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Disciplinary action should be like a hot stove.

Disciplinary action should be like a hot stove.

1) There is warning. The stove radiates heat. You know what will happen if you touch it.

2) The burn is immediate. It doesn’t take two weeks for the stove to work up the courage to burn you.

3) The burn is consistent. Everyone who touches the stove gets burned every time. If you touch the stove, you can count on getting burned.

4) The stove is impersonal. The disciplinary action was taken against the act, not the person. The stove doesn’t hate you. It burned you because you touched it.

Let’s try this out. Alison is late again. Every day she clocks in three to five minutes after her shift starts. Today she showed up 20 minutes late, full of excuses. But you’ve heard these excuses before when she was 30 minutes late two weeks ago.

Was there warning?

The Employee Handbook states:

“It is extremely important that you arrive at work on time.  On time means that when your scheduled shift begins, you are in the store, punched in on the time clock, with appropriate employee identification on, and ready to work. 

Habitual tardiness, or any single incidence of tardiness of 15 minutes or more, or failure to notify your supervisor or lead person in your department of your tardiness for work, will be subject to corrective action.”

Was the consequence immediate?

You meet with her later that same day, show her the time clock records for the past two weeks, remind her of the verbal warning after her last lateness, and issue a written warning.

Are you being consistent?

Other staff members with similar patterns of lateness have received similar warnings. You are not singling Alison out. You are not turning a blind eye toward others’ tardiness. You did not ignore the previous time she was late by more than 15 minutes, when you gave her a verbal warning.

Is your action impersonal?

You’re not angry with Alison. You hope she’ll succeed and continue working in your store.

Now let’s try another scenario. Zachary is friendly with customers but he gets into long conversations that don’t result in sales.  This leaves co-workers to do his share of the stocking and receiving.

Was there warning?

The performance appraisal form lists these criteria for evaluating efficiency:

a) Keeps focused on task at hand. Keeps busy during slow periods.

b) Balances friendliness with efficiency.  Doesn’t let personal conversations keep customers or co-workers waiting.

c) Conscientious to needs of co-workers and flow of work.

d) Plans ahead and prioritizes the day's work.

Was the consequence immediate?

It can take time to detect a pattern. The first time you observed everyone scrambling to unload a truck while Zachary conversed with a customer, you asked if he realized the impact on others. He apologized, but you haven’t noticed sustained improvement. At his performance review, you rate him “unsatisfactory” on b) and c) and “needs improvement” on a) and d). As a result, you withhold a pay increase with the offer of considering a non-retroactive raise in three months if his performance shows improvement.

Are you being consistent?

No one else on staff is exhibiting the same performance problem as Zachary, but you have recently terminated one new employee during the trial period for “lack of hustle” and co-worker complaints about leaving tasks undone. You aren’t allowing others to slack off while singling out Zachary.

Is your action impersonal?

You’re disappointed in Zachary but your emotional response is moderate. You’re giving him a second chance.

Disciplinary action is never easy. But like a hot stove, at least you’re being fair. •


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