Progressive Discipline as a Management Tool

Although the term ‘progressive discipline’ sounds punitive, it is a process through which a manager can work with an employee to help him understand what is expected of him at work.

A manager can use progressive discipline to help an employee change his behavior or improve his job performance before having to consider termination.

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Need for Progressive Discipline

A manager can identify the need for progressive discipline in the following situations.

Poor performance. The employee does not meet the expected standards of performance.

• Insubordination. The employee refuses to follow directions from his manager or supervisor. This assumes that the order given is not illegal, unsafe, or immoral.

Bad behavior. The employee acts inappropriately at work with colleagues, management, and/or clients. This is particularly serious if there is a vulnerable client population being subjected to inappropriate behavior.

• Poor work habits. This can include habitual tardiness, unjustified absences, or even persistent hygiene issues.

The manager determines that there is potential for improvement and offers the opportunity for remedial action. Progressive discipline is not appropriate in instances of physical assault, proven fraud, or anything else that is justified by summary dismissal.

Motivational Problems

1. Is there a competing priority?

Is there something in their professional or personal lives that is taking president? Should it be a priority? If not, then you need to have a conversation and clarify your expectations. If yes, then you may need to look at reassigning the workload and/or portfolio.

2. Are there clear negative consequences for continued poor behavior and incentives for improved performance in place?

When dealing with a motivational issue, it is very important to have clearly defined consequences to deter continued unwanted behaviors. Progressive discipline is a commonly used strategy to manage performance. As improvements are not seen over time, the consequences become more and more serious. The progression usually looks something like: verbal warning, written warning, suspension(s), demotion, termination for cause. Set a deadline (or deadlines in stages) for when you expect to see an improvement. Stick to your deadlines and document, document, document! If you need to terminate, you will have the file notes to back you up.

Start a progressive incentive program as well. As time passes and improvements continue to be made, you can increase the amount of bonus or have a step pay scale, make them eligible for annual awards or increase their levels of responsibility.

Incentives and disincentives must consider the individual’s priority of needs. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work with a mix of people with a wide range of needs.

Skill Problems

1. Can you make it easier to do?

Do they need an upgrade to their computer or another tool to help support the task? Can you break it down into steps and delegate part of the task to someone else? Can you streamline or simplify the operations?

2. Can they be trained?

Consult with your HR representative to see if training is available in-house or through an educational institution or outsourced vendor. Alternatively, you can provide them with reading materials or pair them up with a mentor or peer.

3. Can their role change?

Can they be transferred to a different department or team? Can you shuffle portfolios? Sometimes a change in their role to one that matches their skill set is a great option.

4. Can you wait while they gain experience?

Sometimes all that is needed is time. If they are on a learning curve but you do see continual improvement as time goes on, you may just need to be patient.

In Performance Management 3 and 4, we’ll have a more in-depth look at the needs that motivate behavior and look at possible incentives to motivate an improvement in behavior.

If you have comments or suggestions on this article, please use the link below to start a discussion.

If you liked this article, here are links to other performance management articles and blogs.

Timing of Progressive Discipline

The manager begins the progressive discipline process only after he has attempted to rectify the situation through regular supervision activities. This means that he would have reviewed performance expectations, coached the employee, provided training, and had regular supervisory meetings in which the situation was discussed and improvement goals established.

If that kind of preliminary work has not produced results, then the manager begins a formal discipline process. If he delays doing so, it will appear that he condones the behavior. This will only make the situation more difficult to deal with later, especially in a unionized workplace.

Steps of Progressive Discipline

As the label suggests, there is a progression to this discipline process. It is hoped that results might be achieved at the first step, but that is not always possible. There are also times when steps may be repeated.

Verbal warning. In a formal meeting with the employee, the manager clearly outlines the main issue, states expectations for changed behavior including a timeline, and offers any appropriate assistance for the employee to meet those expectations. The employee must acknowledge that this is the beginning of a serious process. Document the meeting.

 Written warning. If there is no improvement by the time stated, the manager issues a written warning. In this letter, the manager provides a chronology of supervisory meetings and any other activities to help the employee change his behavior and improve his performance. He summarizes the verbal warning and states the consequences that will be affected if the performance expectations are not met by a certain time.

 Suspension. If the problem persists, implement a suspension, usually without pay, with another letter detailing the reasons. It is hoped that a few days off work will help the employee decide whether or not he wants to change his behavior, improve his performance, and continue his employment. This is sometimes a time when an employee decides to leave.

 Dismissal. If the employee returns from a suspension and still does not change his behavior, the manager will want to seek advice from an HR consultant or a labor lawyer about dismissal. All the usual protocols must be followed to minimize follow-up actions for reinstatement or compensation.

It is crucial to keep detailed, written records of every meeting, and copies of any correspondence. This documentation is needed for reference in subsequent meetings and evidence if there is a union or civil challenge to any of these actions.

Other Considerations Around Progressive Discipline

Most managers take into consideration other factors when deciding on the amount of support and accommodation to offer to the employee.

Length of employment. If this is a good, long-time employee whose performance has deteriorated because of changes in the work environment, the manager might be more lenient in allowing time to adjust.

Intentions. Was there a deliberate intention to act inappropriately, perhaps to annoy a colleague or the manager? Or, did the employee not understand that he was not pulling his weight or that he was being offensive?

• Changed expectations. Perhaps, it is the manager who is new and his expectations of conduct are quite different from the previous one. There is probably a need to be very clear with everyone about the changes.

• Persistent pattern. The manager wants to consider whether or not this is an isolated situation or is there a persistent pattern of bad behavior? If someone is cursing a colleague for incompetence, has never done it before, and is more than willing to apologize, it might be worthwhile finding out the cause of this aberration before using the word ‘discipline’. There could be an upsetting situation in his personal life that led to the attack, or the colleague might have set him up for some reason.

Progressive discipline is an essential management tool, but one that needs to be used thoughtfully, purposefully, and promptly.

Note to Non-Profit Management

Managers of non-profit organizations that provide services to vulnerable clients are often so people-oriented that they have difficulty treating staff objectively. This is particularly true in organizations like emergency shelters, food banks, and drop-in centers where the staff might have been clients at one time.

These managers must remember that their staff is hired to provide quality service to the current clients. Their compassion can show in the kind of assistance offered to the employee, not in their tolerance of poor performance and bad behavior.

About the author: John J. Gregg is an experienced writer at essay writing serviceOpens in a new tab. where he provides students with an opportunity to get high grades. Besides, He is fond of reading and playing the guitar. By the way, John dreams of traveling a lot and visiting as many countries as possible.

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