How To Deal With A Disciplinary. #NewToHR

How To Deal With A Disciplinary

You know it is coming your way and the open office offers few great hiding places.

The heavy footsteps of your boss leaving his desk… make the coffee in your mug tremble… and all your colleagues around you notice the change of color on your face.

Suddenly, you feel an itch on the back of your head, and you know the target is locked and loaded.

No, you are not about to be named the Employee Of The Month…

Instead, management wants to have a WORD with… YOU!

Getting Disciplinary Action – is one of the most tormenting events an employee can go through. Having that finger pointed at you, waiting for the fallout, is one of the worst feelings anyone can experience in the workspace!

The good news is that you are not the only one to have to go through this ordeal. Even better news is that most Disciplinary Actions are not a result of real problems, but rather a consequence of poor communication (internally) and possibly under-performance.

Before you go down into a deep black hole and embark on the bureaucratic nightmare of proving your ‘innocence’- sit back, relax, and look at what it actually means.

A disciplinary is no longer what it used to be.

Back in the good old days, your boss, the Pharaoh, would have administered a painful disciplinary measure for each second you did not spend pulling those heavy limestone blocks up to the top of the Pyramid. Forget about having the right to enquire about the allegation(s), attend a disciplinary meeting, or even have the right to appeal. The workers of the past, either bowed their heads or faced something worse than a lifetime of hard physical labor.

Suddenly, walking into the office tomorrow, after a disciplinary today, and facing your ‘boss’ does not sound so bad.

The problem of discipline in the workspace is as old as time itself, and the reasons are simple.

A work contract is basically a form of negotiation that is always pushing things right to the edge. There should be no secret that an employer wants to have a productive employee and you as an employee want a supportive employer. The “I scratch your back, if you scratch mine” can easily leave painful marks – if one side steps outside this perimeter – conventionally limited at the beginning of each work agreement. In the worst case scenarios, all that scratching leads to a catfight, a cold war of threats and warnings that can ruin work relationships and turns the office into a battlefield for peer warfare!

The first step towards dealing with a disciplinary as an employee is to understand the ‘crooked‘ mechanism underlying such an action.

The dictionary definition leaves no doubt on what discipline means in the mind of many employers,

punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.

Zoom in on the first two words and picture your office building having this engraved on its’ front – “An eye for an eye.”

For those with a wild imagination 😉 the HR department becomes an sweatshop with the only purpose of inflicting progressive pain and preventing you from building tolerance. Oh, and they have no stop word other than – “I quit.”

Traditional methods of running companies still rely on UNHEALTHY disciplinaries to get their employees back on track.

If we expand the Egyptian Pyramid example, that means… extra punishments for you!

But is ‘pain‘ the best of motivators?

This type of discipline is still allowed in companies today and does nothing more in our eyes than leading to a build up of employee stress and eventually unhealthy workplace escalations. The problem is obvious!

The traditional system spends little to no resources on understanding the root causes, focuses on documenting the issue rather than solving it, and relies on fostering a negative spectrum of emotions. No wonder you felt like a 9-year-old pupil when you received that first verbal warning!

Your employer did not force you to sit in the corner and wear the cone of shame, but the angry gaze of your boss (and peers) made you feel just like the time you misbehaved in school.

Traditional disciplinary systems rely mostly on one-way communication and make use of a child-adult kind of standoff. Obviously, there is the arguement that it may be the proper way to handle the situation, if you claim your dog ate the last KPI report or if you blame global warming for showing up late after that light rainstorm.

But for the other 99% cases, employee counseling and working with the employee – instead of ‘punishing’, is the right ingredient to establish that alchemy of success!

Now comes the silly question.

Why do companies still hesitate to have this organic and evergreen approach?

The answer lies somewhere between treating employees like command-obeying machines and hesitating to breach the traditional hierarchies with conversations that can get too personal – emotion – is still a very difficult topic.

The traditional HR professional will follow their dusty 180-page employee handbook (that once included corporal punishment), as this is just simpler and worry free with ‘less’ legal implications.

You see, most disciplinary actions are conducted the same way when someone pokes the beehive; each intrusion is bolder and has a more disruptive potential.

Following the old guidelines, helps HR document and build the case, that would justify the company’s action against you. As an employee, the bad news is that you are not the one who gets to pick the game!

Whether your company opts for a traditional discipline system or goes for the counseling approach, your best bet is to distinguish correctly between the two and act accordingly.

Being disciplined is particularly disruptive to your ego. Expressing your emotions immediately – fear, anger, and resentment, usually only feeds and attracts more ‘punitive’ measures.

Turning into an office stoic, a Gandhi, and choosing the path of the least resistance may be one of the ways to cushion the conflict. But the lack of opposition on your part, has the downside of potentially making you appear weak, so it ONLY should be used with caution.

Of course, we also do not advise you to go for independence – and scare your colleagues with extended periods of quiet strikes in front of the office. There are no pages in history reserved for workplace heroes and their acts of passive protests against the establishment – when they go through a disciplinary (and/or grievance) process.

The other approach is much simpler.

If they come to you waving the white flag and offering peace, do sit down with – your boss and disciplinary chair – at the negotiation table.

Some say that wars first made their way into human society, because tribes of individuals spoke different languages and could not negotiate with each other. Every company has its Tower of Babel stretching from the ground all the way up to management.

Most of the conflicts occur, because managers, employees and their teams do not spend enough time communicating and making their verbal statements clear.

Counseling requires from you to be sincere and willing to open.

Everything that might prevent you from being a ‘productive employee; behaving ‘properly’, being on time, complying with the ‘company’s quality standards – has to be highlighted and paired with a (performance) solution. For you personally, this may even involve dissecting your personal life and putting your closet full of skeletons up for the Autum – Halloween yard sale.

And please DO NOT act like an angry person that never bothered to remove the thorn in their foot, you are both working together towards a way to fix the ‘issue’.

As always, there is a third way for an employee to deal with a disciplinary.

Pleasing Ares, the God of War, can be your ticket out of a fierce clash with a company that likes to see you in that ‘blackhole’. And there is extended literature on what an employee should do, if they are accused and feel mistreated.

What you need to do is build up a case, just like the lawyers do before heading for the courthouse.

Verba volant scripta manent.

= Spoken words fly away, written words remain. Write this Latin proverb somewhere on a post-it and read it each time you are in need of defending your work or role.

Justice can be on your side, but it is pointless – if you lack the means to tell your story to a third party accurately. An employee appealing against disciplinary action can do two things;

  1. express your intention, and
  2. explain why you do not agree.

Cases where workers emerge victorious following their arduous fight with the company ‘sharks’ occur more often than you can imagine. However, most of these are pyrrhic victories.

Yes, you can escape a disciplinary with your head up (and your backside not kicked), but the long terms costs can make your celebration bitter. Nothing ruins workspace karma like going all the way with legal action. You can earn your right to remain in the company, but how would you react to see your photo taking its place on the dartboard in the lounge room? Or, hear an awkward coughing each time your name is heard across the office.

Being public enemy number one – can ruin your relationship with other colleagues and turn you into the lone wolf, that follows the pack from a safe distance.

[We know that this should not be the case with all the legal employee protections out there, but in many cases it is and we just want to be honest about situations like the above. We always advice (if it is necessary) go for it 😉 but do understand the possible emotional impact on wellbeing and health for everyone (incl. your family) involved.]

Of course, receiving a disciplinary warning does not always have to lead up to a joust with your employer!

Verbal warnings are the ones easiest to misinterpret

That is because the supervisor giving you “the talk” is compelled by human nature. It gets even worse when you share a strained relation with the person that has to ‘reprimand’ you. It is almost impossible to get past the feeling that your boss or supervisor has a personal feud with you, and now found the right pretext to take it out in the open.

Verbal warnings tend to be cumbersome and hard to digest. However, the worst part about them is that they can also be vague…

Warnings like “You’re not a team player!” or “You did again!” are not exactly illuminating on the matter that caused discontent and will not give you the proper tools to address the issue.

Take the time to talk to your manager or send a polite email asking for further clarification. (…at this time start documenting everything, and I mean everything!)

Use the patience of a highly trained call-centre worker listening to a difficult client, as this can get you past some of the most absurd and abstract warnings you will ever receive in your career.

Another trick is to treat warnings of any kind, as a form of ‘constructive’ feedback. You should express your ‘gratitude’ for receiving it, but also feel ready to ask for and give constructive criticism 😉

Let us talk about what you should NOT do in case of a disciplinary.

Ignoring it and hoping it will go away when you are at home with that mild cold that just came on. Ignorance is bliss, but not in these work related matters!

Failing to address a good reproach can fuel more severe actions in the future. Always think about the cost of your ‘inaction’.

Acquire the ability to read between the lines and do some remote sensing around the office, to see if the ‘plot’ against you is real or just joke material for those awfully long coffee breaks – the latter does happen (even in today’s modern HR world).

Cheer up!

As somber as it might sound, having Disciplinary Action directed at you does not have to end with a dismissal or a resignation!

Heck, in the majority of cases it will turn you into a better employee. Your career is going through some growing pains, which is perfectly normal.

Remember school? As far as the bad finals go, no one got hurt after stepping into the principal’s office.

Why would you fear of going through a similar process now when you are a grown-up?

Send your dark thoughts to the shredder and step into the Disciplinary whirlpool committed to support your cause!

© New To HR


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