Addressing workplace discipline
Addressing disciplinary issues is a reality for most managers.
No matter what the detail of the situation, introducing discipline can be a very sensitive and stressful process that many managers deal with in only a cursory manner or avoid altogether. However, if disciplinary issues are avoided or handled poorly, very serious problems for the organisation and the individuals involved can evolve.
While disciplining employees may not be a pleasant task, it does not have to be painful and laborious.
All managers should be trained to understand that workplace discipline should not be viewed simply as a way to punish employees.
For best results over the longer term, it is preferable to view discipline as a way to correct some problem behaviour or performance issue. It should be viewed as a way to develop an employee.
In the ideal situation, discipline should be kept as positive as possible and not used in a punitive or retaliatory way. Managers should be aware that the objective of any disciplinary action is to correct the problem, the action, or behaviour, not the person.
Two other important rules regarding workplace discipline are:
- The type of discipline should fit the severity of the violation; and
- Discipline should be conducted in private.
There are probably countless companies where management struggles to find a judicious way to establish and enforce fair rules of employee conduct.
The objectives of discipline are vital and non-controversial: to promote the health and safety of all employees; protect company property; ensure steady production; conform to legal requirements; and create a pleasant working environment. But basic philosophies and methods for achieving these goals are two distinctly different things, and it is usually at the implementation phase that problems can arise.
Traditionally, for very many years, the four most costly disciplinary problems have involved:
- Wasted time;
- Substance abuse; and
But today we have to add to these, internet misuse – in all its guises.
In the modern workplace, managers and HR personnel face a range of legal issues when managing employees. Increasingly, employees challenge disciplinary action taken against them and bring unfair dismissal claims if their employment is terminated. Managers need to be suitably trained to effectively manage performance, discipline and termination of employment in order to minimise legal risks for the company.
With current industrial legislation, there is a whole range of conditions and requirements that managers have to take into account when the issue of discipline comes up. As a minimum, all disciplinary steps have to be documented.
An element of discipline that can be very positive is counselling. When carried out in a healthy environment, counselling can allow both the employer and employee to identify issues of concern, specify the required levels of performance and time frames for which improvement needs to occur.
When counselling breaks down and termination occurs, documentation can be used to demonstrate to industrial tribunals that written warnings were given prior to termination of employment.
Care must be taken to ensure that even informal counselling sessions are documented, and that written confirmation of the counselling and the outcomes are recorded.