Just as employees whom perform their duties appropriately should be encouraged by rewarding them with praise, employees who perform negative actions should be discouraged by rewarding them with a penalty/punishment.
It is, however, important to note that the purpose of discipline is for correction and learning. Being a supervisor, like a coordinator, manager, or team lead, is not a license to be a bully. Explaining faults in a respectful manner helps employees understand the problem and reduces the likelihood of a repeated offence. This is the reason why it is necessary to educate subordinates, especially new employees/members of your group/team, on all company policies inside and outside of the workplace; emphasis on the importance of total compliance and the consequences of noncompliance.
For example, harassment is a major concern in companies with a diverse workforce. It ranges from bullying to sexual harassment – sexual harassment being the most prevalent. Female subordinates are usually the victims of sexual harassment, not just from their peers, but from figures in authority and that’s unfortunate. Unreciprocated advances, bothersome behaviour, and failed/forceful romance are the most common types of sexual harassment.
In Nigeria, I’ve noticed that a lot of young women do not even realise that being hit on, “accidentally” fondled, or groped by a colleague at work is unacceptable. What is even more alarming is that a lot of companies, via complacent supervisors, treat sexual harassment complaints as non-issues. This is too bad, as I don’t know if this attitude stems from the archaic culture of treating women as second class citizens with no rights, or just plain insensitivity. I try to educate employers that this should be a huge concern.
It is important for productivity that female workers feel safe. As a supervisor, it is your responsibility to be sensitive enough to handle such issues delicately, discretely, swiftly, and by the book. If male employees are not reprimanded for sexual harrassment, this unprofessional behavior will continue, and possibly escalate into violent advances.
That being said, there should be a scale to the severity of punishments in relation to the frequency and gravity of the offences. For minor offences, such as absenteeism/lateness, missed deadlines, insubordination, misuse of office equipment, and abuse of privileges, it is advisable to apply progressive discipline – a process of building up to cause. It starts with a verbal warning, and with the repeat of an offence, it escalates to a written warning, suspension (with/without pay), and finally, termination. For more severe offences such as harassment, inappropriate/crude behaviour, and violence, the company must have policies. Policies usually highlight the process of handling such situations. However, in my experience, there are two successful forms of employee discipline:
This is the most widely used form of employee discipline. It is a gradual process of discipline that escalates as the faults increase or graduate. For minor offenses, it progresses from verbal warning – written warning – suspension (with/without pay) – termination. For more serious offenses, it may go from written warning – suspension (without pay) – termination. It is successful because it motivates subordinates in becoming effective employees of their organizations. The only problem with the progressive discipline model is that it may not actually correct the wrong. It works like negative reinforcement – the action is only discontinued in order to avoid punishment.
This is a new, lenient trend in organisations. It progresses from verbal warning – written warning – suspension (with pay). It aims to impact learning rather than to punish. It is successful because it assists employees become more effective by discouraging bad behavior, as opposed to punishment. The only problem with the positive discipline model is its controversial nature – its leniency; penalised subordinates still get paid, even though they’re on suspension.
Please note that every form of warning must be documented, and a copy put into the subordinates’ files. This is particularly useful during performance evaluations. Most of the Nigerian employers I’ve worked with are of the opinion that leniency doesnt work here. They believe only the iron hand approach of the progressive discipline model would encourage the desired behaviour.
Anyway, since prevention is better than cure, it is advisable to transfer dating/married/estranged couples to different departments to avoid conflict; provide support and time for improvement for underperforming employees; and organize mandatory seminars, departmental workshops and leisure outings. This will help promote harmony and mutual respect. When all else fails, use discernment in applying warnings, suspensions and terminations (with built cause). Supervisors have to decide what will work best for the benefit of their teams/subordinates and company.
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