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Is Disciplining Employees a Nightmare?

What is one of the hardest things an employer, manager or supervisor has to do? It’s to sit down with an employee or team member who isn’t meeting expectations — or who is disruptive or belligerent — and tell them they have to shape up. It’s issuing a “warning.” It’s “writing you up.” It’s disciplining!

The boss’s life doesn’t have to be this way. There’s another approach which actually gets better results with most employees. It involves making employees personally responsible for their actions. It’s explained in one of the best-selling management books of the last few years, Discipline Without Punishment by consultant Dick Grote, Dallas, TX.

Paid Decision-Making in Georgia

The state of Georgia has used a Paid Decision-Making Leave with employees in several state agencies. Following are some of the results of a survey of supervisors and managers using this “Discipline without Punishment” approach in five state agencies.

  • How many times has the approach prevented the use of formal discipline? (Of 180 responses.) Every time, 113. More than half the time, 20. About half the time, 13. Less than half the time, 13. Never, 21.
  • How do you rate the approach as a tool for achieving desired performance? (Of 142 responses.) Very good, 106. No opinion, 28. Marginally useful, 8. Not useful, 0.
  • Would you return to the old system if you could? (Of 252 responses.) Yes, 31. No, 221.
  • How would you rate the effectiveness of this approach against the former program of adverse action? (Of 183 responses.) Much more effective, 1. More effective, 109. About the same, 62. Less effective, 10. Much less effective, 1.

Grote’s approach to discipline emphasizes personal responsibility instead of punishment. “Treating a problem employee as an adult with a problem to solve rather than as a child who must be punished for misbehavior greatly increases the likelihood that an adult response will be forthcoming,” Grote has explained.

Three features of Grote’s approach are:

1. Substitute “reminders” for “warnings.”
2. Coach supervisors to handle performance problems in a non-confrontational manner.
3. Replace conventional unpaid disciplinary layoff with a paid “decision-making leave.”

This last step — the paid decision-making leave — is the most important step. The employee, given a paid decision-making leave, is to return the day following the leave with a decision: Either to solve the immediate problem and make a total commitment to acceptable performance in every area of the job… or to quit and find more satisfying work someplace else.

And this is key to the approach: The importance of using a suspension. Grote has explained that the EEOC and other watchdog and legal agencies protecting employees often expect the employer to suspend an employee as a necessary warning measure before a termination. So, suspend the employee… but don’t withhold pay. Paying for the day off demonstrates the employer’s desire to see the employee change and stay. (Of course, if the employee elects to stay, he or she must agree that another disciplinary lapse could result in immediate termination.)

How Should a Supervisor Handle It?

Here is an example of how a supervisor gives an employee a paid decision-making leave: The supervisor is dealing with an employee who is regularly coming in late. The supervisor knows the employee has personal problems which are causing this, and also doesn’t want to have to “wear a black hat” and discipline the employee.

So the supervisor meets with the employee, reminds him or her of the expectations for successfully performing the job and the requirement to report to work as scheduled. And then the supervisor tells the employee “you have to decide.” The supervisor explains: “Do not report to work tomorrow. Instead, you are receiving a paid decision-making leave.

During your paid leave you will have to decide, do you want to continue working here? If so, you will decide to comply with our policies and perform up to our expectations. Or you will decide it’s better that you leave us and get a different job. It’s your choice.”

Does Paid Decision-Making Leave Work?

Does giving an employee a paid decision-making leave work any better than traditional discipline? Grote said not one employer he has helped to implement the approach has abandoned it. Some employers who keep statistics have documented substantial drops in warning reminders, disciplinary grievances, and even sick-leave hours, he said.

Grote has acknowledged “it’s a radical idea,” paying an employee for time-off to make a decision. “The whole idea is accountability,” Grote said. “It’s building a culture of accountability, getting people to take personal responsibility for the decisions they make.” Then Grote added, “If I had to give a supervisor just one piece of advice, it would be to use the phrase ‘It’s your choice.’ ”


reprinted with permission from Thomson Reuters 01.2023

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