Employee Discipline: How to Nip Problems in the Bud

Marcia Zidle

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Are you uncomfortable with delivering disciplinary action, even involving employees you know deserve it? You're not alone. Disciplinary action is one of the least favored tasks a supervisor must occasionally perform.

Disciplining employees is so dreaded by so many supervisors that many look the other way when trouble develops, perhaps in the hope that the matter will correct itself. But most of the time it doesn’t – it tends to go from bad to worse. Rather than allow that to happen, take positive steps to prevent this potential problem from becoming a real problem.

Consider this simple example. Assume you have an attendance policy that calls for disciplinary action if an employee experiences four unexcused tardiness within a calendar year. A little less than halfway through the year you become aware that a particular employee has already come in late twice without getting your permission. With more than half of the year remaining, you are concerned that she will be in a disciplinary situation before year's end.

Positive action begins with coaching. When the employee hits that second unexcused lateness, take that person aside and follow these five coaching steps.

  1. Review the policy with the individual and point out the consequences that could lie ahead if the present rate of absenteeism continues.
  2. Explain why the policy exists and why it must apply equally to all employees.
  3. Ask the employee for an explanation– what are any influences that might be causing lateness.
  4. Together come up with a specific plan to prevent any more unexcused lateness.
  5. Monitor and set a time to review the employee’s progress.

If employees believe you rarely notice an absence or seem to care little whether they are regularly late, this behavior will continue. But if they know you are aware of their lateness and there are consequences, they'll think twice about casually coming in late.

Conscious awareness of potential problems, plus the willingness to assist employees through coaching, can go a long way toward nipping many disciplinary problems in the bud.

Marcia Zidle, the ‘people smarts’ coach, works with business leaders to quickly solve their people management headaches so they can concentrate on their #1 job ­ to grow and increase profits. She offers free help through Leadership Briefing, a weekly e-newsletter with practical tips on leadership style, employee motivation, recruitment and retention and relationship management. Subscribe by going to http://leadershiphooks.com/ and get the bonus report “61 Leadership Time Savers and Life Savers”. Marcia is the author of the What Really Works Handbooks ­ resources for managers on the front line and the Power-by-the-Hour programs ­ fast, convenient, real life, affordable courses for leadership and staff development. She is available for media interviews, conference presentations and panel discussions on the hottest issues affecting the workplace today. Contact Marcia at 800-971-7619.


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