Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Anyone who manages people hopes employees follow policy, accomplish goals, and get along with co-workers.
Unfortunately, there are times when that does not happen, and managers are forced to correct and discipline employees.
This is one of the least favorite responsibilities of a manager – but a necessary part of managing employee performance.
Help Employees Understand Job Expectations
Employees should have a good understanding of what is expected of them before any disciplinary action is taken.
Discussing and addressing performance issues is much easier when expectations have been clearly communicated and supported by a written document.
Sometimes, it is the employee’s behavior that needs to be addressed.
When an employee’s conduct does not meet expectations, it is essential to describe specific undesirable behaviors.
For instance, let’s say you have an employee who is consistently late to team meetings. Take the time to remind the employee that they are expected to attend scheduled meetings on time. Point out the tardy incident and make a note. This provides documentation for the incident(s).
Focus on the Behavior, Rather Than the Person
Documentation should be fact-based (not opinion) and focus on the employees’ conduct rather than the person.
There should be no biases, and the documentation should describe how the behaviors affect others – both good and bad and should be as specific and detailed as possible.
Documentation of the incident should capture the employees’ perspective as well.
It is only fair to hear them out; this conversation allows the manager to coach the employee and help them understand the impact of their behaviors.
For instance, in the example of the employee who is consistently tardy to team meetings, the conversation should focus on how showing up late impacts how the team functions.
Disciplining employees should be handled in a structured, progressive process to ensure consistency in application and follow-up on the issues.
If an employee is corrected on an issue, and the issues come up again, multiple corrective steps should be taken as the severity increases and the decision is made to terminate the relationship.
4 Steps to Progressive Discipline
1. Verbal Counseling
The first step in a progressive discipline process is to merely have a conversation with the employee.
The conversation should focus on the issue, verification of facts, specifically from the employees’ perspective, clarification of organizational expectations, and formal communication about the seriousness of the incident.
This conversation is intended to help the employee understand how their behaviors need to change.
For instance, the conversation may go something like this.
“Jim, I would like to speak to you about the expectation of attending team meetings on time. I have noted that you have been more than 15 minutes late to five meetings in the last month. When you show up late, the rest of the team must regroup and attempt to catch you on the agenda. This is not a good use of their time and is unfair to other committee members. We take promptness very seriously and ask that you make an effort to be on time for future meetings.”
It is not fair to surprise an employee with further disciplinary action or termination if they are not aware of the critical nature of the incident.
After the conversation, the manager should document the date, time, location of the conversation, the content of the discussion, and agreed-upon behavior changes.
2. Written Warning
The second step should be another conversation that is documented in a written format.
The employee should be coached again about the severity of the issue and how the manager expects their behaviors to change.
“Jim, we met a few weeks ago about your tardiness to team meetings. Since that meeting, you have been tardy to four more meetings. I am officially putting you on notice that this behavior must change. We take this issue seriously and ask that you make an effort to attend meetings on time. “
The written warning should include a description of the problem, the manager’s expectation of the employee’s behavior, the consequences if expectations are not met, and the time frame for meeting expectations.
The employee should be asked to sign this document, and a copy should be given to the employee.
3. Employee Suspension and Improvement Plan
The third step is asking the employee to go home and develop a written action plan for improved performance within 24 hours.
The intent of this step is to give the employee a time out to think about the situation and reflect to see if they want to make an effort to improve – and the steps they will take to make that improvement.
“Jim, I was hoping we would not end up in this situation. However, your tardiness has continued even though we have had two meetings to correct this behavior. Our next step will be for you to take a few days off and consider the severity of these issues and whether you are interested in correcting these behaviors. I would then like you to create an improvement plan document explaining your understanding of the issue and what steps you will take to correct these behaviors.”
When the employee returns, the manager should review the improvement plan with the employee and make adjustments as necessary.
Failure to return with an improvement plan should trigger the termination process.
The fourth and final step is termination.
If the prior three steps are done effectively, this step should not surprise the employee, and there should be sufficient documentation for successful termination.
Terminations should include a process to make senior leadership aware that the termination is occurring.
Follow-up on employee issues is probably the most critical step in this process and is imperative to ensuring improved employee behaviors.
No One Likes To Discipline Employees
Finally, disciplining employees is never fun.
However, having a structured process to set clear expectations and hold employees accountable for performance and behavior issues can help to ensure a smooth transition in those rare occasions when an employee needs to be terminated.