Disciplining employees is always a tough task to handle, so it’s not surprising that many leaders and employees have a fear of the disciplinary process. However, discipline is a necessary part of business. That’s because sometimes, despite people’s best intentions, course correction must occur. As leaders who are tasked with doling out discipline, we should be careful to focus on the company’s needs in addition to the well-being of our employees throughout the process. We also need to keep in mind that our employees are our most valuable asset and should be treated with respect regardless of circumstances. In the end, although the disciplinary process can cause anxiety, fear and a host of other emotions, it can be a win-win for both sides.
When I started in this industry over 25 years ago, a nickname was bestowed upon me – I became known as “Grunt.” If I did anything that my foreman did not like, descriptive yet not-so-nice words escaped from his mouth, and I was threatened with unemployment. In another incident, I once watched a seasoned journeyman accidentally run a bucket into a phase, after which he was told by the foreman to grab his tool bag and lunch and get off the job. We know now that this kind of discipline and correction would never fly in today’s workplace – and it shouldn’t. Both leaders and employees deserve a disciplinary process that is fair and puts a focus on giving our employees – and the workplace – a chance for a positive forward direction.
The Human Element
In any corrective process, the different parties involved have different needs. What the employer wants in most cases are safe, professional and productive employees. For their part, employees also want a work environment that is safe and provides the opportunities and resources to meet their professional goals. To achieve all that, employers and employees first must understand these four human performance principles.
Feedback is an enormous part of the disciplinary process. So, what feedback do you – as a leader – need to give to your employees and how should you deliver it? Here’s one example: Instead of saying in an emotional manner, “Hey, I have told you 100 times that you have to show up for work on time,” sit the employee down in a one-on-one environment to discuss why it is important for him or her to show up on time.
However, feedback shouldn’t be one-sided. What feedback do employees need to give their leaders? It’s true that employees tend to not give much feedback to leaders out of a feeling of fear or discomfort, but employees should work through those feelings and take the time to discuss and clarify things with their leaders, such as what training is needed to prevent future recurrences or the need to have certain rules and regulations explained and clarified.
Accountability is another big part of the disciplinary process. Do you think a leader should expect a certain level of accountability from his or her employees? The short answer is yes, yet it is the leader’s responsibility to continually work to develop each employee and provide them with opportunities to demonstrate increasing levels of accountability.
Here’s another question: Is there a level of accountability that an employee should expect from their leader? Again, the short answer is yes. One of the very basic expectations of all employees is the expectation of a safe work environment. Leaders need to hold themselves accountable to ensure that they are doing everything required of them to keep employees safe and able to perform their assigned tasks.
The Leader’s Role
Now that we’ve covered two of the major pieces of the disciplinary process – feedback and accountability – I want to provide some additional guidance about how leaders can work to prevent the need to discipline an employee, plus some things to keep in mind if you do find yourself engaged in the process.
The Employee’s Role
You’d be hard-pressed to find an employee who derives any satisfaction from being disciplined due to an error that he or she made. Here are five ideas that employees should keep in mind to help them improve in their role and avoid disciplinary action.
Win-Win: It is Possible
The disciplinary process is tough on everyone, but leaders engage in it because it’s the right thing to do. On-the-job errors and other difficult issues must be addressed in order to maintain a safe, comfortable working environment for everyone. If done correctly, the end result of disciplinary action can be a win-win situation. To help you achieve a win-win, consider these four pieces of guidance.
In closing, the disciplinary process is a growth opportunity for both employees and leaders. The idea of discipline can invoke fear, but done correctly – in a caring, professional manner – it becomes a tool we can use to empower employees and inspire them to become better at what they do.
About the Author: Mack Turner, CUSP, CUSA, is the executive director of the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction (www.ispconline.com) and the board chairman and a founding member of the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network (www.usoln.org).
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