In our last post we talked about holding accountability which is a way to reduce undesired behavior that hurts the team, but sometimes even after minor checks and held standards, there is an employee that just doesn’t seem to pull their weight, or continuously causes issues. So, in a situation where there is good organizational health how do you discipline properly without destroying the proper dynamic of a cohesive team?
Start by having a rock-solid
handbook that fully details proper and improper behavior. Additionally, detail the disciplining process and specific incidences that would lead to immediate termination. Give every employee a copy and have them sign a slip saying they received it. Anytime you make amendments, ensure that you print a copy of the amendment and have each employee sign a sheet of paper saying they have read the amendment.
Now that we have the handbook, let’s move onto disciplining. When there is a problem with the behavior of an employee, address it as quickly as possible. Let the employee know what behavior or action was unacceptable, why it was unacceptable, why correcting the behavior is important, how they can correct the problem, and what will happen if this problem reoccurs. When finished have the employee repeat back to you what you told them so that you know they understand. Compliment the employee on something they do well and assure them you want them to still remain a valued member of the team.
Before we dig in more deeply, I want to express the importance of always having two managers in the room when disciplining an employee. The second manager does not need to say anything, but should be there as a witness. This protects both the employee and the manager. There are instances where one party may say that the other party attacked them, berated them, or something else. Having a witness ensures both parties stay honest.
Now let’s take a look at why each step of disciplining is important.
Identifying the unacceptable behavior – This step is pretty self explanatory, but make sure your clearly define the behavior that was unacceptable. Cite the standard expressed in the handbook when possible.
Defining why the behavior was unacceptable – explaining not only the what but the why helps an employee see why the initial rule was put into place and makes the discipline more understandable.
Why correcting bad behavior is important – Help the employee identify why the good behavior will help the team as a whole. Assisting the employee in seeing the repercussions of their actions helps to assure a greater success rate after discipline.
Explaining how to correct the problem – Explaining how to correct the problem makes it easy for an employee to correct their behavior. By eliminating any interpretation problems, the explanation gives a clear action plan for success.
Detailing what will happen with continued bad behavior – This step reiterates the seriousness of the issue. Many employees may think their behavior is problematic but not something so serious as to get them fired. Be sure to define the next steps. I will give you my recommended steps below.
Have the employee repeat it back – By having the employee repeat back what you said, you help to avoid any discrepancies in what was talked about. You ensure everyone heard the same things and understand the steps to move forward.
Compliment the employee – I like to save this for the end and use it as a motivator rather than specifically using the compliment sandwich (compliment, discipline, compliment). While using the sandwich technique may be applicable in some situations, I feel the sandwich technique can often minimize the discipline and make the employee think that their poor behavior is not that big of a deal. By starting with the discipline, you clearly catch their attention and detail the severity of the issue.
By complimenting afterwards however you can reiterate that the problem is with the employee’s behavior not the employee themselves. Say something like: “I know you will get this issue corrected, and I don’t expect this talk to occur in the future. I needed to make sure we have everyone pulling their weight. While you struggled with (the issue) you are really great at (something they are great at). I appreciate the work you put into your position and know you strive to improve yourself. I know we will move forward from this and build a stronger team with your help.”
Every time you discipline someone make sure you have something in writing. This will help you immensely in future discipline and also in unemployment court should you ever have to terminate the individual.
Here are the steps I would follow:
First, you have general accountability. This includes checking up on work and behavior throughout the shift and giving quick verbal corrections such as “Lindsey, don’t forget to stack your plates,” or “Stewart, make sure you are flagging you tables when you greet them.” This general accountability does not require documentation.
Second, is the written warning. This is the first step in formal discipline. This is when you sit the employee down and go through the steps listed above. Before bringing the employee into a meeting formally, write down the issue that you are disciplining them for (if you can pull exact wording from an employee handbook or other company document or company wide notice, this is helpful), with their full name and the date of the incident. Also, list what will happen if the issue occurs again. Laying this out in writing makes future discipline much easier. And ensures the employee is not surprised.
Have the employee and the disciplining manager sign and date the write-up. If the employee refuses to sign agreeing to the behavior or discipline. Have them write their position on the back with their signature. The employee does not have to agree with the discipline as long as it is not a further issue. By having them sign on the back, even though they don’t agree, it proves that you had talked with them. Again, this is important if this becomes a recurring issue.
If the written warning does not work and the issue becomes recurring. Again, write down the issue your are disciplining them for (using verbiage from employee handbooks or internal documents where possible). Write down the date of the incident. Additionally, write down the previous discipline date from the last write up and attach a copy of it to your now, suspension notice. I recommend that after the verbal accountability, write-up above, and now this third incident, you discipline with a suspension. This is the last step prior to termination and is a clear indicator of a serious offense. On the bottom of this suspension notice write-up, spell out clearly that “If this happens again, you will be terminated.” Have the employee and disciplining manager sign and date just like they did the last time.
Finally, if the issue occurs again, terminate the employee. Have them sign a written termination notice that follows the same format as the suspension notice. Attach copies of both the write-up and suspension notice to the termination notice. Again, signatures from both the employee and manager. The employee is least likely to sign this form, and it’s actually the least important one for them to sign, as they are forced to agree with it through their termination. When they find a new position or file for unemployment they are proving that they were informed of their termination.
After the employee leaves or is escorted out have the disciplining manager write down a full recap of the incidents and methods of discipline. This is helpful when trying to recall later. This is used primarily for in-house purposes in the event you need to prepare for an unemployment hearing.
Follow a consistent disciplining process every single time for similar issues. Follow the same; write-up, suspension, termination steps with every issue. This helps to set the standard and is not a surprise to any employee. Do not give one employee a lighter sentence than another because you like them more or because you have a busy weekend coming up and you cannot afford to suspend them. If you want to sustain high organizational health, you must stay consistent even when inconvenient. This will also help you if you ever have to fight in unemployment court.
The only exception to bypassing the disciplining process is in cases where stricter discipline is needed. Never go looser on your standards, but in cases where employee safety, theft, or health issues are involved, immediate termination is justified. To further protect yourself should this be necessary, clearly lay this out in your employee handbook.
It is never desirable to terminate an employee and even disciplining can be difficult at times, however you owe it to your other employees and the company to hold a consistent high standard for everyone. When everyone is treated consistently and fairly you help retain the good employees, weed out the bad, and maintain optimal organizational health.