• Wednesday, April 07th, 2010

HR Insights from Barbara FreetHuman Resources: Employee Discipline

Barbara Freet, expert on human resources, answers this question on dental management: "What is the most effective method of employee discipline?"

"The most effective method is to document and talk about behavior, not traits," answers Barbara. "This might seem to be a little esoteric, but let me tell you what the difference is. Here are some examples of traits—dishonest, undependable, not a team player, irresponsible, person has a bad attitude. Those are what you might call traits, but here are some examples of behaviors. She called in phoning prescriptions, she’s been late eight times in the past month. She doesn’t obey work rules. You see the difference?

"The difference is that behaviors can be documented. They’re factual occurrences. Traits are just basically impressions and overviews about the person.

"Most people tend to think that they consistently exhibit positive traits and they don't exhibit negative ones. So, when you talk to somebody about traits, they tend to get defensive because they don’t see themselves as being any of those kind of overarching negative things that traits imply.

"Specific behaviors on the other hand that you can document are much more difficult to deny, and they really back up your discipline. So the best method of disciplining is recording the behaviors that don't work in the practice, and concentrating on that."

Barbara Freet, PHR, is President of Human Resource Advisors, a full-service HR consulting and staffing company she founded in 1988. Consultants serve as the HR department for clients, providing administrative functions (including recruitment, benefits, payroll, etc.) and "guardian" functions in the face of problematic employment issues. Call 800-520-7761 or visit HumanResourceAdvisors.com.

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2 Responses

  1. 1
    Stanley Sokolow DDS 

    Great advice. Keeping disciplinary comments focused on bad behaviors avoids making the employee feel that you consider him/her a bad person. Educators were given similar advice decades ago when the educational methodology experts recommended behavioral objectives be the focus of teaching. Also, documenting the observations and disciplinary actions is important if the employee just doesn’t change and you need to fire him/her. I had the unpleasant experience of having to go before an administrative law judge to defend my dismissal as a for-cause (employee misconduct) discharge, and having records made the difference there. But the employer also needs to avoid just criticizing bad behaviors — it’s demoralizing to focus on the bad without giving praise for good behaviors when they are observed, too. A great little book written decades ago and reprinted many times is The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard. I highly recommend it. It’s a quick, pleasant read, and it opens your mind to a few other simple ideas for successful management of people in your team. As I recall, he said “catch people doing something right” and give quick praise for it.

  2. Thank you and I agree with you. I’m glad you had the documentation to assist you in defending your dismissal–that’s a good example of why it is necessary! I also agree about giving praise, particularly spontaneous praise. It is very encouraging and reinforces good behaviors and attitudes. The One Minute Manager is a good book, I agree. Thanks for taking the time to post such good points.

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