When it comes to maintaining order in the workplace, negotiating employee discipline can seem like a high wire balancing act. On the one hand, we need to retain authority and some modicum of control over subordinates, but at the same time, dealing with personalities is an inherently touchy issue. After all, especially in the case of a non-fireable offense, the point is rehabbed behavior and not resentment, right?
Moreover, in this day and age of rampant lawsuits and claims of workplace discrimination, even if you have at-will employees and independent contractors making up the majority of your workforce, you need to handle discipline delicately to ensure a safe and functional work environment for everyone.
So here are some things to keep in mind when navigating the potentially murky waters of maintaining order at work through employee discipline.
Keep the issue on a “Need to Know” basis
In high pressure environments where time and money are at stake, emotions run high. Accordingly, if you believe an employee is taking advantage of the company or otherwise not living up to his end of the bargain, it can be easy to fly off the handle without taking a step back to assess the situation.
Likewise, if an employee is approached from a place of accusation or similarly confronted by multiple parties, your actions can trigger a defensive reaction rather than a willingness to engage in a calm, problem-solving discussion.
Accordingly, do not discuss your concerns about your employee with anyone else before ensuring their involvement is absolutely essential or their knowledge of the situation is necessary. You cannot un-ring a bell so don’t sound the alarm lightly.
Stick to the current, relevant facts
Yes, that means you should incorporate all three when you address your employee:
- Current: Don’t bring past issues up that have been dealt with before, unless they are prior examples of the same type of behavior.
- Relevant: Keep the discussion centered on the task at hand and avoid incorporating unrelated information that has no bearing on the current situation.
- Facts: This is the most important aspect of your disciplinary action – do not mention feelings, thoughts or emotions at this point. You need to tell her what she has factually done or not done to warrant “the talk” and be prepared to back up your position with actual proof if necessary.
Once you have set the stage for the discussion, allow your employee to fully respond to the current, relevant facts you have presented.
Perception may be reality but that doesn’t make it true
It is often said that there are 3 sides to every story: mine, yours and the truth. Unfortunately, most of us stop the investigation after we mentally process our own perception of an event – what we see is what we believe is actually going on and we make assumptions about a person’s motivation for acting in a certain way.
However, one of the most important things to remember is that the way we perceive an event is not the whole story and we need more facts to truly, accurately and fairly judge a situation. Be willing to listen and do not enter into a discussion with your mind made up one way or another.
As a final note, by establishing clear and unambiguous guidelines and expectations up front, you can avoid many issues and misunderstandings before they develop into full-blown problems.
What are some of the ways you have effectively handled employee discipline?
About the Author: Allison Rice is the Marketing Director for Amsterdam Printing (www.amsterdamprinting.com), a leading provider of custom and promotional pens and other promotional products to grow your business and thank customers. Allison regularly contributes to the Promo & Marketing Wall blog, where she provides actionable business tips.