Approaches to Discipline
Basically the approaches to discipline are of two types: positive and negative.
1. Positive Approaches to Discipline:
Employee discipline is critical in achieving organisational success. Generally, approaches to workplace discipline are positive and constructive, including communication, good systems design, quality management systems, training, motivation and rewards. However, in any organisation there is the need to plan for the negative, exceptional situations that occur when individuals or groups misbehave and break the rules, or do not comply with the expected standards.
In “positive” discipline, there is willingness to comply that comes from the desire to cooperate in achieving the common goal of the organisation. The emphasis here is on cooperative efforts to secure compliance to organisational norms.
2. Negative approaches to discipline:
On the other hand, “Negative” discipline involves force or an outward influence. It is the traditional approach to discipline and is identified with ensuring that subordinates adhere strictly to rules and punishment is meeting out in the event of disobedience and indiscipline. The fear of punishment works as a deterrent in the mind of the subordinate. Approaching discipline from this kind of a perspective has been proving increasingly ineffective.
We now move on to how to cope with ‘indiscipline’. What does an organisation do when staff does not comply with the standards of behaviour or performance expected and planned for? Indiscipline refers to the absence of discipline. Indiscipline, therefore, means nonconformity to formal and informal rules and regulations. No organisation can afford indiscipline as it will affect the morale, motivation and involvement of employees. Indiscipline often leads to chaos, confusion, and reduces the efficiency of the organisation. It often leads to strikes, go-slows, and absenteeism, resulting in loss of production, profits and wages.
Absenteeism, insubordination, violation of organisational rules, gambling incompetence, damage to machinery and property, dishonesty and other forms of disloyalty causes industrial indiscipline. These are all forms of misconduct against management. Most of the disciplinary problems do not occur overnight, but they gradually develop and many of the tendencies toward misconduct or indiscipline could be remedied if the supervisors take proper and timely action. Taking long lunch hours, not actively working on the job, gossiping and whiling away time, carelessness and tardiness etc. shows lax attitudes which have developed over a long period of time because they were tolerated. It is rightly said that first we develop habits and attitudes and later on they develop us. Therefore, it is extremely necessary to put out fires while they are small and yet to spread. A stitch in time would save nine!
Yet another crucial point is to probe deeper in order to find out the basic underlying causes of indiscipline problems. Instead of going by the outward symptoms and manifestations of misconduct, it is essential to pinpoint and alleviate the root causes of disciplinary problems. In most cases, management wishes to help the employee to overcome his difficulties. A further point is that management will wish to try to ensure that the malaise does not spread to other staff. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done!
The approach to managing discipline normally involves positive feedback, the encouragement of staff to do the ‘right’ things. To this end we set rules detailing the expected standards of behaviour. In addition, there is also the need to specify how deviations from these rules will be dealt with. The threat of sanctions can be used, i.e., penalties imposed for doing the ‘wrong’ things, such as breaking an important organisational rule. In this context, organisations speak about ‘disciplinary offences’ or ‘disciplinary hearings’ – but this is really a shorthand label. We are really seeking to monitor and control staff behaviour by setting rules and monitoring performance. This way we can readily identify and deal with those exceptional cases where the required order has broken down.
When such a situation occurs, some form of management reaction is required in order to restore the standards of behaviour and working practices to that which is required to achieve organisational objectives. This frequently involves threatening or invoking sanctions or penalties to correct, punish or deter staff from doing the ‘wrong’ things. This is the system of disciplinary procedures.
But discipline is more than punishment and deterrence. It is a whole system of rules and procedures designed to encourage people to do the right things, to deter them from doing the wrong things and for dealing with staff who do the wrong things. Disciplinary action is planned with the intention to improve the future behaviour of the employee who has broken the rules. It can also influence the behaviour of other staff.
We can identify many staff actions which may put the achievement of organisational objectives at risk or which pose a threat to its assets or reputation. These include:
- Inadequate or incompetent work performance
- Poor timekeeping-late arrival, early departure, too many rest periods
- Breaking rules- on safety or other aspects of work performance
- interfering with the work of others
- rudeness to customers or colleagues
- improper personal appearance
- being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- conflict of interest- too close links with customers or rivals
- damage to goods or property
- assault on customers or other staff
- Most organisations now have a formalized approach to disciplinary procedures both to ensure uniform practice and also to conform to legal requirements. Most countries have laws designed to protect the rights of workers. An inconsistent or unplanned approach to imposing discipline may well lead to legal action being taken against the organisation.
Such action can prove expensive in monetary terms. There is also the cost of management time required to defend the organisation. The reputation of a company can also be damaged if a court judgment is made against it. The standard of behaviour expected of staff should be defined in advance. Actions, which may give rise to punitive disciplinary action, should be clearly identified together with the consequences that will be imposed if such behaviour is encountered.
- Before conducting a discipline discussion, the supervisor should be able to:
- Describe the incident by answering: Who? What? When? How? Where? Witness? Why?
- Refer to the policy or procedure that was violated.
- Determine whether the employee was previously notified of the correct operating procedure and be able to provide documentation, if it exists.
- Know whether the employee has been disciplined previously.
- Provide documentation of verbal counselling, if possible.
- Determine whether other employees have violated the same policy/ procedure and what discipline, if any, they received.
- In discipline discussions with an employee, the supervisor points out the unsatisfactory behaviour, explains the need for and purpose of the rule or practice that is being violated, and expresses confidence in the employee’s willingness and ability to make the necessary changes in behaviour.
- During a discipline discussion the supervisor should be objective in reviewing the situation and give the employee specific examples of the behaviour that is causing the problem. The employee should be allowed an opportunity to present his or her own case. The supervisor needs to make sure the employee has a clear understanding of the consequences of his or her behaviour. The supervisor and the employee should agree on specific recommendations for correcting the performance.
Appeal of Disciplinary Action:
- People work together best in an atmosphere where they are valued as individuals and recognized as key members of the organisation. Supervisors ensure that policies and procedures are administered uniformly and followed judiciously by treating employees fairly and consistently. Fair, efficient, and equitable solutions for problems arise out of the employment relationship.
- Employees may disagree with the supervisor and submit grievances. Grievances are an informal approach to resolving conflicts. Grievance subject matter might include wages, hours of work, working conditions, performance evaluations, merit raises, job assignments, reprimands, rules, regulations, and policies.
- Though there is no rigid and specific procedure for taking a disciplinary action, the disciplinary procedure followed in Indian industries usually consists of the following steps:
- Issuing a letter of charge: When an employee commits an act of misconduct that requires disciplinary action, the employee concerned should be issued a charge sheet. Charges of misconduct or discipline should be clearly and precisely stated in the charge sheet. The charge sheet should also ask for an explanation for the said delinquent act and the employee should be given sufficient time for answering this.
- Consideration of explanation: On getting the answer for the letter of charge served, the explanation furnished is considered and if it is satisfactory, no disciplinary action need be taken. On the contrary when the
Disciplinary treatment in most organisations is progressive, whereby the organisation attempts to correct the employee’s behaviour by imposing increasingly severe penalties for each infraction. The usual steps are:
- Verbal warning
- Written warning
- Suspension, without pay
- Termination of employment
- Thus, progressive discipline is a discipline system where the severity of the penalty increases each time an employee breaks the rules. Typically the progression is from oral warnings to written warnings to suspension and, finally, to termination.
- There are advantages to using progressive discipline, especially when it’s used in conjunction with a set of work rules (that are thoroughly communicated to employees) and an explanation of the disciplinary system. For instance:
- The existence of a progressive step-by-step discipline system conveys to employees that you’re not out to nail them to the wall at the first sign of trouble.
- The existence of an adequately communicated progressive disciplinary system keeps employees informed of where they stand.
- Having a definite and consistently applied disciplinary system ensures employees who never need to be disciplined that those who do need to be disciplined will be.
- A progressive discipline policy provides the business with a system that is fair and easily defensible against a challenge.
- Employees accept fair, equitable, and consistent discipline. Positive, progressive, hot stove approaches work best. The hot stove rule is a set of principles that guide effective disciplining:
Immediacy: The more quickly the discipline follows the offense, the more likely the
discipline will be associated with the offense rather than with the dispenser of discipline.
Warning: It is more likely that disciplinary action will be interpreted as fair when employees receive clear warnings that a given violation will lead to a known discipline.
Consistency: Fair treatment demands that disciplinary action be consistent.
Impersonal nature: penalties should be connected to the behaviour (violation) and not to the personality (person) of the violator.
The Red Hot Stove Rule:
Without the continual support of subordinates, of subordinates, no manager can get things done. But, disciplinary action against a delinquent employee is painful and generates resentment on his part. Hence, a question arises as to how to impose discipline without generating resentment? This is possible through what Douglas McGregor called the “Red Hot Stove Rule”, which draws an analogy between touching a hot stove and undergoing discipline.
According to the Red Hot Stove rule, disciplinary action should have the following consequences:
Burns immediately: If disciplinary action is to be taken, it must occur immediately so the individual will understand the reason for it. With the passage of time, people have the tendency to convince themselves that they are not at fault.
Provides warning: It is very important to provide advance warning that punishment will follow unacceptable behaviour. As you move closer to a hot stove, you are warned by its heat that you will be burned if you can touch it.
Gives consistent: Disciplinary action should also be consistent in that everyone who performs the same act will be punished accordingly. As with a hot stove, each person who touches it is burned the same.
Burns impersonally: Disciplinary action should be impersonal. There are no0 favourites when this approach is followed.