In a tight labor market, workplace discipline could really mean more workplace instruction

In a tight labor market, workplace discipline could really mean more workplace instruction

While the unemployment rate indicates over 9 million people are “actively” seeking work (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), many employers are having a difficult time filling their open positions. The response to the pandemic has compounded an already problematic labor shortage. In light of this labor shortage and with government unemployment benefits set to continue through September, employers may want to rethink how they address employee discipline.

Now more than ever, employers should keep in mind that the word “discipline” comes from a Latin term meaning instruction, training, knowledge, tuition, and science. Indeed, it has been said that wisdom brings discipline rather than shame. While most employers take a progressive discipline approach to workplace performance management, an alternative employers may want to consider is a behavior-based coaching approach. This approach may be ideal for an environment where termination is not an option and retention is key.

A behavior-based coaching approach asks the fundamental question, “Was the incident the result of an honest mistake, reckless behavior, or intentional conduct?” Once an employer makes this inquiry and understands the underlying behaviors, it can develop an effective corrective action plan.

To develop a coaching environment, an employer should evaluate whether its processes are clear and understandable. When an incident occurs, look at all the action that led to the situation and conduct the investigation in partnership with your employees. Taking this kind of disciplinary approach does not mean misconduct should not be documented; indeed, any coaching event must be documented, but the documentation does not need to be on a strict form containing needless legalese. Also, if an employee committed an honest mistake, remedial training and other corrective action may be warranted.

Although a behavior-based coaching approach takes the stigma away from discipline, there may still be incidents when one strike is a terminable offense. Most importantly, employers need to ensure consistency by analyzing similar situations and how they were handled. Taking action should be a multi-level decision within an organization, because allowing unfettered discretion to managers could lead to inconsistent enforcement, which in turn could lead to legal issues.

The behavior-based coaching method does require more training of managers as to processes and requires documentation, but the benefit is that employees feel less threatened, which leads to less turnover and more productivity. If you would like to learn more about implementing a behavior-based coaching approach to employee discipline, please contact the attorney below. 

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