Letters from Carey: Progressive Discipline Advice for Problem Employees

Happy August! This month I would like to address how to handle problem employees.  Hiring managers like to hire team players not drama kings/queens.  Leaders strive to create a team that works well together, but as most of you know, management and leadership are not that easy.  More often than not we are the ones responsible for putting out fires in the work place and working to maintain a cohesive, happy and productive environment.  In an ideal world this type of work place would be common, but we are in fact dealing with the human species -  need I say more?

As many of you know I am passionate about creating a performance-driven culture.  I believe that if employees know what I expect of them, and know that I track their performance and will hold them accountable, it sets their minds at ease.  There is no uncertainty about who is responsible for what.  Each person knows what is expected.  For the most part, this transparency works well and 90% of the time everyone is happy.  It is only when someone rocks the boat, deviates from the processes or violates something that things get hairy.

In these satiations it is imperative to correct the behavior immediately.  I have learned that thinking “oh, I will just hope this works itself out,” never turns out the way I hope.  I also have learned ways to avoid and sometimes correct the problem.   Here are some standard practices I use. Perhaps these will be helpful to you as you strive to create a productive/effective team: 

Step 1 Counseling Session/Review Meetings:  This is a step that will often help you avoid a problem.  It is a proactive way to constantly encourage good performance.  The session would involve a formal sit-down meeting one-on-one with the employee and any supervisors.  You would simply discuss their job and their performance.  Within this conversation you must put them at ease and stress the importance of the team.  It would be appropriate to pull up documentation such as a job description, company mission, vision etc. to use as an enforcer as to why it is imperative that they continue to perform the way that they have or areas that need improvement.  Sometimes these conversations can take place during quarterly reviews, but if the problem is impacting the entire team’s morale it must be addressed immediately.  Keep the conversation on job performance and job requirements- focus on their strengths, accomplishments and where they need improving.     

I used to have meetings with my staff quarterly but have recently changed it to every six months because three months flies by in the small business world and once a year is not enough!  Find a structure that works best for you.  Also, document each review and have all participants sign.

Step 2 Verbal/Written Notification: When there is a problem write out what the problem is and what you need in order to resolve the problem.  Then, schedule a private meeting and use your written documentation as an outline for the conversation.  You should describe the performance issue and then ask the employee to explain his/her actions before making a decision on how to proceed.  Don’t underestimate the power of listening but also stand your ground and clearly lay out expectations.  Be firm but upbeat and always try to express confidence in their ability to turn things around.  Document the meeting and have them sign and date all documentation.  If they refuse to sign, state that they refused to sign and ask that a witness (typically a supervisor) sign.

Step 3 Probation or Suspension: This would be a necessary step if Step 2 is not able to effectively correct the problem.  Management must always be notified of this.  A one-on-one meeting would be conducted and members of management would be included in the meeting.  You would need to describe the current state of the employee’s performance and again allow the employee to explain.  Tell the employee that he/she is going to be suspended or that you are giving a “final” warning in lieu of suspension.  I am more of an advocate for a final warning than suspension and my personal time frame for turnaround is short - two weeks.  Small business owners cannot afford to keep an employee who is failing to perform.  The entire team looks to management to see what is acceptable behavior and not acceptable.  It is up to management to lead.  Document the meeting and have all parties sign.   

Step 4 Discharge: This is what all management hopes to avoid.  I absolutely detest terminating employees.   This meeting would be conducted in private but should typically always have at least two members of management- try to avoid doing it alone.  Take into consideration whether special physical or security measures are appropriate for you and prepare- i.e. remote log in access, keys, alarm codes, whether the person has an aggressive attitude (may be necessary to have security back up if you think it could become hostile).  Make sure your words and actions protect the employee’s dignity and privacy.  Tell the employee of the discharge decision and explain any exit procedures, payroll/benefits, personal property etc.  Keep the conversation as brief as can be since all of your reasons behind the termination decision are well documented in Steps 2 and 3.  Obtain any company property and escort them out.  Many companies think Friday is the best day to terminate; however, numerous studies show that Mondays or Tuesdays are best practice because it allows the discharged employee an opportunity to begin “hitting the pavement” to other agencies or businesses as opposed to having a weekend to stew and worry.

I hope these steps are helpful to you should you ever find yourself in a situation of needing to put out a fire.  I hope that as the summer heats up, your employee relations stay cool!  As always, I welcome your feedback.  If there are other or additional steps you take to implement disciplinary action I welcome those tips and will gladly share with all of our clients.  Thank you for your continued support of ProRecruiters.

All Our Best!

Carey