Why Managers Avoid Disciplining Their Employees

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

Managers often have a difficult time dealing with discipline problems they are having with their employees. To be more effective at disciplining, managers need to understand some basics about how employees function. Managers who understand these "facts" can more effectively manage employees.

Awareness - Most employees who perform below standard are not aware of it. It may sound trivial, but it is true. Most employees are not given good feedback on performance. They do not know what they have done right, or what they have done wrong, on a regular basis. Awareness is the first step in any discipline process.

Immediacy - Most managers fail to raise and deal with problems directly and at an early stage. Managers tend to delay addressing problem behavior directly. In addition, it is rarely addressed as soon as it is observed. This often happens because managers are not comfortable telling employees that they did something wrong. They fear that they will hurt the employee's feelings or that the employee will not like them if they point out problems. Manager's need to learn that discipline, done properly, will not hurt or anger the employee. In fact, it will help the employee be more productive.

Goal Setting - Most managers do not know how to set clear goals and timetables for employee improvement. This directly contributes to the previous two points. Employees need to know in advance what is expected of them. If they do not know in advance, they are more likely to do the wrong things.

Criticism - Most employees don't take criticism well. Often this is due to the way the manager criticizes the employee. If the manager makes the criticism personal, then the employee will be more defensive. It is not enough to merely tell employees about their poor performance. They must be told immediately, and in a caring, positive, constructive way, how they need to improve.

Catching People in the Act - Managers need to begin to catch employees in the act of doing things right. If they focus on positive, productive behaviors, then most of the discipline problems will solve themselves. There needs to be an expectation of and an emphasis on the positive, on what needs to be done, rather than on the negative, what is not to be done.

I like to use the term Positive Discipline to describe the proper way of dealing with problem work behaviors. Discipline should be preventive, caring, and lead to more productive employees. It should not be merely punitive. Discipline, done properly, is a positive learning experience for employees. And, it adds to the productivity of the organization.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at [email protected].

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