Tips for Managers on Effectively Disciplining an Employee

As a manager, you know it’s your duty to deal with staff who’ve broken a rule, but sitting them down for that tough conversation about it is never going to be a task you look forward to.

Therese Ravell, director of Impact HR, knows only too well how hard it can be when disciplining a member of staff and highlights how some managers go to extremes to avoid those challenging conversations with individuals.

You know you need to put somebody right when they’ve done wrong, but there’s also the human element involved — what if the employee shows remorse, regret — or even starts to cry during a disciplinary meeting?

For some managers, getting the balance between remaining emotionless and professional, while showing a degree of empathy, can be hard.

With the right guidance, there are ways of conducting a meeting that will make these tasks easier to do.

Here are some top tips from HR and employment professionals when it comes to ways of managing an employee who has fallen short of following a company rule or policy:

Jesse Van Der Walt, talent leader of Employsure, says that a good manager needs to give an employee clear examples of occasions when the employee has broken a rule or not done what they should have.

Telling somebody what they are not doing without having anything to back it up is a no-go area for managers, as it could lead to accusations around unfairness from the employee — and that’s the last thing you want.

Jesse states that by explaining clearly and calmly what the employee has or hasn’t done — and what they need to do — will give the employee a clear idea about the rules and what they need to do differently.

It sounds so obvious! Yet, there are still managers who speak to staff about their behaviour in an open plan environment in full earshot of their colleagues. For some employees, this can be so intimidating — not to mention unprofessional!

When you need to tell an employee something they’ve done wrong, Jesse talks about the importance of meeting with them in a separate room — in private — to give them the respect of being told something without the awkwardness of others listening in. Where possible, it may also be worth asking HR team member to accompany you.

For HR professional, Therese Ravell, of Impact HR, one of the biggest issues for managers is assuming that speaking with an employee will be horrible and that they have to go in as if preparing for a bullfight. If planned in the right way, she says it doesn’t have to be like this.

Therese highlights that the meeting is a two-way dialogue, and managers need to make use of open-ended questions, listening to what the employee has to say, before giving feedback on where the employee is short. Therese says that the employee may think they’re doing a great job at something, whereas you as a manager need it to be done in a different way.

Once explained, the employee can then go forward and adapt the way they’re working so that they can meet the required expectation.

It is essential to be transparent with precisely what the situation is and what must change — this will help control a situation and emotions to some degree, says David Perks, CEO of performance management platform, Pay Compliment. He acknowledges the importance of employee feedback being based on observation and using certain language to get across to the employee what they need to do differently.

For example, he suggests using language such as: “When you do [observed behaviour] it makes me feel like… and I’d like you to…”

This explains, in a calm way, what is expected and puts the points across calmly and fairly.

David says that once the feedback has been given, it gives the employee the opportunity to commit to the request.

For introverted managers, David highlights the importance of giving regular feedback, as this then helps to remove a lot of the anxiety about giving a disciplinary or facing a tough conversation with an employee.

David recognises that performance management can sometimes be intimidating for managers, but it is all about sharing expectations, looking at results and offering feedback.

Leadership and culture change trainer, Cheryl Daley, observes that introverted managers have a style that means they need to prepare for what direction the conversation may take during an employee disciplinary. This may mean preparing what they will say in different situations and coming up with some helpful plans of action to assist the employee with performing better in their role. This may involve some coaching on the job, which is less confrontational and more effective for the employee and the manager.

Cheryl defines the plan as AID, which stands for Action, Impact and Desire.

First, you explain the exact action to take, followed by the impact of this. The last step is to discuss the desired outcomes that you’d like to see. (this last step can be a collaboration between you and the team member).

The employee feedback doesn’t stop at the end of the meeting, says Therese, at Impact HR. Realistically, to see changes in the employee’s behaviour, there needs to be feedback over the longer term. Aside from warning a staff member about a policy or corporate rule and the likely consequence in the future, It’s important for a manager to recognise when the person does something well and praise them for it. You can also remind them of what they need to focus more on if they start to slip, Therese highlights.

It will take time for the employee to change their behaviour and follow your advice, depending on what the issue was that led to the disciplinary.

The added bonus of giving feedback over a sustained period is that because you are having lots of little conversations, you might never need to prepare for a big performance discussion ever again!

Content Writer | Accredited Career & Relationship Coach | Career & Business Writing | Proofreader