Discipline in the Workplace: A Good Behavioral Policy Is Good Business
Posted by Eric Friedman
Most employees always want to do right by their employees, but in some instances, some may behave in ways that prove problematic. Companies set policies and regulations to ensure that their employees are treated fairly and that they in turn respect the rules that keep the organization running smoothly. When the rules are broken, managers should step in to find out why it happened and discipline the employee in the best manner possible.
It’s not the most pleasant aspect of the job, but workplace discipline is very important to keep business and employees working well. Most managers opt for progressive discipline, which gives the employee a chance to correct the problem. Through progressive discipline, employers can increase the level of disciplinary action if the problematic behavior continues, eventually leading to termination if necessary.
Every company should have a thorough discipline policy that is shared with each employee and outlines the disciplinary actions that will be taken if his or her behavior or conduct becomes problematic. A good policy can help a company avoid problems that could negatively impact its employees and business. It can also establish a foundation for a more harmonious workplace. Here are just some of the benefits a clear disciplinary policy can help you achieve.
- Set High Standards. Having an established policy that is known to all employees and applied fairly can help set standards of conduct among workers. As with most relationships, the employer-employee relationship must operate on a foundation of trust and understanding. A discipline policy can help foster those values, as long as it is fairly drafted and implemented. Managers must treat all employees equally under the policy; otherwise it will fail or worse, lead employees to actively challenge its validity.
- Correct Behavior. Many times an employee will violate a rule or act in a way outside the norm unknowingly or even to test boundaries. A discipline policy can help managers know exactly how to handle these instances so that they don’t become common practice. Say an employee consistently arrives 15 minutes late to work. If he’s never approached by his manager, he may never know it’s a problem. However, if the manager lets him know that tardiness is unacceptable, he gives the employee the chance to correct his behavior before it becomes a real problem.
- Avoid Problems. Addressing policy violations and misconduct early is the best way to avoid bigger problems later. As previously mentioned, an employee who is acting against a rule may be doing so because she doesn’t know better or thinks it’s not a big deal. If she is allowed to keep breaking the rules and only confronted after some time, she’s likely to correctly point out that she didn’t think it was a problem since nobody ever said anything about it. Similarly, other employees who see someone breaking the rules and never getting reprimanded might be encouraged to follow suit.
- Prevent Lawsuits. One of the most important reasons for a good discipline policy is that it allows you to handle policy violations in a manner that will prevent future lawsuits. For instance, if an employee files a harassment complaint about another employee and the complaint is never investigated, or the guilty party is never disciplined, the harrassed employee might opt to sue the company. Another example is if an employee is let go for breaking a rule, yet was never given the chance to address it, he or she might sue the company for wrongful termination.
Knowing how to formulate your workplace discipline policy and what to include in it is the first step towards establishing a process for disciplinary action within your company. Consider these tips when drafting a policy.
- Review the employee handbook to know exactly what employees are expected to do and how they’re expected to behave. Draft disciplinary actions based on that, making sure that all employees receive copies of both. Have them sign a statement saying that they’ve read both the handbook and the workplace discipline policy.
- Set a progressive discipline process and outline it carefully in the policy. This will clarify how incidents will be handled by managers and employers. A standard process can include a verbal warning, given to the employee by his or her supervisor in private as an opportunity for him to correct the behavior. The next step would be a written warning, which goes on the employee’s permanent company record. Then, a probationary period would be set, during which the employee is warned not to exhibit the problematic behavior again. Further infractions would lead to suspension without pay, as a final warning. And finally, if the problem persists, the employee would be terminated.
- Include specific guidelines for managers and supervisors who have to enforce the policy. Make sure they understand the policies and the process thoroughly, and stress the importance of being consistent with employees. Explain how managers should handle an instance of rule-breaking or problematic behavior and encourage them to do so early, when the problem is first noticed, to avoid it turning into something bigger.
Remember, a proper workplace discipline policy is not just good for employees and managers. Setting a standard for behavior and outlining clear disciplinary processes is also good for business.
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Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.