Employee Discipline: What Every HR Manager Needs to Know

HR Insights for Professionals

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Monday, September 2, 2019

Consistent processes and policies are essential if you want to achieve high standards in employee discipline, which is an important function of the HR department and a key part of overall business performance.

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There are various processes and components that must come together to create a successful, smooth-running business. One of the most important ingredients of all is an efficient and well-managed workforce, the responsibility for which ultimately lies with the HR department.

This means HR managers have a lot to think about, including the most effective approaches to maintaining employee discipline, which can prove critical to the overall performance of the company.

Here are some of the key things to bear in mind on this front:

Employee discipline is good for business

Maintaining high standards in employee discipline contributes to the overall stability and productivity of your workforce, which is clearly a big advantage for the business.

Workers who are happy with how the HR department deals with disciplinary issues are likely to feel more positive about the company as a whole and more motivated to work hard and deliver results.

Having processes in place to spot discipline issues early, before they become serious problems, will help to keep disciplinary cases to a minimum, giving the HR department more time to focus on other tasks and goals.

Be proactive

If you want to stay on top of employee discipline and stop minor concerns from developing into major problems, you need to take a proactive approach.

Encourage every member of the HR department to stay vigilant to any signs of a deterioration in discipline, which could be anything from people regularly turning up late to unprofessional behavior in the workplace.

Not everything will develop into a serious disciplinary matter, and often, a discreet and informal chat will be enough to ensure employees know what’s expected of them.

Be consistent

Everyone wants to feel they’re working for a company that’s fair and treats its employees equally. It’s therefore vital to prioritize consistency in your employee discipline policies, with every member of the workforce - from the most senior managers to the newest recruits - expected to uphold the same standards.

“Maintain consistency and follow the policy. Be fair but consistent; anything else undermines your credibility.” - Matthew W. Burr, Human Resources Consultant at Burr Consulting, LLC.

Document everything

Having a document of every piece of pertinent information relating to disciplinary matters helps to ensure maximum consistency and transparency throughout the organization. This can be particularly important in complex cases involving multiple individuals and perspectives, or if you have to defend yourself against complaints.

Your employee discipline policies and expectations, as well as the recommended actions for employees who fall short of those guidelines, should be clearly stated in writing and made available to all staff.

Every step of individual disciplinary cases should also be documented for you and the employee to refer back to later, should it be necessary.

Treat people with respect

Every member of your workforce deserves to be treated respectfully, regardless of their disciplinary record or any recent problems they’ve experienced.

Being civil, courteous and professional helps to ensure that disciplinary proceedings get off on the right foot and achieve a positive outcome. Furthermore, maintaining a respectful attitude ensures you’re leading by example and demonstrating how employees are expected to treat one another.

Explain the problem in detail

Any member of staff whose performance or conduct in the workplace requires a disciplinary response should be given a full and frank explanation of why the action is being taken.

In some cases, employees might not realize why certain instances of behavior are out of step with what the business expects. An informal chat and a reminder of company policies and standards could be enough to put them back on the right track and stop similar issues from occurring again in future.

It’s not about punishment

Perhaps most importantly of all, disciplinary procedures shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment for someone who has done something wrong. There’s much more to be gained from taking a constructive approach that looks at the root cause of the issue, helping the employee, their line manager and the HR department come up with solutions to address it.

This enables healthier, more positive relationships that benefit all concerned.

I believe we should treat employees as adults. This means having a conversation that's less punitive and more instructive. Avoid phrases like ‘this can result in further disciplinary action’ and focus on observable behaviors and specific solutions. Take it a step further and ask the employee how they think they can improve. This promotes ownership and diminishes the need for the employee to defend or prove the HR manager wrong.” - Christine DiDonato, founder and president of Career Revolution, Inc.

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