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 discipline plan can guide your employees 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 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.
1. Be Clear and Thorough
Employees can’t be expected to follow workplace rules if they don’t know they exist. If you’re going to discipline an employee for not following company policies and procedures, realize you’re responsible for establishing reasonable rules and clearly defining them in your employee handbook.
What about poor job performance? This is another disciplinary area that is difficult to blame on the employee if proper job descriptions haven’t been written for the positions at your business.
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.
2. 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.
3. Be Consistent
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 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.
4. 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.
5. Curb the Cookie Cutter Approach
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. Next steps should be clearly defined with goals set along the way. This will help gauge whether or not improvement is being made.
6. Documentation is a Must
You must document everything when it comes to employee disciplinary measures, even informal verbal warnings. These documentations 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 regards to terminating the employee. Additionally, proper documentation serves to protect your business in the event of a lawsuit.
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.
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