Disciplining an employee is part of being a boss. This is one of the most difficult aspects of the job. You invest so much time in your employees; training, mentoring, inspiring them and working to gain their trust and respect then you have to do something that will negatively impact all that work. Mild offenses may not cause much of a problem. If you have a good employee he/she will admit their mistake, accept the correction to their actions and move on. The real problem comes when the offense is of a more serious nature but not to the level of firing the individual.
Quite often a business will have an employee discipline form they use; however, even if your business does have a disciplinary form that form won’t catch everything. You never know when a meeting is going to become contentious. There are two things I highly recommend that you do particularly when dealing with one of the larger infractions.
- Write-up notes on what was said during your meeting with the employee. Try to remember what the employee said especially if it was something in violation of how the business should be run. For example, the employee saying in an angry tone that the customers need to do what he tells them to do. That’s a red flag that the individual may not have the required customer service skills you expect and could be adding to any conflict with the customers. You also want to document any negative comments he directs at you and the other employees. If the negative comments are in how they perform their job you can look into it. If it’s just about the person themselves then you have decided how serious the dislike is and if it could result in aggression. It’s your responsibility to look after the safety of your employees. Keep your notes. You never know when you may need them.
- If at all possible have a witness that is in a position higher than the person you are addressing and either below or equal to your level. If the employee is the opposite gender, your witness should be the same gender as the employee. People in a supervisor position always need to remember that they need to protect themselves from lawsuits and/or complaints. If you are a male boss and are addressing a female employee you are open to being accused of sexual misconduct. It is more common to happen that way but don’t think it hasn’t happened with a female boss and a male employee. It has. Having a witness who is the same gender as the employee helps your credibility if you have to deny any wrong-doing and the witness corroborates your version. Once the session is over have the witness write up a statement of what happened and keep that also.
Those are two pieces of generic advice that can apply to any situation. The actual counseling session is an area of study that has a large amount of information written about it. In future posts I will toss in my two cents to that broad bank of knowledge. For now there is something else I want you to understand. There was something I learned in the early portion of my career as a boss. It didn’t happen all the time so I took a little time figuring it out.
I didn’t use to include a witness when I spoke to someone on a minor infraction. When I would bring someone into my office to speak to them it would be just the two of us. I would point out what the problem was and ask what had happened. I would listen to what the employee said and if the employee had a valid reason for acting as they did I would say they were correct in handling it that way, thank them and end the session. But if they said something that I did not agree with I would, if necessary, question them a bit more to make sure I was clear on their reasoning then tell them why I did not agree with their approach, what about it I felt was wrong and how I wanted it done.
Every once in a while I would get someone who complained to my boss saying I yelled at them. This really bothered me since I feel raising your voice at your employee is unprofessional. (They are not your emotional punching bag). In fact, my tone of voice is on the low side. I would review the conversation in my head, to the best of my memory, trying to remember if there were any points at which I raised my voice. That didn’t achieve anything. I then thought about who had accused me of yelling and realized that the complaints came from the same three people.
I made a point of paying strict attention to the level of my voice the next time I had to speak to one of those three. Sure enough, I got a complaint against me of yelling at them when I knew for a fact I had not raised my voice. That was when I realized that the employee was hearing something she didn’t like. In her mind she was getting in trouble. That translated to being yelled at to her. When she said I yelled at them she didn’t mean it literally. That was her way of saying she got in trouble and resented being told anything.
In general, people tend towards exaggeration. It makes the story more interesting and we are all storytellers at heart. When you speak you are, in a sense, telling a story. It’s our most predominant form of communication. You need to keep that in mind when they are describing something. I have learned to ask questions like, “You said he yelled at you. Did he actually raise his voice to a yell level?” You would be surprised at how many times I’ve been told, no. It also made me look at myself. I’ve become a lot more careful in describing situations. When speaking to my partner, the times I do describe something in anger because he’s the person I can vent to, I follow it up with, “he didn’t really say it in that tone of voice, I’m just mad and that’s how it felt”. (He finds it highly amusing when I admit to my dramatization).
When you are a boss it’s very important that you understand human nature. Understanding how people listen, react and communicate will help you to find the truth in whatever situations you are looking into.
Contentious – causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial. Involving heated argument.
Corroborates – confirm or give support to (a statement, theory, or finding).
Predominant – present as the strongest or main element.
Dramatization – construction or representation in dramatic form.