Everything You Need to Know About Progressive Discipline


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How to Administer Progressive Discipline

Unlike what most of us may believe, people do not get fired for messing up once or twice. Yes, your boss or manager may be having a bad day and might be a bit snippy about it, but you don’t need to be anxious about losing your job. Yet. 

You see, it is very costly to hire new people. It’s much more efficient to train those already employed. As a new employee, you are not expected to know everything about doing your job from day one. No, you will be trained, and you will make mistakes. And this is where progressive discipline begins.

It is a process of dealing with behavior or performance that does not meet the standards or falls outside the company’s guidelines. As we shall see, there are varying degrees of this, but first, let us take a deeper look at what progressive discipline is.

Definition and Guidelines of Progressive Discipline

So, what is progressive discipline? It is employing more and more severe steps to punish an employee who fails to rectify problematic behavior that negatively impacts the workplace’s efficiency.

That’s the definition, at least. Don’t let it frighten you. It is only normal to be chastised if you are at fault, but it isn’t just that. Every mistake you make is also an opportunity for you to do better. Making mistakes is nothing terrible, but repeating the same error can be. You have to find a way to solve it and not repeat it, and, initially, your boss or manager will only give you feedback so that you can correct your behavior and come out victorious.

What needs to be kept in mind is that those in charge of handing out discipline will only use the most minimal form of punishment required to show you the way. It is your job to pick up on it and improve yourself. The severity scales in relation to the situation.

However, it is very easy to go too far or not make enough of an impact. Therefore, progressive discipline policy is something a lot of thought goes into. Some of the guidelines people have to consider are:

  • Don’t assume. Always check. Make sure to ask the employee for their side of the story before you choose what to do.

  • Maintain a well-documented process of your investigation of the situation.

  • Miscommunication happens, so if you have to reiterate a point to an employee who has previously made the same mistake, do so. If they correct their behavior, great. If not, and you determine that it was not an honest mistake, you can escalate the disciplining severity. If you keep repeating the same thing, they might start believing that that is the extent of disciplinary action and, thus, get complacent. Remind them otherwise.

  • However, don’t take this too far. The end goal is to let the employee know that their behavior is unacceptable and show them ways to improve it. Instead of looking at this as punishment, think of it as a warning to the employee.

  • Remember to judge on a case-by-case basis. Nothing is stating that you have to follow steps A-Z. In a situation demanding of it, like theft or assault, termination can be the least severe action you can take. Everything depends on your judgment.

  • If the situation calls for it, a witness may sit in on the meeting between the employee and their manager. This witness must not be a peer of the employee in question, as this will add bias. However, this is optional, and the employee can choose whether they want a witness present at all.

  • While it is prudent to keep Human Resources abreast of all the happenings at every stage, it is necessary to involve HR when the disciplinary action required involves suspension or termination.

Steps in Progressive Discipline

As in any process, progressive discipline has a few steps you can follow. These are listed below.

  • As early as you can, make it very clear to the employee what you expect them to do. In most cases, if they don’t meet expectations, it is because they don’t know what the expectations are. On the other hand, employees might be going through crises in their personal lives, which they would not be comfortable telling managers about. Try to get to the root of the problem and solve it - if you can. If not, try to accommodate it.

  • In case of no improvement despite repeated warnings, you might want to resort to verbal reprimands. In unambiguous terms, tell the offending employee that the company can and will terminate their employment at any point during the progressive discipline administration unless they get their act together. Document all the conversations you have this way.

  • If the poor performance continues, write a formal warning letter in the employee’s file. It should be a catalyst for better performance without breaking their spirits. If you feel that they are taking steps to get better, don’t give up on them. Keep providing your counsel as long as there is a chance. Some people only need to know that someone is willing to believe in them to get their act together.

  • For the genuinely hopeless cases, start with awarding suspension and unpaid workdays. Begin with one day, then three, then five, and go from there.

  • In case the employee still does not respond to all this, it is best to terminate their employment then and there.

How to Communicate Disciplinary Action

You would not want to announce to the world at large that you are punishing someone, would you? You wouldn’t. It’s humiliating. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to set up a meeting in a private office with the employee in question. The chances are good that they will already be aware of what this is about.

If this is the first or second time, you might want to simply have a one-on-one conversation. Tell the employee clearly what they are doing wrong, why that is, and how they can do better. Be as clear as you can and leave no room for doubt. As always, document the conversation.

However, if the employee is a known troublemaker, you may want to inform HR and have someone sit in with you as a witness. Or a note taker. Know that the employee can also have a witness of their choice present during this meeting. Usually, this is a friend or a coworker, and they have every right to ask questions, so don’t deny them this.

If your company is attached to any worker’s union, then the employee can request their union representative to sit in as their witness instead. Have the conversation as normal and outline the numerous steps you have taken so far (and will continue to take).

Talking with the Employee During Disciplinary Action

You must be very aware of how you talk to the employee in question during a disciplinary action. Insults are non-effective and demeaning, and they have no positive results. Instead, strive to be patient and articulate in your speech.

The first thing you need to point out to the employee is what they are doing wrong. If they’re slamming the door too loud, point it out. If their methods are inadequate, point it out. Also, tell them how their actions negatively affect their immediate coworkers and the company at large. Employees might think that they are too small to matter, but remind them that this is not the case.

In the same vein, tell them clearly what stage of the progressive discipline they are on. If it’s an initial counseling session, say so. If it is a verbal warning they are receiving, make that clear also. Never leave this ambiguous.

Now that you have set the tone for the meeting, it is time to extend an olive branch. Tell them that you understand that life can be hard at times and that work effectiveness can ebb and flow. Reassure them that you empathize and are actively trying to understand. Sometimes, that little thing can make all the difference.

Next, tell them where they can get help. If it is a behavior that is easily corrected, tell them how. If it is an issue that can be accommodated, tell them that you will try. If you happen to have an employee manual that has an answer, point them towards this resource. 

Finally, tell them the consequences of continuing their current pattern of behavior. Tell them that they can be suspended or even fired if they don’t self-correct soon. To end it, ask if they understand.

You should, of course, field any questions they have. It is a stressful experience for many, and they can be perplexed by the end. Give them your time, and patiently explain whatever they bring up. 

Streamlining HR Processes - Including Progressive Discipline

As you can see, progressive discipline is a dynamic HR process. It is an essential part of corporate life, which is already busy enough. In case you need help setting any of this up, please contact us for a free trial of Lanteria products. It is the best investment you’ll make!

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