How to Discipline Employees Without Destroying Their Souls

As managers, one of the most difficult tasks we have to deal with is disciplining employees. It’s never any fun for any party involved. The stress associated with the task is felt not just by the employee, but by the manager as well. Keeping your emotion in check and not letting the situation get to you is often easier said than done when issuing any disciplinary action. Many managers are unable to separate themselves from their feelings of anger, resentment, frustration, or something else while taking corrective action. It can ruin a manager’s entire day. Some managers even take the stress home with them. It can even lead to an explosive confrontation, which makes a bad situation even worse.

Old School Discipline

The traditional approach to employee discipline that many major companies use is the progressive approach. This approach follows a strict set of guidelines for punishment with the first action normally being a verbal warning. The verbal warning is often followed by some type of written warning with permanent documentation placed in the employee’s file. Think of a “rap sheet,” if you will, a detailed record of employee misbehavior and the punishing sentences delivered.

If the offending behavior is still not corrected after a written warning, the next step is to issue final documentation. Management meets with the employee to show him all of the written warnings and actions taken by management and is typically followed up with a final warning. The employee is essentially told: “This is your last chance. Do a better job or clean out your locker.”

This approach to employee discipline, however, is not without its problems. It does little to correct the behavior. There are some employees who may get frustrated with such a stern warning and act out in even more extreme ways.

One thing that often makes the situation even worse is the fact that many managers often discuss the offending employee’s situation with other managers and employees in the office. This is a bad management practice that does nothing to improve the situation.

A Better Way

A better approach to employee discipline is the counseling approach. Instead of threatening the employee with punishment, the employee is counseled on what he did wrong in a respectful manner. Management and employees then work together to find a solution to the issue that is mutually beneficial. To do this, management carefully examines the behavior of the employee and asks questions to identify what the main conflict or concern may really be. The manager and the employee then work through the issue piece by piece until common ground is found.

Instead of taking an adversarial approach, like the traditional approach to employee discipline, the counseling approach treats employees with respect. It’s an approach that makes them feel like they are valued employees and that their opinions matter. If a person is treated with respect during the disciplinary action, then he is more apt to try to improve his behavior. In this approach management also points out what the employee did that was beneficial. This builds morale and makes the employee feel like he is appreciated and a part of the company.

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Written by:
Alex Vanover is a life-long motorcycle enthusiast who enjoys riding his Harley-Davidson as often as the weather, his job, and his family will allow. His writing focuses on the automotive industry, renewable energy, and matters of sustainability in business. He is also the purveyor of the popular bike trading site: Motorcycle Trading Post.
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