When employee behavior does not meet company standards or expectations, it directly affects profitability. There are a number of ways to maintain your employees’ focus and prevent counterproductive behavior, but not all measures work for all businesses. If you feel uncertain on what to do when facing behavioral issues with employees, then this article is for you.
We asked experts to share their tips on how to handle employee discipline issues in the workplace and listed them for you below.
Here are the top 21 employee discipline tips from the pros.
1. Point to specific examples when addressing negative behavior.
Nate Masterson, Marketing Manager, Maple Holistics
As a manager, it’s important that you know how to address an employee’s negative behavior or disruptive actions in a way that’s constructive yet also reinforces the seriousness of the matter at hand. When addressing an employee’s actions, it’s important to be specific. This may even mean providing physical evidence of the employees’ deeds (or lack thereof) in case they’re being defensive. Depending on the seriousness of the issue at hand, it may also be advisable to have the meeting in a private space with another senior official at the company. This may help to stress the seriousness of the matter without having to say anything and will allow you to explain why the employee’s actions (or lack thereof) were detrimental to both him/herself and their fellow employees in a way that’s calm and easy for them to understand.
2. Address small problems before they become big problems.
Lisa Sansom, Positive Interventionist, LVS Consulting
When there is a small problem, course correct in a kind, mentoring way as soon as you possibly can. Behaviour that a business owner ignores is essentially condoned and approved behaviour.
When correcting small issues, there is a “formula” that small business owners can follow: ensure that it is a good time to talk, ensure that you are in a good space – somewhere quiet and private, state the incorrect behaviour and preferred behavior factually, ask the employee if they have any questions about your expectations and clarify, and ask the employee if anything is getting in their way to do the expected behaviour and offer your assistance. Finally, monitor and praise the proper behaviour.
3. Have regular 1 on 1s with your reports.
Eng. Cristian Rennella, CEO & CoFounder, elMejorTrato.com
In our company, every employee has two meetings per year with his or her boss to be able to deal with discipline issues and day-to-day issues at work. We also recognize the importance of how we transmit, communicate, and share ideas with our team constantly. Because of this, we have successfully dealt with unwanted employee behavior by being able to find a solution in a timely manner. Additionally, this strategy allowed us to improve the retention of personnel in our company. Bottom line is, if you want to have excellent work discipline, then you must invest your own time as the owner, boss or leader with your employees.
4. Lead by example.
Rudeth Shaughnessy, Sr. Editor, Copy My Resume
When I was working at a tech startup, I was amazed at the discipline exhibited by the CEO. The office was modern, with glass walls and big open spaces, so employees, project managers, and the CEO could all interact on the same level. The CEO was also disciplined about being in the office before most other employees and leaving exactly at 6 p.m everyday. I asked him about this once, and he said he didn’t want employees to feel pressured into working late simply because he was there. By leaving precisely at 6 everyday, he wanted to set the precedent. A combination of transparency and leading by example is how companies can establish employee discipline without even having to verbally say anything.
5. Add a physical activity to the daily schedule.
Alessandra Sollberger, Founder & CEO, Evermore
When it comes to engaging employees and keeping their discipline up, we’ve found that it helps to start the day with something that mixes productivity and fitness (done in the office). For example, we get the team to do a squat by the wall and run through their daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Physical effort increases focus / willpower and releases endorphins! The team loves it. Here’s more info about the science behind it, as I’ve actually developed this into a Fitness + Purpose method.
6. Let employees see what their peers are working on.
Fiona Adler, Founder, Actioned – simple productivity for teams
Having employees do the right thing in the first place is far better than imposing disciplinary action after problems arise. A simple system whereby team members can see what their colleagues are working on each day can work like magic. Firstly, it gets everyone to be deliberate about planning their day, which helps productivity and people focus on doing the most important work. Secondly, this method adds some positive peer pressure to the workplace. No one wants to be the one who lets the team down, so when people are transparent about their work, it puts a little extra pressure on everyone which is usually extremely motivating. This method can be done on a whiteboard if everyone is in the same office, or using online tools for remote teams.
7. Observe legally sound guidelines.
David Miklas, Employment Lawyer, Law Office of David Miklas, P.A.
When disciplining an employee, it is advisable to have at least two members of management present, and normally, there should be at least one manager reviewing a supervisor’s decision before an employee is terminated. Ensure that you have considered options other than termination, such as resignation, transfer, or demotion. Documentation supporting the termination should be reviewed prior to the termination to determine that it is sufficient. You also need to prepare and follow a script while discharging an employee. Maintain the employee’s dignity and confidentiality during the discharge process without engaging in a prolonged dialogue or getting into too many details about your reasons for the discharge.
Read Fit Small Business’ guide to terminating employees for more do’s and don’ts.
8. Be consistent in applying the rules.
Damon Burton, President & Founder, SEO National
Before you take any action, talk to the troubled employee in a private place to see if their behavior was triggered by an unresolved problem. Keep your conduct professional, tell them what you are seeing and ask them directly why they are behaving in that manner. It’s also important to communicate honestly by giving clear feedback, explaining your expectations in detail, and providing a deadline with specific consequences if they do not meet expectations. Above all – be consistent! If you decide certain actions are against the rules, stick to that directive. Inconsistent management could be perceived as unfair and create additional problems in your workforce.
9. Tailor your approach to the nature & severity of the problem.
Mirande Valbrune, Senior Employee Relations and Compliance (ER) Professional
The employer should cater their approach to the issue in question and the level of severity (and nature) of the disciplinary problem. For example, a performance management issue may require a much more remedial, encouraging, and coaching approach as opposed to willful misconduct, which may require a final warning or discipline. Also, it is important for small businesses to know that employee complaints may arise following disciplinary action. Employees sometimes use a complaint as a means of shielding themselves from further job action, because retaliation following a protected complaint is unlawful. Small businesses are well advised, then, to ensure that they have strong, documented evidence of the issues leading up to any disciplinary action so they can effectively protect themselves from unexpected legal claims.
10. Establish & regularly monitor operations workflow.
Jason Patel, Founder, Transizion
To keep employees disciplined and focused, it is incredibly important to form a workflow that contains clear intermittent and final deadlines. It’s also critical to check in on your team members during an ongoing project. Your workflow should be split up into two parts: process and dates. Every few days, check in on the process (the task) and whether your team member is good to meet the deadline. Integrate your workflow into an app like Trello or into your other project management platforms, such as Slack. This provides real-time updates to you and other team members who are relying on another colleague to meet the project deadline.
11. Define the problem in a simple way.
Monica Eaton-Cardone, Co-Founder & COO, Chargebacks911
The more clearly I can explain the issue, the better results I get. I strive to be as concise and transparent as possible, defining both the objectionable behavior and its resulting impact on the business. Simple, unambiguous language helps employees understand why the behavior is unacceptable and allows them to take ownership of solving it. Whenever possible, I try to approach discipline issues with the idea of improving an otherwise positive performance (as opposed to focusing on punishment for a negative behavior). I have found that this method consistently produces better results than the so-called “progressive discipline” system I have used in the past.
12. Offer free lunch to minimize too-long breaks.
Jennifer Mazzanti, CEO & Co-Founder, eMazzanti Technologies
We run an IT services company with a modest support team. We never know when we will encounter a bulge in our call volume. Employees leaving the building for lunch decreases our ability to respond to all calls within five minutes. Plus, people are often gone for more than their allotted time. So, we buy our employees lunch—every day! One person takes orders for one or more team members from nearby restaurants and delivers lunches to employees’ desks. Employees like the benefit and tend to be more available for mid-day calls.
13. Develop a coaching/counseling memo.
Robin Schwartz, Managing Partner, MFG Jobs
Employee disciplinary proceedings can get confusing fast. To formalize the process and ensure proper documentation, develop a coaching/counseling memo or tool that documents the first step taken in the process. Within the memo, the areas of concerns should be clear as well as expectations on improving the issues. This allows business owners to quantify where they are in the employee discipline process and ensures they have records should they need them in the future.
14. Lean on company culture
Kean Graham, CEO, MonetizeMore
When an employee has violated one of our rules, has underperformed, or has acted against the best interest of the company, we lean on our company culture doc in our communication with them. We mention how they have acted against the company culture and if they were to face a similar situation again, how someone who vouches for the company culture would have acted. If the infringement was significant enough, we give a warning. A third warning is followed by termination.
15. Encourage Discipline Through Engagement
Ian Heslip, Inbound Marketing Specialist, Dominion Systems
A key method to employee engagement is holding employees to a weekly or even daily status report about what they accomplished during that particular day or week. As a former remote worker, I had to submit daily progress reports about the major tasks I accomplished that day. By being held accountable for my work ethic and habits, it was easier to accomplish major tasks and stay on deadlines. A weekly status report is preferred over a daily list, as a daily update may come across as micro management.
Having a friend at work has its advantages but it can also cause drawbacks, especially at a point where you have to impose disciplinary action. The key is to maintain a healthy manager-report relationship so you can minimize awkwardness when giving negative feedback. Don’t be tempted to put off conducting the disciplinary meeting with your friend/employee. It’s also best that you come prepared with the details, such as HR policies involved, and compose an objective for your conversation to make sure that the meeting stays on track. Offer them a chance to speak up and share their ideas on ways to overcome their performance issues, and encourage them also to speak to HR if they feel they need someone else to talk to.
As an employer, having the right mindset towards employee discipline sets an overall positive tone during disciplinary meetings. It should be clear that employee discipline is different from punishing an employee. Expecting negative punishment to bring about a positive result is similar to treating your employees like children. Make an effort to approach the disciplinary process with an open mind. Be prepared to hear objections or complaints and address them professionally. You will get a better response from your erring employee if you show that you are ready to listen and help them overcome their misconduct.
In order for employees to be aware of what goes against company policies, it should be clearly stated and explained in your employee handbook. For the most part, this is the first step in preventing unwelcome behavior in the workplace. Have clear definitions of what your company considers as sexual harassment. Enumerate your policies on the use of technology and information security. State your expectations regarding absences, tardiness and timeliness as well as the responsibilities and accountabilities that your company sets for each employee. Do not assume that an employee will know. Include even the most obvious policies in your handbook. Make sure that each employee, even those on contract, has signed off to reading and understanding all your policies and guidelines.
Employee theft issues can happen even to the best of companies. Which is why businesses should have clear policies when it comes to preventing and handling employee theft claims. Establish clearly written guidelines outlining procedures and practices for handling company assets (cash, inventory, equipment and supplies). Make sure that you emphasize equal importance to company property no matter how small. Often times employees who are found stealing start with small things assuming that no one will notice that it’s gone. Take time to explain and train your staff with guidelines and consequences. Give them enough opportunity to ask questions, and clarify any part of the policy that seem confusing to them. Lastly, assure that a fair and equal procedure is in place when conducting investigations on theft claims.
Business managers should be aware of the different factors resulting in employee absenteeism. It is important to come up with a permanent, as opposed to a temporary solution. Sometimes, people are just in a rough patch that takes them away from work and would appreciate support. Consider organizing a small daycare, carpooling, or opportunities for small, quick loans for struggling employees. These don’t have to cost the company much if everyone is encouraged to get involved.
Workplace conflicts should be handled differently depending on the cause. When conflict arise over limited resources, create a perception of abundance. For example, if two departments are fighting over a small training budget, HR might offer to conduct in-house training so both can benefit. Arguments that come from a difference in perception can be resolved by developing a mentorship relationship between employees. Those that arise from conflicting assumptions and tolerance can be addressed by team building activities. You should also establish accountability and responsibility to make sure that roles are well-established and communicated. This helps to avoid disagreements as to who who has the final authority to make a decision.
Over to You
It should be the goal of employee discipline to help employees become better. Knowing how to discipline employees will ultimately affect your company’s performance and productivity. If you feel like there is room to improve your process, then try one of our expert tips listed above. Or if something else is affecting productivity, consider offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help your employees manage personal issues affecting their work.
Would you like to share your own employee discipline tips? Let us know by leaving your comments below.