In any business, at some point employers such as HR managers, managers or small business owners have to take corrective actions and/or discipline employees. It just happens: Employees overstep workplace boundaries and need to be reprimanded, but not terminated.
Conducting effective discipline sessions are both an art and a science said Dr. Joanne G. Sujansky, Certified Speaking Professional, CEO and Founder of KEYGroup®, an organization that believes strongly in the competitive advantage of collaborative workplaces. Sadly, Sujansky passed away from breast cancer in 2009, but her legacy lives on with the company that she catapulted to worldwide notoriety.
Basically, there are three forms of disciplinary action, said Sujansky.
- You can give a written warning
- You can suspend an employee without pay for a designated span of time
- You can dismiss the employee
First things first: recognize what discipline actually means, adds Sujansky. It is a follow-up to coaching.
“You do it because you have already given corrective feedback and suggested ways to correct the problem – and the employee in question has failed to heed your advice,” said Sujansky. Her study “How to Discipline an Employee – Employee Discipline That Works,” provides real-life examples of discipline cases and clearly pinpoints the components that determine what should be done as well as tone (what to say in a session and how to say it).
Sujansky said discipline is a way of declaring, “That correction needs to occur. If it doesn’t, there will be consequences.” It will sound basic, yet the truth is it’s easy to make mistakes in this arena which:
- Result in an ineffective session, after which nothing changes
- Strain your relationship with your employee
- Anger or upset him or her to the point of much worse performance (this, in turn, will lessen morale), and/or
- Lead to legal action against you or your firm.
But before any corrective action is presented or takes place, be sure to have a clearly documented policy related to the issue or behavior in question, says Patrick Neff, Marketing Manager of Sales Products for TrackSmart.com, a cloud-based HR management system. For example, if an employee’s attendance is less than stellar; could it be because he or she doesn’t understand the details of your attendance policy? Further still, the employee might not even realize the company has an attendance policy if it was left out of the employee handbook or omitted from new hire training materials. Consider the big picture and the possible root of the problem before taking action.
Before disciplining/reprimanding an employee, it’s important to gather all the facts, including supporting documentation or notes, says Neff. For example, if the employee is chronically late, collect the employee’s timesheets, dates of unexcused absences or email communication about absences.
“This information should also include how the issue is affecting the employee’s performance on projects and regularly assigned duties,” says Neff. “Consider the solution, as well as the follow-up steps you expect from the employee, before talking to him or her.”
After having a discussion with the employee, pay close attention to the employee’s performance and behavior. If you notice a marked improvement over the next couple of days or weeks, be sure to let the employee know that you appreciate the change.
One of the most important duties of the supervisor or manager is to provide consistent, timely feedback to employees, says Shirley Weis,
“If an employee is not meeting expectations, they deserve to be apprised of the situation so that they can make adjustments in their performance,” says Weis, author of the Amazon-bestseller Playing to Win in Business. Here are 5 steps for taking corrective actions with employees, according to Weis:
- Clearly outline the performance expectations and discuss the deficiencies in performance that have been observed.
- Define the actions that you expect to be taken to correct the performance deficiency.
- Outline simple, measurable solutions including additional training if indicated.
- Set deadlines for behavioral change.
- Consistently monitor and measure results. Do not let deadlines slip by without providing feedback regarding the employee’s progress in meeting expectations.
Why you have to address employee infractions
Unpleasant as it can be, you have to address employee infractions. Here’s why, said Sujansky: The initial as well as most obvious reason can be simply that you expect your employee to do the right thing. You would like him to stop being rude to patrons or missing major deadlines or showing up two hours late each Monday . . . whatever.
Conduct a discipline session and you increase the likelihood that your employee will cease this offending behavior and improve dramatically. The other reason not to let things slide can be a bit more complicated. Suppose your employee is merely, well, a lost cause? Suppose you know deep down that he/she is not going to ever develop into an intuitive, innovative “happy corporate citizen?” That’s all the more grounds to discipline, said Sujansky. Perfectly-structured, properly documented discipline sessions – with all your I’s dotted and T’s crossed – may be half of the battle of getting him/her out the door with a clear conscience and tiny odds that a disgruntled employee will pursue litigation.
“In the end, you should remember that the employee is a valuable part of your business, says Neff. “Position your mindset as trying to solve a problem, rather than punishing an employee for breaking the rules.”