Can Workplace Discipline Be Positive?

What do you think about when you hear workplace discipline? Many people immediately think “punishment.” We think about growing up and how we were disciplined as children. Usually it meant we were “in trouble” and there would be a punishment to fit our “crime”. For me, it was to lose telephone privileges with my friends…the worst thing you could do to a teenage girl!
Workplace discipline should not have anything to do with punishment. Employees who feel punished will react defensively, be nervous, and sometimes very upset. Future innovation will be stifled due to a fear of risk taking that might lead to future punishment. I have seen employees who are so nervous about making a mistake that they actually make more mistakes.
There is another way to view workplace discipline using a problem solving approach. These discussions show the employee you are trying to solve a problem and help them be the best they can be. The root word of discipline is from the Latin word disciplina meaning instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge. Changing your discipline mindset from punishment to teaching will change your whole demeanor and approach.
  • Punishment – Parental approach with stern tone and focused on what type of reprimand should be given based on the employee’s “crime”
  • Teaching – Problem solving approach with helpful tone and focused on how to solve the problem or remove the barrier so the situation does not repeat itself
Which approach would you prefer? I would pick teaching every time.
Steps to implement this approach:
  1. Establish expectations – Employees need to know what behavior will result in discipline. Surprises only frustrate people. Be clear about your expectations by providing and discussing job descriptions, handbooks/policies, procedure guides and how performance will be evaluated. Provide ongoing coaching and feedback to ensure understanding.
  2. Behavior versus expectations – Use a problem solving approach reminding the employee of the expectations that were established and indicate how the employee specifically did not meet the expectations.
  3. Future behavior – Involve the employee to determine the reasons behind the behavior (lack of training, unclear about expectations, etc.) as well as the solution that will correct the behavior. The employee will be more committed to solutions he/she will develop than one you impose
  4. Discipline stage – Just because you are problem solving using a helpful tone of voice, you still must be clear that if future behavior does not meet expectations, it may lead to termination of employment.
This type of discipline approach contributes to creating a respectful workplace where employees know that even if they do make a mistake, they will not be treated as children who face punishment. They are treated as adults who are accountable for solving the problem.

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