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6 Keys to Effective Employee Discipline

By Kellie Rondon on Jul 18, 2023
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More often than not, managers want to avoid employee discipline just as much as the employees receiving it. But employee discipline should not be confused with, or treated like, punishment. Think about it - how often does responding to something in a threatening, adversarial manner result in a positive experience? Not too often.

When done right, an effective employee discipline plan can guide members of your team onto a higher-performing path and may work to align them better with company visions and goals.

Regardless of the type of discipline policy used by your company (i.e. Progressive Discipline Policy, Performance Improvement Plans, etc.), the initial goal should be to salvage the employment relationship through training, coaching, and counseling, not to move as quickly as possible through a four-step process to terminate the employee.

These six employee discipline tips are the key to ensuring your employee discipline policy is effective. Just remember, best practices and strategies are only as good as the individuals you have chosen to enforce them on a day-to-day basis at your business.

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Clear Expectations & Rules

Employees can't meet expectations they don't understand. Hence, the first key to effective employee discipline is to clearly outline what you expect from your staff. This includes job duties, workplace behavior, company policies and ethics. All of these expectations should be communicated openly from day one and should also be clearly defined in your employee handbook and accessible for reference at any time.

If you don't have an employee handbook, download this report to find out six must-include topics, why they're important and how often to update it >>

Poor job performance is another employee disciplinary area that is difficult to blame on the employee if proper job descriptions haven’t been written for the positions at your business and explained to the employee. While it may be necessary to implement disciplinary action immediately for performance issues, typically clarification and education can be used to coach the employee and correct the issue.

Most employees want to perform well, succeed and follow your business’ policies. By having clear policies and job descriptions, they’ll know what is expected and will be able to behave accordingly.

RELATED: Coaching Employees to Correct Performance Problems >>

Establish a Discipline Policy

Once you’ve detailed your expectations, both in terms of workplace rules and job descriptions, you’ll be able to establish a discipline policy. A predictable sequence of events that occurs when your policies have been broken or employee performance is low helps the individual know what to expect out of the process, giving them a better chance to correct any problems.

Often, employers work through a progressive discipline pattern that starts with an informal verbal warning. Second, a formal verbal warning is issued with counseling. Third, if insufficient improvement or change occurs, a formal written warning occurs. Finally, when all else fails, employee termination occurs.

employee discipline form

Be Consistent

Consistency in applying rules and consequences is the third key to successful employee discipline. Every employee on your team must be treated the same. 

If management is to reward a specific behavior or accomplishment, then it is rewarded for each and every employee. Likewise, if being late to work more than three times each week is a violation of company policy, then every employee in violation should receive a warning or counseling for this behavior. 

Your discipline policy will not be effective if you’ve allowed one particular employee to be late every day for the past six months without consequence, but you discipline another employee the first time they violate the policy. Inconsistent management can create even bigger problems in your workplace.

When rules are enforced sporadically, it sends mixed messages, breeds resentment and undermines trust in leadership. Treat all staff members equally, apply policies consistently and you'll ensure fairness and respect throughout your team.

RELATED: Toxic Employees - You've Identified One at Your Business, Now What? >>

Lead by Example

Whether it is your behavior, as the owner of the business, or that of your managers, your employees are always watching. Often, all it takes is for everyone at the top to live by the company’s policies, and then all others follow without even a word being said. 

For example, if your style is to talk like a sailor and curse freely, then it would be wrong to expect employees to adhere to a strict no profanity in the workplace policy. But if management keeps their language clean, respectful, and professional, it can easily set the workplace up to follow a no profanity in the workplace policy.

RELATED: How to Manage Introverts >>

Curb the Cookie-Cutter Approach & Tackle Employee Discipline Constructively

Remember, the purpose of employee discipline is to correct behavior, not to punish. Therefore, approach discipline constructively. Instead of focusing solely on what went wrong, discuss how to improve and prevent such issues in the future. This not only helps in mending the immediate problem but also promotes learning and growth.

When considering methods for coaching and counseling employees who have gotten off track, remember all employees are unique and a one-size-fits-all method will fail. The actions taken in coaching/counseling sessions should be tailored to the behavior requiring disciplinary action with the main goal of getting to the root of the problem. 

The next steps should be clearly defined with goals set along the way. This will help gauge whether or not improvement is being made.

how to de-escalate a situation at work

Documentation is a Must

You must document everything when it comes to employee disciplinary measures, even informal verbal warnings. These documents should be placed in the employee’s file and at the minimum should include the date, offense, type of warning given and any statements given by the employee.

Stick to the facts and do not include any emotions or speculations. These notes can help guide any future decision with regard to terminating the employee. Additionally, proper documentation serves to protect your business in the event of a lawsuit.

FREE SAMPLE: Employee Discipline Form >>

Purpose of Discipline in the Workplace

Properly handled discipline in the workplace can be beneficial for both the employee and the business. It allows the employee a chance to correct problems and through coaching and counseling get on a higher-performing work track.

For the business, it helps uphold the policies and procedures that make the workplace a healthy environment for all workers, stops negative behavior, can help prevent lawsuits, and may increase productivity.  

Effective employee discipline is a fundamental building block for a thriving business environment. By setting clear expectations, staying consistent, addressing issues promptly, taking a constructive approach, encouraging two-way communication and keeping accurate records, you'll foster a culture of respect, growth, and high performance.

RELATED: Terminating an Employee Without Warning - When to Skip Progressive Discipline >>

Need Employee Discipline Guidance? Axcet HR Solutions Can Help

For more guidance on building a successful business culture and other critical topics, subscribe to the Axcet HR Solutions blog, FUEL. Remember, your business's success is our top priority. We’ve been providing PEO services, including HR, payroll, risk management and employee benefits to small and mid-sized businesses since 1988.

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Written by Kellie Rondon

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