Self-Awareness Workshops

5 Steps to Stop Disciplining Employees

See if you recognize this pattern.  An employee does something against the rules and sets in motion a complex series of consequences which may include a verbal warning, counseling, reprimanding, written warning, heartfelt lecture and so on up to termination or taking away their TV privileges.

While I understand that workplaces need a standardized, consistent way of dealing with behaviors that break the rules, I’ve found it helpful to encourage an alternate approach that treats employees like thinking, capable people instead of children.  Here are 5 ideas to help you deal with negative employee behaviors before you even think about going to the HR manual.

1.  Ask the employee what happened and then listen without interrupting.

2.  Ask the employee to tell you what they did that worked well toward fixing the situation and listen to them.  Then ask them what didn’t work as well and listen.

3.  Ask the employee to come up with three recommendations of what they would do to remedy the situation.

4.  Ask the employee to take action on the most important recommendation and give you a time limit by when they will do it.  When they report back ask them what three other things they recommend doing and have them follow-through on the top one of that set of ideas and report back.

5.  Praise the employee for the corrections he or she has made.

The trap we fall into when disciplining employees is that we have to correct behaviors through consequences or punishment from the outside rather than help them learn positive behaviors.  This overlooks the concept that employees are able to think for themselves and correct their own behavior.

When I talk with leaders about this approach I invariably get the question, “Well, what if the employee has no clue what to do?”  My answer is, you won’t find out until you give them an opportunity to do it.  Leaders are so used to running to the rule book that they forget that there are many other ways of resolving all kinds of workplace challenges.  The key to this approach is practicing it until people get really good at it.  This leads to employees who are able to think critically and problem-solve their own situations.

How will you stop disciplining employees and start involving them in improving their own behaviors?

Take care,


2 thoughts on “5 Steps to Stop Disciplining Employees

  1. Christian Fey

    One of the biggest pet peeves of mine is when people come to talk to me about something they’re not happy with that I did. Not that I’m upset they came to talk, but rather that they came to accuse, wait for a minimal bit of a response, and then interrupt me with some berating comment about how I didn’t do it right.

    Listening, and being willing to listen to the whole thing, is a skill that leaders need to either learn or already possess!

    1. Guy Farmer Post author

      Great point Christian. It can be a challenge to put aside our own stuff and learn how to communicate in a balanced way. As you indicate, listening is key. Take care, Guy.

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