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Human Resources: Progressive Discipline

Progressive discipline is a process of using increasingly severe steps and measures when employees fail to correct actions or behaviors after being given reasonable opportunities to do so. The underlying principle of sound progressive discipline is to use the least severe action  necessary to correct undesirable situations. Increase the severity of action only if correction is not evident.

A systematic employee selection process does much to ensure the hiring of effective employees capable of outstanding work. Similarly, regular performance evaluations, open management, fair compensation levels and caring supervision all contribute to an effective workplace. But sometimes, workers still fail to meet expectations.

In such cases, it’s advisable, first, for supervisors to honestly question if their management styles contribute to problems. When employees have supportive supervisors, they tend to try harder because they feel valued; this combination often sets up the desired high performance cycle.

Unfortunately, not all supervisor/employee relations are positive and when things turn sour, the response of many managers is to supervise more closely, to tighten the reins in the belief that increased monitoring and control will lead to improved employee performance. Often, the reverse occurs because:

  • under-performers perceive the lack of confidence and trust in their work, so they adopt defensive postures and attitudes where they are unwilling to accept criticism
  • in this defensive mode, the tendency is to withdraw and offer minimal levels of cooperation and effort needed to avoid dismissal
  • French organizational behaviorists Jean-François Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux referred to this manager/employee stalemate as the-set-up-to-fail syndrome. Even though it’s done subconsciously, employees are often viewed by managers as
  • being either in or out: "Members of the in-group are considered the trusted collaborators and, therefore, receive more autonomy, feedback, and expressions of confidence from their bosses. The boss-subordinate relationship for this group is one of mutual trust and reciprocal influence. Members of the out-group, on the other hand, are regarded more as hired hands and are managed in a more formal, less personal way, with more emphasis on rules, policies, and authority.

"When people perceive disapproval, criticism, or a lack of confidence and appreciation, they to shut down. Subordinates simply stop giving their best. They grow tired of being overruled, and they lose the will to fight for their ideas … [they] start devoting more energy to self-justification. Anticipating that they will be personally blamed for failures, they seek to find excuses early. When they have to manage their own employees, they frequently replicate the behaviour that their bosses show to them …." and thus the nonvirtuous cycle is perpetuated.

There are usually two reasons for disciplining employees:

  1. performance problems
  2. misconduct

Misconduct can be much more serious than performance issues as it is often the result of deliberate acts of defiance, while performance problems can occur due to a variety of reason such as a lack of training, skills or motivation.  Performance problems can often be solved through coaching and performance management, while misconduct normally calls for the progressive discipline model. 

Managers often point to the following when pinpointing what they perceive to be indicative of poor worker performance or misconduct:

  • lack of skills or knowledge
  • lack of motivation
  • poor attitude, effort or misconduct (working at a reduced speed, poor quality, tardiness, sleeping on the job, wasting time)
  • co-worker relations (fighting on the job, lack of cooperation)
  • subordinate-supervisor relations (insubordination, lack of follow-through)
  • supervisor-subordinate relations (favouritism, withholding of key information, mistreatment, abuse of power)
  • handling of tools or company property (misuse of tools, neglect)
  • harassment or workplace violence (verbal or physical abuse, threats, bullying)
  • dishonesty, and
  • safety and other practices (not wearing safety equipment, horseplay, carrying weapons on the job, working under the influence of alcohol or drugs).

Interestingly, even though the foregoing may be the fault of employees, they are also within the purview of managers to address proactively. However, when a manager or supervisor can objectively say “I’ve tried everything a caring manager can do without good effect,” progressive discipline may be in order.

When that occurs, here are guidelines to consider:

  • thoroughly investigate the situation from all sides, including taking great pains to listen to the employee's explanation BEFORE pursuing disciplinary courses of action.
  • carefully document everything you do as the process unfolds
  • it’s often advisable to have a witness/note taker present (a great benefit if matters move to litigation)
  • the employee is explicitly informed of the unacceptable behavior or performance and is given specific work-related examples. It is not sufficient to assume that the employee knows what the problem is
  • explain acceptable behavior or performance standards and give the employee reasonable time to comply. This may be a longer time frame if a skill needs to be learned or a shorter time frame if it is a behavior to be changed
  • the employee is informed of the consequences of failing to comply. This is not a threat, rather it gives the employee reasonable expectations of the consequences if change does not occur
  • try different solutions or even repeat a step if you believe there is a chance doing so will correct the problem (perhaps an employee misunderstood or there is a chance you were overly vague about expectations). Since the ultimate goal is to rehabilitate and achieve acceptable performance, do overs are permissible as long as they aren’t seen as weakness or lack of resolve by the employee in question. If nothing works, move progressively to more serious steps.

The foregoing is from the text: Human Resources for Golf Clubs that is used in the online course from Selkirk College's Golf Club Operations Online Certificate Program:




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