Discipline is best defined as the observation of principles, rules or any other laid down procedures, practices, written or otherwise in the organization by the employees or group of employees, to whom these apply, for smooth and effective functioning of the organization.
Since, disciplinary measures have serious implications for employees; they often are based on the principles of being fair, just and acceptable to employees and, where applicable, the union as well. It cannot be enforced or imposed on employees, as history has proved, it never benefits anyone. So one of the most significant transformations that has impacted the workplace in the past few years is the ‘reinstatement’ of discipline in a positive and employee-supported environment. The way it is practiced in today’s organizations is extremely well communicated and adopts a discretionary approach.
The principal ingredients of sound employee disciplinary policies in organizations are:
- Location of responsibility: The responsibility for generating awareness regarding discipline is entrusted with every individual in the organization. Particularly it resides with the senior leadership of the company and will all managers who serve as the ambassadors of discipline. In the traditional brick-and-mortar organizations it is the Personnel Officer who is entrusted with the responsibility of offering advice and assistance. In case of employee in-discipline, the line manager issue only verbal and written warnings. In serious cases, which warrant discharge or suspension, the Industrial Relations Officer and other independent legal consultants need to be consulted.
- Proper formulation and communication of rules: The employees are expected to conform to rules and regulations and behave in a responsible manner; it is essential that these rules and regulations are properly and carefully formulated and communicated to them. It would be preferable if a copy of these regulations is included in their handbook; at any rate, they should be put up on notice boards and bulletin boards. Every organization has a Policy and Guidelines document, either as hardcopy in the form of the Company’s “Policy Handbook” or as soft copy on the Company’s intranet site. This document elaborates the specific acceptable personal code of conduct. All new employees are required to read it and acknowledge that they have read it by signing once they have read it all. In many organizations the employees need to read it and sign it once every year. This acts as a effective preventive mechanism to ensure that employees are aware of it and have committed to abide by it.
- Rules and regulations should be reasonable: Today’s organizations pay a lot of attention, and rightly so, towards formulating equitable polices that protect employee as well as the organizations values and rights. Often organizations involve employee representatives in formulating these policies and guidelines. Not only is the formulation of the policy important but also its communication. Organizations often hold road-shows and workshops that communicate policies and the reason why these policies are required. In order to make these workshops interesting and have employees attend it, the communication is often done using innovative means such as role-play, video-cases of workplace incidents and even build case studies around how to behave in particular situations.
- Equal treatment: All defaulters of the acknowledged code of conduct should be treated equitably, depending of course on the nature of the offence. Identical punishment should be awarded for identical offences, irrespective of the position or seniority of the employee.
- Disciplinary action should be taken in private: While the policies governing the acceptable code of conduct is communicated publicly, the reprimand for non-compliance needs to be done in private. This is to ensure that a wrong behaviour is corrected and not that the wrong-doer be punished, or ridiculed. At all times the organization needs to be watchful of remaining respectful of its employee and carry out any action in a respectful and in a confidential manner.
- Importance of promptness in taking disciplinary action: As goes the popular saying …. justice delayed is justice denied. If the action for review and reprimand is taken long after a violation of a policy/rule has happened, it loses its positive and corrective influence. The employees loose trust in the system and assume that the organization lacks commitment to it. It might even lead to resentment, which may not have developed if the corrective action had been imposed in time. Also the action taken needs to be compliant with the policy and fair. Most breach of the rules and policies might lead to employee termination, in such cases appropriate approval of the senior management should be taken and it should be implemented soon.
- Innocence is presumed: Again as per the fundamental rights of a human being, an individual is presumed to be innocent until he is proven to be guilty. It is the organization’s responsibility and therefore the HR team’s responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that a violation or an offence has been committed before any punishment is awarded. The employee or employees need to be given the first opportunity to explain himself/herself/themselves. The kind of proof that would be needed for this purpose would depend on the gravity of the offence that has been committed.
- Get the facts: Before taking any disciplinary action, it is important to ensure that records of the offense and any previous warnings are reviewed closely. It may often be discovered that there were mitigating circumstances, or that he/she/they were not aware of the rules; or that the person had conflicting orders or even permission to break the rule for some reason. Getting facts right is the most credible part of this entire activity.
- Action should be taken in non-threatening atmosphere: The action should be taken by multiple people to ensure that is fair and the best course of action. It then needs to be endorsed by a representative sample of the senior/top management team. Also it is important to be consistent with earlier decisions taken as therefore a rational and sensible judgment. It ought to be in-step with the conditions of natural justice. The management must act without bias and without vindictiveness. Justice and fair play must prevail. Wherever possible and within the framework of the policy, employee must be given the opportunity to reform himself/herself. And not only reprimanded.
- After a disciplinary action has been taken by the manager, he should treat his team member in a normal manner: The employee has paid the penalty for the violation of a rule. He should, therefore, be treated as he would have been, had there been no violation and no action. Remaining respectful and fair is important, and this could be difficult. Therefore the manager might need to be reminded to be watchful of it. HR can also play a effective rule here by continuing to remain in touch with the employee and hear out his grievance if any.
- Negative motivation should be handled in a positive manner: Often any such confrontation with a erring employees results in a immediate drop in motivation. Employee needs to be sensitized that a negative approach does not pay. Manager might often try to ‘protect’ their employees. As far as possible, disciplinary action should deal with specific rule in question, rather than with the employee in general. Managing the employee needs manager training, without doubt. The role of HR is critical. HR and the manager spend significant time role-playing the reactions of the employee and how the manager needs to respond and manage the employee back at work. The fruit of the pudding is in the preparation.