel embarrassed or surprised by the topic, so it’s best to approach it in a sensitive way.

Establishing an action plan to move forwards is important. It may be as simple as starting to make disciplined use of a diary. Or it might involve training, for example help with time management or a performance plan with agreed objectives and timelines for review.

Set a date for their next review so that they know you are invested and monitoring their progress.

Following up with employees

The outcome of the steps that we have outlined above will determine how you follow up with your employee.

For example, if it turns out that they are dealing with a medical condition, you might need to consult occupational health to support them further in their role.

If, however, their forgetfulness is the result of carelessness that has not been resolved through performance management or training, it could be time to initiate disciplinary procedures. If you have reached this point and want to check that you have ticked all the boxes first, we are here to help.