The Quick Guide to Employee Discipline: What Every Manager Needs to Know
We are all employees.
If you are an entrepreneur, then you are an employee of yourself. Isn’t that why you are said to be self-employed? Don’t you get paid by your business?
Obviously, you have more responsibilities than other employees. That makes you a different kind of employee—the one who sets the pace for other others.
For example, you give direction, make the biggest and hardest decisions, create a great working environment and much more.
If you are a manager, it’s not very different for you. You are also employed and you set the pace for your team. You do this by being an example for them. One stark difference though: you are responsible for maintaining employee discipline.
Employees form your team and they are the most valuable people you have. You may argue that your customers are more important.
But do you remember that it is your employees who handle and serve those customers?
If the customer is not happy, then he will go to your competitor. And when that happens, your survival is at stake.
So, how do you avoid such a situation?
This is where an important part of work comes in—discipline.
WHAT IS DISCIPLINE?
Discipline is all about individual conduct.
This conduct may slightly vary depending on the setting.
All the same, it defines every individual person. As much as it is individual, it is also corporate.
This is where everyone in an organization conducts themselves in a certain way.
Discipline is achieved after some training. Usually, there will be a goal being targeted. This goal is also the motivation behind achieving discipline.
This is how it works: you have a goal to attain. You realize that you have to work hard otherwise you’ll miss it. The hard work is not easy and you want to give up.
You however remember the goal and all the benefits it will bring. You therefore put in the hard work so as to achieve the benefits. The hard work is discipline.
Discipline can be said to be both internal and external.
Internal discipline is what every individual already has. This can also be referred to as principles.
External discipline is that which is taught so as to be acquired. For example, when your organization restricts employees from activities allowed in other organizations, that is external discipline. Your employees are in this case being taught or trained as per your company policies.
Discipline is not easy, but necessary.
At the workplace, especially as the manager, it becomes more difficult.
Not for you to have it, but to cultivate and maintain it in those working under you.
Your team members have different personalities, attitudes and all kinds of perspectives.
Certainly, they may have learned how to accommodate other people in their lives. But not all of them.
When performed on employees due to misconduct, discipline may sound and feel harsh.
This depends on the type of discipline procedure you use. Many managers implement discipline like punishment. You need to have a different view of discipline if you are to reap maximum benefits from it.
Calls for discipline often come as a result of wrong action by employees. It will be beneficial to take discipline simply as correction. Correction that comes to improve the employee.
If the employee improves, won’t that mean a better team?
As the manager, you need to instill this mindset into yourself first before communicating it.
This way, it will be evident when implementing it. Holding this view also enables you see your team members as people who need help to become better. They are not wrongdoers.
When implementing discipline therefore, ensure your employees do not feel punished. They should feel helped.
You need to ensure the work environment is right for everyone. You also need to ensure your team hits the set targets.
Some employees make things easy enough. Others seem to always be on the wrong side of the line.
One particular employee may be rubbing colleagues the wrong way. Despite being highly productive, he poses a threat to the work environment.
You know very well that you cannot just fire him.
But how do you deal with him?
A classical difficult employee? Watch the video below to see how to handle such a case.
As you may have noted already, discipline is best carried out in a proactive manner.
What does this mean?
You will have the easiest time when you discipline employees before they commit an offense.
IMPORTANCE OF HAVING DISCIPLINE
When employees achieve discipline, they are set for success.
The whole team also stands to benefit because the individual successes will work out overall success for your team. The importance of having discipline cannot be overstated.
The goals it helps you achieve make it stand out in importance.
Let’s look at some benefits of discipline.
No matter the size of your workforce, it consists of individual employees.
Your whole team is only as good as the individual employees themselves.
A great team is made up of great team members.
Such a team is highly likely to achieve its goals. Even going beyond its goals will not be a difficult thing.
Fewer Disciplinary Cases
When your employees are disciplined, you will not have cases of indiscipline to be handled.
Everyone will be focused on their jobs and the results will show. No manager wants to keep resolving issues coming up as a result of indiscipline.
The peace of mind that comes with this helps build a stronger team.
More time for business growth
As discipline grows among employees and disciplinary cases reduced, you will notice that you have ‘extra’ time.
This is time which would have been wasted on disciplinary cases. Because discipline results in improved efficiency, you will also be saving some time here.
This allows you to go through your strategies and see what should be corrected or changed. You can for example decide to use the time to source for new clients.
This makes room for overall improvement. Cases of indiscipline come as distractions and they consume time and lots of energy.
When avoided though, there is enough time to strategize on how to achieve your goals.
Businesses have goals to be achieved. Without discipline, these goals will remain a mirage. How then do you ensure there is enough discipline to get you through?
ASPECTS OF DISCIPLINE AT THE WORKPLACE
Discipline comprises of various aspects. We will look at these components then see how to implement them.
By virtue of rank, difference in departments, age and marital status, some employees may have more benefits than others.
That does not make them special employees.
A common mistake managers make is favoritism. Favoritism has negative results and should be avoided.
All your employees understand that they are needed in your organization. They know they are important and that they make things run.
This is why employees can decide to go on strike. They know that striking will paralyze operations and that will get your attention.
So by all means, your employees are smart.
That means they expect to be treated well and with respect.
They know they work in different departments thus give different kinds of output. Their output is still needed as input for someone else.
When they see one employee receiving better treatment, they will definitely be up in arms. Not because they don’t like you or the employee, but because they don’t want to be treated as second-class.
A major challenge you may face here is bad conduct coming from high-performing employees. That team member who is always late for work. He is often chatting on his mobile device and taking breaks without following due procedures. And when he follows the procedures and asks for frequent personal breaks, he gets them.
If such favors are not being extended to other team members, they will gradually start getting demotivated.
As a manager, it is your duty to ensure that all are treated fairly. Encouraging favoritism encourages bad behavior in certain employees.
Dressing goes a long way in defining the workplace environment. Some industries have a strict dress code and employees will always be dressed in suits.
Others have Friday as a dress-down day. But even as a dress-down day, there are still some rules about what not to wear to work. The problem is that in some cases, these rules are assumed to be common sense.
Well, as a manager, remember that what you term as common sense may not necessarily be the same for someone else.
With diverse backgrounds, people develop likes and dislikes for certain attire.
Not all your employees will love being in a suit. When they therefore get an opportunity to dress down, you may be surprised, if not shocked.
Some may attend your corporate event on a Friday dressed in what you think is only fit for a concert. Yet, they are just dressed down.
Such cases may be very embarrassing for you.
Depending on the kind of event, invited guests may become visibly uncomfortable. It will be in your best interest to define the acceptable dress code.
This should be for office work hours as well as events. If you are allowing people to dress down, you can for example give express communication that t-shirts, jeans and sneakers are allowed.
You seek to be the best in your field? Productivity guarantees better products and services, translating to high profits and the top position. Profit is also what stands between you and the competition.
Productivity can be the biggest cause of conflict between you and your team members.
Every business has goals.
Unless you are running a not-for-profit organization, profit is a key goal.
You will only expand as a business if you are making profits. Making more profit is also what determines how great the benefits you offer your employees are.
When a team member is not productive, he causes obvious strains on the business.
Some other employees may need to cover for him. The one who uses the unproductive employee’s output as his input may give sub-standard results.
You will only need to release one sub-standard product into the market to suffer long-term effects.
This is why there is always much focus on employee productivity.
Productivity should not be left to the employee to define as per his work preferences. You are in charge and so you should define what productivity means for your team.
If you need a report every evening with specific details, then communicate it.
If you need a certain number of products manufactured by the end of every working day, then be clear on that. Simply put, define productivity according to your own terms and ensure your employees understand it.
For the best results, come up with performance indicators.
Use this to further clarify what is expected of every employee.
Design it like a checklist with monthly, weekly and daily expectations. This way, your employees know exactly what they are supposed to achieve by the end of the day. They will then do what they ought to do to achieve it.
Conduct / Behavior / Ethics
Personal conduct always manifests in the workplace.
Guided by backgrounds, cultures and associations, your employees will not behave the same.
Of course, the workplace should be treated with respect. Your employees should be knowing this, although you should still tell them.
All the same, their different characters and personalities will play out.
How do you protect the workplace from toxic behavior?
It comes down to the policies you create. You have to state what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Cover everything from employee relations for work purposes to relations at personal levels. For example, make it clear that employees should have their meals in the cafeteria and not the office. Let them also know that you do not allow shouting across the room. One should either use the phone provided on every desk to call colleagues or walk to their desk.
Ethics in particular is quite broad. It goes all the way to how your employees interact with your customers. For example, when an organization is said to be riddled with corruption, it is the lack of ethics.
When an employee encroaches on another’s privacy, that is the lack of ethics. When specifying this in your employee’s handbook, use words and statements which capture the whole idea.
You have to be clear on what the consequences of unacceptable behavior are. Your employees should know what will follow if they go against the right behavior.
Technology has revolutionized our lives in many ways, both good and the not-so-good.
These devices enable us know what is happening across the globe as soon as it happens.
Well, if you are watching news at home, that is not a bad thing.
If you are however in the middle of work and overhear that a bomb has exploded somewhere, you immediately get distracted.
Restraining the use of mobile devices is not restricting the freedom of information or infringing on privacy. It is simply creating the right environment for work.
Also in this category is listening to music during working hours.
Some employees may claim to be more productive when they have music playing in the background.
But does listening to music really improve concentration while working? And if it does, what happens when all employees want to do the same?
Remember that there is no room for favoritism.
It is best for you to set rules which cover everyone and as much as possible, everything.
The employee seeking permission to listen to music should be able to enjoy the quiet atmosphere you have created for work.
You can also explain to him that his way of motivation will affect others negatively. Some may be distracted by it.
It is upon you to decide what you want for your workplace.
Ideally, employees should be allowed to keep their mobile devices for personal reasons. These personal reasons should however be respectful of the work environment.
Some behavior may go beyond company policies.
For example, theft by an employee is not to be condoned. Neither is it a trivial matter despite the stolen item probably being small.
This is only a sign of worse things that could happen.
At this point, punitive discipline could be necessary.
Another example is sexual harassment.
In your policies, anticipate such things and make provisions for them. This means that whenever illegal behavior is reported, investigated and confirmed, it is dealt with accordingly.
Remember to specify the steps to be followed depending on the nature and extent of the illegal behavior.
LEGAL ASPECTS OF DISCIPLINE
The relationship between an employer and his employee is legal.
Both the employer and employee are protected by the law in various ways. It is crucial that you understand what the law provides for when it comes to employee discipline.
As a manager or business owner, it is in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the relevant labor laws. Alternatively, get a good attorney who is well versed with labor-related matters.
Get his advice when drafting company policies to ensure all employee rights are covered.
Take note of the various rights of the employee as enshrined in the law. Also know the extent of protection the law gives your business. Either way, it should be a win-win situation for both employer and employee.
One common clause in company policies is one giving the employer the right to fire at will. Obviously this cannot be used as a sudden and impromptu measure against an employee.
Allegations should be substantiated and have proof. In similar manner, recognize that employees can resign with immediate effect.
Whenever an employee’s services are terminated, there will most likely be termination benefits.
This depends on the reason for termination. For example, termination due to chronic indiscipline is not the same as resignation for personal reasons.
It should be clear what should be paid and under what circumstances.
These should also reflect what the law states. You cannot have policies which are contrary to laws, whether federal or state.
If you give timelines for processing these payments, keep them on the higher side. Alternatively, include a clause to indicate that these are approximate timelines.
Permanent employees have a different agreement compared to that of contractual employees. These may include consultants, contracted full-time employees or freelancers.
Understand their expectations and let them understand yours too. Let all work be done within the confines of the agreement binding you and them.
Whereas contracted full-time employees are employees only that they are not permanent, consultants and freelancers are not your employees.
Many organizations turn to freelancers to get very specific work to be done. These have individual preferences on how to work and may need limited access to company resources.
Since they will mostly work remotely, the security of your systems should also be considered.
Understand the difference between freelancers and consultants. Consider the agreement terms when engaging them and the details of the same. Note that consultants and freelancers also need a great working relationship.
As they engage with you, they are doing business.
Therefore, before terminating such contracts, ensure you check on the relevant contract provisions.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT DISCIPLINE
Having looked at the aspects of discipline, let’s now see how to carry out discipline on employees. Here’s a video showing an effective way of implementing discipline on employees.
Productive work will only happen where there are these three things:
Great working environment
This consists of not just the provided work area but also an enabling environment. The hierarchy should not be such that the one below is afraid of engaging the one above him.
Consultations both horizontally and vertically should be easy.
Employee training and recognition should be present as they indicate appreciation.
Great social environment
The work environment is not just for work. It is humans who are working and humans are social beings.
Naturally, your employees will develop friendships. If your team members cannot freely talk with each other unless it is work-related, then a part of them is not at work.
A great social environment provides room for creativity. If your employees have to follow rules which stifle social relations, then you won’t get the best from them.
They will not be welcoming towards you.
Consequently, they will not offer much beyond what the official agreement asks for. At the end of the day, you stand to lose.
On the other hand, when the social well-being of your employees is taken care of, they will be happy about their work. They will be free with you and in the process of chatting, you’ll get some ideas and solutions.
A sense of belonging
This works out as a result of the above two plus a touch of personalized care.
When you have great work and social environments in the same place, employees enjoy staying there. When you now make provisions for them to feel comfortable, they long to be at work.
For example, if you designate a room for nursing mothers, they will love you for the care you have shown them.
These employees will thus have a sense of belonging because they feel valued. If they know they are valued, appreciated and cared for, you can bet that you will have their loyalty.
With their loyalty, there is literally no end to the benefits you will enjoy. For example, you are sure to get integrity and faithfulness with finances..
These three things are what you should consider every time you are enforcing discipline. Some types of discipline tend to be punitive.
Others focus on improving the employees’ personal productivity. You will often choose a discipline type depending on the kind of leader or manager you are.
Below are the steps to take when implementing employee discipline.
Carry Out Investigations
When you have a disciplinary case to handle, do not rush to take action. It is important to get the facts first. If someone is reporting unacceptable behavior, seek to investigate the allegations.
Gather the necessary evidence to avoid using hear say. Sometimes, employees can set each other up to settle scores.
If you find an employee breaking the rules, get him to immediately explain his actions. If it involves physical confrontation with another employee, get to hear both sides of the story.
As you determine the truth from the information you have, maintain objectivity.
Do not investigate from the perspective of a prosecutor.
Communicate Discipline Clearly
When you finally start the discipline process, communicate clearly the wrong that has been done. Avoid at all costs the mistake of character assassination. Do not attack the employee but point out the bad conduct.
For example, do not say to the one in the wrong, “I’m taking you through a disciplinary process because you are a violent employee.”
Instead, say, “I’m taking you through a disciplinary process because of how you acted towards your colleague. You called him unproductive because he did not hit his sales target.”
The first statement attacks the employee. It makes a judgment on him that he is violent. Although it may be true, such an approach will make the employee defensive.
Being defensive will make it difficult for the employee to see his wrong.
As a result, he will not be able to implement corrective measures. He will only do what is presented as right so as to avoid the perceived punishment.
The second statement on the other hand, separates the employee from his conduct. This approach enables him see the behavior from a witness’ point of view.
He is able to relate with the feelings of the aggrieved employee and see how the behavior was wrong. In such a case, it is easier to put in efforts to prevent future misconduct.
As much as the employee is wrong, do not shout at him or use abusive language. Do not compare him to any other employee previously found guilty of wrongdoing.
Doing this creates room for complaints and negative perceptions against your action. Use a tone which is conversational and engage the employee.
At the end of it all, he should understand that you are helping him become a better person.
Ensure The Employee Understands It
Clear communication does not guarantee being understood. One of the best ways of ensuring you are understood is by asking for confirmations.
Ask the employee if he understands that what he did was wrong. Ask him also whether he understands the action taken against him.
You can also ask him to summarize what you have agreed with him by asking a question like, “So, what have we agreed you will do to change this behavior?”
Documentation is important in disciplinary cases.
Let the procedures followed be on paper.
This should be printed and signed by you and the employee. The employee’s personnel file should have this document.
Documentation usually saves you a lot of trouble in case an employee decides to take legal action against you. The documentation serves as evidence that you followed the right procedures.
Your actions will also be protected by relevant laws and company policies.
Offer A Supportive Environment
Discipline is about making corrections that will last. It is also about you helping your team members improve themselves.
Steps beyond the written law and policies are thus required. The biggest one being to provide an environment that will help the employee change more quickly and easily.
This involves you and the rest of the team members.
The disciplined employee should not become an outcast because of what he did. After showing him his wrong, let him know that you want to see him become better.
For that reason, offer to help him get better. Cultivate a culture among your team that encourages people to improve themselves.
Fellow employees can help him with any extra duties you have given him though only to a certain extent.
Though this may seem counterproductive, there will be a lesson for him to learn in this.
The help he receives will show him the essence of friendship and team work. He will then realize the need to adapt.
This will also help you identify particular character flaws. If such an employee is offered support but abuses it, then you know the problem is bigger.
He may be a candidate for counseling.
You will also be able to monitor his progress by checking on his relations with his colleagues.
Discipline is best looked at not as a form of punishment, but a way of cultivating better employees. When such a perspective is held, the approach taken is different and the results better.
What are your views on employee discipline? Share with us below.