How To Effectively Discipline an Employee

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Disciplining your staff shouldn’t just be about correcting behaviour, but helping your employees learn and develop. An organisation should have rules and guidelines in place when it comes to a disciplinary policy to ensure that each employee is treated fairly and equally.

However, every case that requires disciplinary action will be slightly different and a good manager must be able to recognise this, meaning different actions will need to be taken depending on the circumstances, allegation or misconduct. 

Having an effective disciplinary process is one cog in the wheel when it comes to creating a positive, healthy and motivated working environment, but a very important one. XCD explore different disciplinary actions HR departments and employers can take and the importance of procedure in disciplinary decisions. 


Know your disciplinary procedure

Employee discipline can take many forms, so in order to discipline employees effectively you have to know your process. Knowing the steps in your disciplinary procedure is a good way to ensure that you are maintaining a consistent, fair approach. 

It is important that any disciplinary action is taken in line with company policy and HR guidance. As a HR professional, you should be involved each step on disciplinary procedures to ensure clarity throughout the process. Different organisations may outline different disciplinary procedures, but a common procedure is the progressive discipline process which follows certain steps. 

Progressive discipline in the workplace is not favoured by all, as some feel it is a rigid system that often revolves around more of a sense of punishment. However, this doesn’t have the be the case if the employers themselves make an active effort to make sure that employee discipline is about correction and investment, rather than punishment akin to the naughty step.

Progressive discipline usually follows the following steps:

  • Verbal warning 

    A verbal warning is a good place to start. In some companies, this part of the procedure may be considered an informal warning if the issue is deemed to be minor. The specifics of these conversations don’t have to be noted, but HR should document that a conversation has occurred. Verbal warnings are an effective way to check employee behaviour whilst ensuring that they do not feel like they are being punished.

  • Written warning 

    If an issue persists, or the employee commits another act of misconduct in the workplace, written disciplinary action is the next step. This disciplinary action should be more clear cut, and is intended to highlight exactly what the misconduct is, what can not be repeated and what is needed for things to change.

    This formal disciplinary meeting is intended inform the employee of what to expect if things do not change. This formal action will need to be documented and a letter must be signed by both the manager and employee. XCD’s performance management software to track their performance is a great way for HR to see how an employee is progressing after a formal disciplinary hearing.

  • Final warning

    A final warning is a very integral part of a disciplinary procedure. A final warning enables employers and HR to make it clear to employee that their conduct is unacceptable and what must be done to correct their behaviour in the workplace. 

    During this part of the disciplinary procedure, the employee should be made aware of all of the instances in which they received a reprimand and the actions that were agreed upon to correct the issues. Finally, they should be made aware that if the issues persist, they may face a dismissal.

  • Suspension

    Before an employer decides that a dismissal is the appropriate measure to take, you may want to suspend the employee and place them on probation. Suspension offers one final opportunity for the employee to show you that they want to change their behaviour and commit to your company. 

  • Termination

    If an employer fails to see any improvement in the employee’s behaviour or performance after the previous formal warnings, then termination of the employee can be considered. A dismissal must be a structured process where by a meeting is a held with the employer and employee to look over documentation of the disciplinary process to identify what the issues have been, and how they have not been resolved. 

    In some cases, an employer will need to consider dismissal of an employee much sooner due to acts of gross misconduct. If an employer discovers that an employee has carried out gross misconduct in the workplace, a full disciplinary procedure is still required in order to carry out a dismissal under these circumstances. Employment can be terminated when gross misconduct is carried out either inside the workplace, or outside of it if it impacts the company. 

You may find this resource useful: How and When to Fire an Employee.

Alternatives to Progressive Discipline Policy

Some organisations may consider a progressive disciplinary procedure too rigid. Some HR professionals argue that the threat of dismissal is not best practise for effective discipline.

Because of this, some employers may opt to implement a different method of discipline in their workplace such as training and performance improvement plans (PIP). The purpose of a procedure such as this is to focus more on what can be done better, rather than what went wrong. However, there’s no reason that a company cannot combine progressive discipline with training and performance improvement. 

ACAS have a disciplinary and grievance guide which breaks down some methods of employee discipline. This can be a useful guide develop your discipline system, with advice on how to manage misconduct and allegations that occur within the workplace to ensure compliance.

You may also be interested in: How to Deliver an Effective Performance Improvement Plan.

Make the rules and policies clear

It is the duty of any employer and HR department to make sure that the employment policies and rules are not only clear, but accessible. Company policies, codes of conduct and disciplinary policies should be outlined in company handbooks, rather than employment contracts, to allow employees to have a full understanding of the procedures that can lead to termination of their employment.

Remote HR and Payroll

How to Effectively Implement a Disciplinary Procedure

Work with your people 

Discipline should be all about helping your employee learn from their mistakes and to support them. A good disciplinary system should educate and correct. Remember, you do not want your employee to walk away from a disciplinary feeling as if they’ve been scolded. 

HR teams can work with employees to create specific action plans with solutions to the disciplinary problems as they arise and before they persist, be it behavioural issues or performance related issues.

Using incident- specific plans enables HR to understand why an employee is behaving in a certain way and enables teams to provide personalised support before engaging in formal disciplinary sanctions. HR can oversee how line managers and employees work collaboratively in response to performance improvement plans using XCD’s performance management software solution.

An important part of a disciplinary procedure is to ensure you give the employee their time to speak and explain their side of the story before taking any further action. An employee has the right to defend themselves against any allegations, and if an employee is not given the space to speak then it can greatly jeopardise their employment and performance.

Working with your employees to improve their performance is the best way to nip disciplinary issues in the bud and prevent consistent performance issues from developing.

Calm and collected wins the race

Effective employee discipline is heavily reliant on the communication skills of the manager and HR professional. It is important that any professional engaging in a disciplinary conversation with an employee sticks to the facts and conducts themselves in a calm manner.

If HR or a line manager appears angry going into a disciplinary conversation, it may trigger the opposite effect of the desired outcome if they leave the office feeling like their disciplinary action was personal. 

Remember: employee discipline is not a confrontation, it is a discussion for managers and employees to discover where expectations are not being understood and not being met.

Effective discipline should be constructive, not argumentative, and the way you approach the disciplinary will set the tone. If you engage the employee in a calm, respectful manner then it is far more likely that the feeling will be reciprocated.

Stay consistent, but flexible

Though it is important to have a clear disciplinary procedure in place, not all situations are the same, and so they should not be treated as such. Before disciplining employees straight away, a manager should conduct an investigation first to identify what is causing the unsatisfactory behaviour. 

An employee may be suffering from burnout, or issues outside of work and therefore adopting an empathetic approach to discovering the issue is very important. This can also ease the employee’s feeling as they may have personal issues affecting them, and the fear of termination of their contract can make their situation worse.

If an employer does not investigate the situation first and jumps straight to disciplinary action, it can have a very serious impact on the employee’s morale. 


How to Discipline Remote Employees

We are in a time where remote working is more abundant than ever, largely due to Covid-19. Disciplining a remote employee presents new challenges for HR Managers and line managers as communication can be somewhat stinted remotely. 

Formal disciplinary action and procedures with remote employees should still follow your organisations policies to ensure effective and fair discipline across staff teams. This disciplinary method for remote staff should also be included in the employee handbook.

When a remote staff member must undergo formal discipline, a video call is an effective method of conducting a disciplinary hearing. XCD’s cloud-based HR software is an effective tool for all parties to remain informed with an employee’s information and progress regardless of whether they are working remotely, in the office, or hybrid.

Using the mobile app, employees can update their information in real time, meaning that HR have access to up-to-date employee information at all points of a disciplinary process. 

End on a positive note

Remember: Discipline is not the same as punishment!

Any manager wants to get the best out of their employees.

It’s important for employers and HR managers to use the disciplinary process as an opportunity to correct the behaviour of the employee and help them grow. HR departments can implement this by ending a disciplinary hearing on a positive note, to show that you care about your employees.

This can be done by reminding an employee that you appreciate their efforts, noting the hard work that they’ve put in, or their dedication to the company. Using an appreciation solution as a part of a HR software can provide managers with detailed breakdowns of also where their employees have done well and where they deserved to be praised regardless. This serves to make the employee feel that a disciplinary hearing is a positive experience, allowing them walk out the room feeling like they’ve learnt something rather than a receiving a slap on the wrist.

One of the main roles as a manager is to inspire and motivate, not demoralise and demotivate. Effective discipline and constructive criticism will help your employees grow and strengthen your organisation, benefiting all parties.