Disciplining employees without hurting feelings


Guest column: Emmanuel Zvada

CORRECTING the mistakes of people is not the easiest task in the world as some may think, but somebody has got to do it. Disciplining your employees always makes human resources (HR) practitioners feel awkward, but it is something that needs to be done with assertiveness, if you want a harmonious and effective workplace. So, it is important to take the time to explore effective methods of disciplining employees.

When you need to take steps to discipline an employee, whether you like it or not, there will be times when it’s necessary to discipline them without damaging your relationships. All managers will eventually have to correct their staff, whether they like it or not so that certain behaviour does not continue. The reason is that, as a manager, your role is to guide employees towards the right direction. In other words, if they exhibit a negative attitude or behaviour, you need to deal with it.

It should be known that being a manager or a leader is just like being a parent in a workplace set-up. When your child makes mistakes in the process of growing up, you are responsible in correcting them so that they learn. If they are acquiring inappropriate behaviour, you will have to correct them. If you decide to just let them be, you will have more problems. Some form of discipline should be instilled upon employees, whether young or old, in the workplace. The crucial area to be discussed however, is not why discipline is important, but rather, how do you instil discipline in a way which does not hurt feelings.

In a workplace set-up it is not easy telling people that what they are doing is wrong. It is rather a skill to know how to properly correct the mistakes of others without hurting their feelings, to admonish an employee who has been slacking off on the job. Disciplining employees, is an art and here are a few things that can be done to encourage positive behaviour after disciplining them.

Counselling approach

If a person is treated with respect during the disciplinary action, then he is more apt to try to improve his behaviour. Instead of intimidating the employee with punishment, the employee is counselled on what he did wrong in a respectful manner.

The counselling approach treats employees with respect. It is an approach that makes them feel valued and that their opinions matter. Management and employees then work together to find a solution to the issue that is mutually beneficial. To do this, management must carefully examine the behaviour of the employee and asks questions to identify what the main conflict or concern may really be so that they find the common ground.

Keep the employee’s dignity when disciplining

Emotional employees, especially in cases of crying in the workplace, should have their dignity kept intact. In disciplining employees, make sure you do not hurt the employee’s feelings. It should be noted that there are situations when employees’ emotions escalate to unmanageable levels, adversely affecting other employees, and need a different approach – sometimes involving conflict resolution or mediation. All what is needed is to make sure that the issue is handled in such a way that shows that we are treating each other with a high degree of maturity.

Listen to all sides and do not take sides

Just remember there is always two sides to a story in whatever circumstance. You hurt people when you make accusations that are not true, so by all means you should avoid taking sides.

If there is conflict between your people or a mistake is committed by an employee, do not blow out immediately and tell them what they should have done.
Instead, ask questions first and listen to find out why the employee did what he or she did. When you open your mind and listen, your staff may surprise you with good reasons for doing what they did. More so when addressing a conflict, words matter. Regardless of how good your intentions are, what you say can further upset your co-worker and just make the issue worse.

Look at the big picture

Seeing the bigger picture is an essential leadership quality where managers learn to look beyond the obvious and it helps in decision making. Before handling the matter, it will be great to note that mistakes are not all equal. There are minor mistakes and there are also major business-threatening ones, though they are all equally irritating. In such a case a manager should look at the overall picture. Failure to handle petty mistakes properly can hurt the feelings of the workers and end up affecting productivity.

Do not admonish at the heat of the moment

Managers often get upset with stupid mistakes of others and it is normal to many. When an issue arises, it is advisable that you do not talk to your staff or write a memo.

You need enough time to study the issue at hand and also to get advices from others before you handle the issue. This will help a lot, especially in making informed decisions or even in handling the disciplinary issue. Many managers are unable to separate themselves from their feelings of anger, resentment, frustration, or something else while taking corrective action at work. Failing to separate emotion when disciplining employees can ruin a manager’s entire day to an extent that some managers even take the stress home with them

It is not easy being the boss or a manager. But once you develop the skills to lead and manage people, your work life becomes easier.

Once you have mastered how to discipline your employees, you will reap the rewards of having a competent and happy workforce.

Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant/international recruitment expert and author. He writes in his personal capacity.