Job Attitudes - Discipline at Work

By: Bob Pearce

I.The positive side of discipline

Discipline does not necessarily mean punishing people. We have to see it as a learning opportunity to help a person grow and meet the goals of the organization. Because it is not a natural like to take disciplinary action, and because we do not do it often, it is fair to say that we are not good at it. There are a few things that we must remember when that inevitable disciplinary interview takes place.

II.Time and Place

Firstly the discipline must be carried out in private and never in front of a person's work colleagues. This is common sense but when something has been done which annoys us it is easy to be vocal about it, there and then. Take a deep breath, get all the facts and plan what action we intend taking on the disciplinary side. There is no other way. Secondly, the discipline must be carried out with empathy, that is, irrespective of what the person has done we must never lose respect for that individual as a person. We can comment on and criticize performance but never transfer that to the person. We also must make sure that is understood.


III.Specific examples and actions

We must be very specific regarding the things we are not happy with. Sometimes this is quite easy when someone has done something very wrong, but there may be other times that there may be an attitudinal problem. So we need to give concrete examples a person can relate to; generalizations are of no use. The strategy to use when talking to a person is to firstly make an evaluation, e.g. "When you do that job in that way". Secondly, the problem must be described, "The problem we run into is that it affects others in this way", etc. and finally we prescribe: "In future I want you to do it this way", etc. These three phases should make it easier for someone who is not completely comfortable taking disciplinary action. If there is a violation of the business's rules or regulations, then they should be stated very specifically to the person or persons concerned so that they know that those rules are not open to further discussion, and are set in concrete.

IV.Agreed changes

At the end of the disciplinary session there must be an agreement on the changes of behaviour that are required, and a control mechanism put in place to evaluate whether in fact those changes have taken place. It happens often that after the disciplinary session nothing is followed up. If during the session it is found that training or guidance are required to achieve the change in behaviour, then these are implemented.

V.Monitor results

It is essential to acknowledge positive progress. Conversely realistic action must be taken if the progress proves to be unsatisfactory. In that case it may be necessary to go back to square one and start the discipline procedure all over again. There is a limit to this however, and people must know that if they can't adhere to agreed procedures, or meet promises they have made, then their futures are very limited within the business.

Finally we must be sure that we are fair, firm and consistent with the discipline procedure. We must be totally objective with all people in the business, and not allow favouritism to be evident.

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