To Term or Not to Term…

Emily has been an administrative assistant working at her office for about two years and has never had any issues with her performance. Over the past six months, her attendance has started to become problematic and she has been making a number of mistakes in her work.

Her supervisor, Phillip, notices these increasing issues, and sits down with her to try to determine the cause of these changes and what the company can do to help her. Emily discloses that she is going through a divorce and the past few months have been incredibly difficult for her. She apologizes that it has affected her work, and informs Phillip of her intent to improve. Phillip documents this conversation and gives Emily the opportunity to correct the issues.

A month later, her performance has slightly improved, but Emily is still making too many mistakes to not be addressed and her attendance is still an issue. Phillip decides to administer a written warning, notes the previous conversation, addresses performance and attendance standards, and details expectations going forward. He places Emily on a Performance Improvement Plan with a date to follow up in two weeks.

The progressive steps towards rehabilitation proved to be effective in this situation, and Emily began to show signs of improvement in both areas. Balancing a strong focus on working with the employee in their professional improvement coupled with warranted discipline was an effective approach as it provided both the empathy and strong direction that was necessary.

In many situations, supervisors do not take the time to sit down with their employees to go over performance standards and expectations, and rather jump straight to disciplinary action. Often these knee-jerk decisions are clouded by emotions, such as frustration with your employee’s performance that reflects poorly on you as a manger. If your anger is blinding you from finding solutions, take a breath and reflect on the situation from a problem-solving mentality.

Start the process with a conversation with the employee about the issue with a rehabilitative approach. Focus on helping your employee build a path to success rather than holding their failure over them. This problem-solving mentality helps give those employees who are struggling the chance to improve and succeed, while at the same time holds them accountable for their past performance and actions.

The Danger of Doing Nothing

Ron has just been promoted to Department Manager. A few weeks into his new role, he noticed that the work quality and production for one of his employees (Fred) had dropped significantly. He heard that the same employee was also having some difficulties at home. Ron decided that he would hold off on talking with Fred with the hope that his personal issues would improve and he would pick up the slack at work.

A few weeks later, Sally, a coworker of Fred’s, walks into Ron’s office visibly stressed out, declaring that she frustrated because she feels like she is doing all the work in the department. At this point, Ron decides to talk to Fred about his ongoing performance issues. Fred immediately tells Ron that he knows that his production is slipping and he will do better from now on. Ron, relieved he doesn’t have to confront Fred directly, says okay and Fred walks out.

Two weeks later, Ron’s supervisor, Daniel, confronts Ron regarding a project deadline that has been missed. Daniel wants to terminate Fred for such a major oversight, and asks Ron what he has done to discipline Fred in the past for his performance issues. Ron embarrassingly admits that he has not disciplined Fred appropriately for his performance over the past month as required by company policy.

From the very start, rather than addressing the initial issues with Fred, Ron chose to ignore the problems. Ron avoided potential conflict with Fred instead of sitting down with him and carefully walking through the expectations of his position, documenting the conversation, and putting Fred on a subsequent written warning had his performance not improved. Without such documentation of progressive discipline, Daniel and Ron have no choice but to start at the beginning of the disciplinary process with Fred rather than terminating.

Not only does Daniel insist that Ron discipline Fred appropriately, he proceeds discipline Ron for inappropriately managing Fred and not following procedures. If Ron appropriately managed Fred from the beginning, there would be a good chance that Fred would have corrected the performance issues or the organization could have minimized risk if they chose to terminate Fred.

You Did What?

Many years ago, I ran a fledgling payroll company. As many of you know, the IRS is very strict on how things are filed and paid. One day, one of my primary payroll processors came into my office and boldly declared that they had not filed or paid payroll taxes on our largest client for the past three months. Needless to say, I was in shock as this client comprised the bulk of their workload and we have been faithfully collecting the funds from them for years. As a believer in providing a high quality service, this news was devastating and heart wrenching, not including the potential financial loss.

Thankfully, these types of devastating mistakes don’t happen that often, but what do you do when an employee drops the ball? It is easy to point out behavioral issues such as showing up late, but when it comes to work performance, the job of disciplining tends to get less clear. How do you handle these challenging situations?

The first step is familiarizing yourself with the process. There are so many aspects to the disciplinary process, including not only becoming acquainted with the typical 3 steps (verbal warning, written warning, and termination), but also with the preventative measures necessary to ensure that you don’t have to go the route of formal disciplinary action. I highly recommend every manger review on a regular basis (depending on the position, every one to three months) each employee’s job duties, expectations, and performance. Take the time to talk with your employees about the challenges they face in reaching your expectations.

Second, in the event an employee does fail to meet the expectations you have laid out for them, take a moment to reflect. During your reflection, review your notes and your memory to ensure that you clearly communicated those expectations. In some cases it’s easy, like the employee not paying payroll taxes, and in others it’s less clear. Verify with the employee that they understood those expectations. Did the employee take responsibility for the mistake or lack of performance, or are they at a loss on how to fix the issue and prevent it in the future?

Lastly, make sure that you are documenting your conversations (however informal) with your employee. This documentation is an absolutely critical component in the disciplinary process to ensure that there is a clear understanding between you and the employee. Make sure that you do your investigations thoroughly and act fast in your meetings and documentation with your employee.

Take a breath, hang in there and remember that very few things are irreparable. Read along next week as we take our discussion one step further and talk about what NOT to do when you’re faced with the need to discipline a problem employee.

The Steps of Discipline

You’ve been in your new managerial position for about two months. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience so far, and you are eager to learn and grow along the way. One of your first duties was hiring an entry-level employee, who has been struggling with their performance over the past few weeks. It has gotten to the point that productivity is being affected, and their frustrations with their job is causing some tension amongst other coworkers. Would it be best to offer some coaching and training? To give them a written warning? To terminate them as they are still in their introductory period?

When it comes to discipline, where do you start? Especially for new managers, the prospect of having to deal with a troublesome employee can be incredibly daunting. This month, we will address three important steps to the disciplinary process, and how to efficiently navigate your way through each.

Step 1 – Familiarize Yourself with the Process: One of the most common systems companies use today is a progressive three-step process, starting with a verbal warning or record of discussion, a written warning, and then suspension or termination. Not only is it important to become familiar with each of these steps to be able to effectively administer disciplinary action and identify what offenses warrant what actions, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with preventative measures to avoid disciplinary action (e.g., reviewing expectations on a regular basis, offering mentoring and coaching, and documenting and reviewing behavior and performance consistently).

Step 2 – Discipline: What NOT to do: Just like nearly every aspect of employment, there is a right and a wrong way to administer discipline. Location, time, documentation, emotions, approach, and overall goals are all factors that can make or break a disciplinary meeting. Learn not only what to avoid during this meeting, but what not to do to ensure maximum efficiency.

Step 3 – Focus on Rehabilitation: The majority of offenses will start with either a verbal or written warning and will typically warrant a chance for rehabilitation. With this as your primary focus, you will likely get more employee cooperation and engagement with the end objective of improving or correcting the issue and moving forward in a productive manner.

Disciplining your employees doesn’t have to be the thing you dread most about your job. With the proper tools in place, you can hone in your skills to make this aspect of employment one that you are not only comfortable with, but good at. Seek help. Your HR department and HRCentral is here to help you navigate your way through these steps, ensuring that the process is as seamless and efficient as possible.