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Supervisors Are Scared of Discipline—How to Help

Supervisors don’t like confrontation, says Dennis A. Davis, Ph.D. Fortunately, there are ways to help your supervisors dispense discipline without creating tension for them or problems for you.

Davis is the director of client training for the national law firm of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. His remarks came during a recent audio conference sponsored by BLR®. Here are his tips for helping your supervisors and managers effectively handle discipline:

Tip # 1: Understand your organization’s progressive discipline policies, inside and out,
before trouble starts

“When a workplace conflict is brewing, that’s the worst time to begin studying your organization’s discipline procedures,” says Davis. Know in advance what your options are and what steps you should follow to restore order to your team or your workplace, he says.

Read the rules, and then find out how things work in practice.

Tip # 2: Decide what type of discipline is most appropriate

Decide upfront what type of discipline, if any, is appropriate to the situation, says Davis. Don’t use a hammer when a gentle conversation would be better. But recognize that sometimes the gentle conversation isn’t going to do the job. You might ask yourself:

• Is your discipline commensurate with the offense?

• Is it commensurate with the worker’s length of service and overall track record?

• Is it applied to a one-time incident, or a pattern of trouble?

• Can you impose this discipline on your own, or do you need approval from your supervisor to proceed?

• Are you treating any employees in the conflict differently from the others, and, if so, do you have a
very good reason for doing so?

• Is this discipline consistent with discipline meted out for similar situations in the past?

You need answers to these questions in advance of meeting with employees, notes Davis.

Tip # 3: Remember that your goal as a supervisor is not to punish an employee

Instead, the goal is to correct behaviors. In most cases, the discipline measures you impose should be focused on getting the worker’s attention and guiding him or her back to a constructive path. If the conflict is very serious, of course, you may need to take stronger action than usual, particularly if other workers feel threatened in the situation.

Go into a meeting thinking, I’m trying to help the person behave appropriately,

I’m not there to punish, I want to make the employee better and stronger by showing how conflict should be handled, Davis says.

Tip # 4: Know the difference between conflict and harassment

The rules change when a workplace disagreement actually masks a pattern of illegal harassment of one employee by another. Train supervisors managers to talk to their bosses or the HR department if they suspect harassment is the underlying cause of a workplace conflict.

Tip # 5: Give an oral warning in the proper manner

Set a time and place to meet privately with the employee receiving the oral warning. Jot down notes before the meeting about what you plan to say. Find out ahead of time what your policy is regarding a worker’s request to have representation during the oral warning meeting.

During the meeting:

• State clearly that you are giving the worker an oral warning.

• Spell out in concrete terms the unacceptable behavior that you’re correcting.

• Remind the worker what your organization considers acceptable behavior (and give these rules
in writing, if possible).

• Tell the worker what happens next if he/she fails to show immediate, sustained improvement.

Document the oral warning as your human resources department requires.

Tip # 6: Next, turn to written warnings if needed

Again, set a private time and place to give the worker your written warning. In the warning letter:

• Spell out, in concrete detail, the fact that it’s a written warning and the exact workplace policy(ies) being
violated by the employee.

• Describe how the employee’s repeated failure to improve is causing specific problems for your organization.

• Spell out again your expectations for the employee’s improved performance, as well as what will happen
next if that improvement doesn’t happen.

• Give the letter to the employee and place a copy in his/her personnel file.

• Consider asking him/her to sign the letter (and, if he/she refuses, note that on the copy going into the personnel file).

• Attach any documentation such as previous warnings if possible.

Source: HR Daily Advisor

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