Top 15 Employee Discipline Tips from the Pros

Cody Cromwell
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Point to specific exampl es when addressing negative behavior.

For example, say, "I will address your habit of arriving at work 10 minutes late on Wednesday. Instead of saying ‘We need to talk,’ I’m going to put an X on a calendar that marks our meeting each week. I will also go over the penalties for tardiness we already have in place…."

TIP: Make sure to create a summary of what you will discuss during the meeting and have it available to refer to after the meeting ends.

Address small problems before they become big problems.

Employees who are disrespectful during office hours or become disruptive when they are reprimanded, lose respect for the boss. So in-office discipline shouldn’t be harsh; it should be prompt and encourage positive behavior.

If you wait too long to address small offenses, they can turn into bigger problems. The best way to nip a small problem in the bud is to address it immediately.

Address common behaviors that get in the way of work.

Recognize and encourage employees who model the behavior you want to see.

Regulate or put an end to those behaviors that are counterproductive to productivity and the tone you’ve established.

Agree on formal policies about the kinds of conduct you want to see in the office.

Create a positive, cooperative atmosphere that invites responsibility and teamwork.

Employee discipline is a two-way street.

Communicate to your employees what you expect from them as well as what you expect them to deliver.

Do your best to treat your employees respectfully both inside and outside the office.

Remind yourself and your employees of what’s at stake in terms of your organization’s mission and culture.

Treat your employees with dignity and include them in your decisions about mutual goals, meetings and projects.

Have regular 1 on 1s with your reports.

But make sure to make them productive.

If you’re not having one on ones with your reports, you’re missing out on opportunities to take advantage of the rapport you’ve developed with your employees over the years.

According to Robert Half & Associates, 46% of the people responsible for hiring, maintaining and terminating employees say it’s the most effective way to address any employee concerns.

One on ones also provide an opportunity for the situations you’re faced with to be framed within the context of the reports history at your company. For example, new employees can be asked ‘What past habits or circumstances have you addressed in the past that led to your current situation?’ This way, they can tell you what they’ve overcome, and you know whether your instincts about their need for more oversight are right.

Don’t fall into the trap of looking at one on ones as a blame-exercise. Instead of focusing on the mistakes your employee has made, try to explain how you would do things differently, and see if you can help the employee avoid the problem in the future.

Lead by example.

Nowadays, there’s a whole generation of employees who don’t even need an employer to get the point. They know a thing or two about discipline and exactly how to manage it in the workplace.

Hawaiian businessman Eddie Kamae, who happens to be the chairman of the National Shuffleboard Association, was inspired to write this article by an email he received from his son in the Air Force. Kamae’s son explained that the goal of his company is to accomplish something like the Wright brothers’ first flight. The thing is, there’s a specific way they have to fly. If they don’t put one wing above another, the plane won’t fly. Gotta love those military folks who have a neat abbreviation for everything – in this case, it’s one-winged flight.

Add a physical activity to the daily schedule.

Wear them out in the morning.

Let employees see what their peers are working on.

Employees want to do a good job. They want to feel appreciated and inspired. All of these things make it much easier for advisers to give advice and anyone who has worked in a service position knows just how important it is to look good in the eyes of customers. So it’s a good thing that most employees at the firm will tell you that they’d happily do a little extra work to ensure that their coworkers are showing up at work on time, following the dress code and generally performing to the best of their abilities.

Unfortunately, the problem is that –more work” is exactly what they’re often given. At one firm where our advisers make the rules, there’s no way for people to tell each other’s customers that they’re only taking on cases that they can fit in their schedules. The only way to give that kind of warning and instruction is by making it clear in the rules and regulations that each employee has its own delivery deadline for specific types of work, and getting it on a regular basis.

Observe legally sound guidelines.

Besides saying that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil," most employers keep the majority of their discipline guidelines on the book and out of the hands of the boss. The trouble is even the most well-guided organizations tend to have a few slip-ups along the way and people get disciplined even though they weren’t in violation of the rules.

What’s going to happen? Will you allow them to keep their job? If it was a slip-up on their part, then probably in most cases.

But if they’re the one who’s going to suffer most because of a policy in place that they didn’t create, then that’s another story.

Of course this "should" be the case, but the truth is a lot of us worry about getting in trouble for punishment, rather than for punishment even though the employee in this case may well deserve it. So how do you wiggle out of punishment without busting your chops?

Set your policy goals around what you want to achieve, and then define and communicate the "rules" you don’t want them doing.

For example:

Be consistent in applying the rules.

Don’t take every infraction personally. Expect some backlash when you question a company-wide policy. Practice what you’re preaching in all situations, not just with employees. Some rules are meant to be exceeded, such as allowing an employee to work from home once a month, or allowing a colleague to sleep in morning.

Take the time to walk around the office during lunch. Don’t let long lunches be a signal for laziness. Nor should employees rely on food to tide them over during busy periods. The same applies to food provided by the company. If you’re forcing employees to eat company food, consider offering healthy, homemade alternatives, such as a PB&J or fruit salad.

Teach employees the basics of conflict resolution. Some will believe that behaving professionally means getting along with everyone, while you may believe that being tough on unprofessional behavior up front stymies disruptive and hostile behavior that devalues the office culture. If necessary, you can reserve a date in the calendar for three-way resolution meetings called conflict coaching.

Make your expectations clear, and give examples of both positive and negative examples that will help them cultivate the right attitude and work ethic.

Never leave a meeting with a colleague without addressing the matter they raised. On occasion, they may want to talk to you in person in order to get their point across.

Tailor your approach to the nature & severity of the problem.

In terms of severity, it’s obvious that a minor infraction should be treated differently from a major infraction – but what makes something minor? When we think about a disciplinary action, we’re assessing the nature and severity of the behavior. The severity of a behavior already implies the “nature of the behavior” that we wish to change, but the nature is also based on the situation. Some people bite their nails, but this is a normal, low-stress behavior and it’s also very common. While some people may be bothered by nail biting, the level of personal tolerance varies from person to person. In a work environment, nail biting can be a precursory behavior, a symptom of stress, boredom, or a number of other stressors.

Here’s how each of these three options (i.e. minor infraction, problem behavior, and stress behavior) should be handled differently:

Pre-cursory behavior: Minor infraction

A minor infraction is a small, non-detrimental problem often due to impatience or lack of attention to detail. Persistent minor infractions should not be dealt with severely, but rather should be approached with a light corrective action, such as a warning.

Establish & regularly monitor operations workflow.

Now that you have a disciplined work routine, you need to provide your employees with properly. So the first step is to establish a standard work process. Define the process for work as a whole and specify tasks to each employee. Then create a matrix or organization chart that lists all the responsibilities and assign work stations, equipment, and files. The absence of such a process will result in making your employees’ job too difficult.

Quickly measure key performance indicators (KPIs). To know how an employee is doing, you need a set of well-defined and well-managed KPIs. Establish KPIs at the beginning of the fiscal year and review progress at the end of it. There are various ways to do it:

Review employee performance. Check if the daily work setup and processes are completed to the written plan. You can also observe if the employee follows proper safety measures when working with equipment.

Monitor employee performance. Monitor employee performance through regular checkups. Schedule a 60-minute checkup with the employee on a daily basis. During the routine, you should evaluate if he is following the company’s rules and procedures and if he can meet the deadlines. Also check for any distractions causing him to lose time. If an employee shows pattern deviation, you should modify his job duties to minimize the impact on his productivity.

Define the problem in a simple way.

Define the problem in a simple way. All too often, it’s easy for employees to get angry and make decisions with a ‘Why me?‘ mentality when it comes to discipline.

Try to think through the situation from your employee’s point of view. Take out the emotion and reword the complaint to make it more approachable.

Make sure you focus on the work task that needs improvement, not your own frustration.

Reward positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. Employees will make mistakes. It’s part of the job. But that doesn’t mean they need to do this on a regular basis. Expose your employees to positive examples of what’s acceptable behavior and treat them as positive role models.

Train your employees in problem solving and conflict resolution using an employee handbook. These skills may be all they’ll ever need to avoid disciplinary action and conflicts altogether.

Check your own behavior. As the leader of your organization, it’s your responsibility to set the standard.

Make sure you speak to your employees in a positive manner on a regular basis without belittling their opinions or their mistakes.

Offer free lunch to minimize too-long breaks.

High-engagement employees can endure many long breaks without costing your company much time or money. A single lunch break chews up less than five minutes, after all. Shake up those lunch routines and make it fast-food friendly with a free lunch break that only a few people take advantage of. Give the rest of the team the option of lunchtime respites.

Offer a free lunch and let your employees decide what to eat. If twenty people decide on the same fast-food eatery, that can take about thirty minutes. If the ten who don’t eat lunch bring their sandwiches to their work space and eat at their desk, that beats hoofing it to the fast-food joint with an extra ten minutes of prep time added on top of the free time for the caf?.

Print a list of free food places, hand out the list, and tell your employees to check off the lunch stop that takes the least amount of time. Then pick up the tab and send them all out for lunch.

If the lunch place is expensive or just way out of your budget, let them bring in cheap food from home. Going to a cheap restaurant is a lot less fun than going to a cheap buff? —te, so people will bring in leftovers if they’re given the option.

Develop a coaching/counseling memo.

When you first start an employee’s career include a memo in their file reviewing the employee’s performance and providing them with directions on how to improve. The memo should be personalized for each employee based on their performance.

Incident Management Process

Every employee needs to be taught to manage an incident and prioritize issues. Here’s an employee discipline tip that can be used to train an employee in cases where they need to mange a large incident.

Once you’ve determined that an incident is a high priority issue, list the problem in the employee’s incident management process.

Set up a weekly meeting at the next regularly scheduled staff meeting for you to meet with the employee to review the incident and address the problem.

Set up a meeting of the higher management team to address the incident together.

After the problem is resolved, have the employee meet individually with you to review the incident and talk about how they handled the situation.

This method helps ensure that the employee understands that they are responsible for incidents, that they should prioritize and manage an incident, and that the problem should be handled thoroughly and quickly. It also gives you an opportunity to meet with them to ensure they understand the problem and the lesson learned.

Lean on company culture

To help you control employees…

While lean management has gained a lot of attention in recent years, the lack of interpersonal relationships has often been a kink in the system. The thing is, culture is hard to define. People differ in their views on what constitutes a great culture and what strict company policies should be. You also cannot make culture work if it is not aligned with business objectives or results. This is where lean management and culture work hand in hand, especially when it comes to disciplining employees who break company rules.

What are some of the ways that culture can help you shape up your workforce?

They embrace change and participate in management decisions…

The more employees buy into the company’s culture, the more likely they are to become proactively involved and react positively when any changes are implemented. In a sense, they are not just accepting change, but enabling change through their support for the direction of the company.

They offer suggestions for improvement…

It is not enough to have an understanding of the company’s culture – employees must also be continuously familiar with the company’s goals and how they can contribute to achieving those goals. Making suggestions for improvement is a key part of this.

They are not afraid to be wrong…

Encourage Discipline Through Engagement

When it comes to disciplining your employees, it’s always best to lead by example and be transparent. Your employees will be more likely to respect you if you make it clear that you’re aware of and involved with whatever rules you set. Let them know that you’re always available to answer questions and help them learn new things.

Additionally, create and share a culture of supporting one another by publishing new procedures and guidelines for your company.

Make it clear to your employees that you trust them and that you encourage their creativity.

Reward Good Behavior

Reward your employees with a token of your appreciation for following your rules. This could be as simple as a pizza party if you just instituted a new dress code policy (which, of course, should be shared with your employees beforehand).

But if you want to get rid of a bad habit, make a culture of consequences. Instead of rewarding the good behavior, create consequences for the bad behavior that ultimately help to eliminate it.

Remind Employees

Of course, be sure to remind your employees, in advance, what the consequences are for “bad” behavior. But additionally, you want to remind them what the consequences are for “good” behavior. Make it clear that there are no consequences for following rules and holding each other accountable for doing so.

Over to You

The ultimate goal of the in-house blogger is to create useful, entertaining, and effective content. Your skills and training will pave the way for other results. If you�re pursuing the position of an in-house blogger, you�ll most likely have experience as an employee, student, and/or business owner yourself. Most people assume that the role of a blogger will revolve around creating new content, but there are plenty of other important aspects that go into the position.

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Besides brand building and content creation, in-house bloggers are often given the opportunity to network with people and the team at their workplace. Do your research on the company you�re in, and use your professional connections to build relationships between teams and departments. Networking and building relationships will help you with your future job hunt.

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