Features of a Sound Employee Disciplinary System

Discipline is an inevitable correlate of organization. To be organized means to be disciplined and vice-versa. The behavior of an employee is at the root of all discipline in an organization.

Some of the key features of a sound employee disciplinary system are:

1. Knowledge of Rules

The employee must be informed clearly about what constitutes good behavior and the rewards that may emanate from it. All instructions should be clear and understandable. It is common sense that an employee will obey an instruction more readily if he understands it. The supervisor himself must know all the rules. He cannot effectively communicate with his workers if his own knowledge about rules is half baked. In fact, he needs to know more than the barest minimum that he wants his workers to know. This reserve of knowledge is essential in order to be able to answer several unexpected question from workers. In other works, a supervisor’s span of knowledge and understanding of rules should be greater than that of his workers. If this is not so, the supervisor will lose personal prestige both before his supervisors and subordinates.

2.Prompt Action

All violations and misconducts-big and small-should be promptly inquired into. For example, a supervisor is most unwise to wait until lunch break before rebuking a worker for arriving late. Beat the iron when it is hot. This is because when the penalty is imposed immediately following the violation of a rule the person punished tends to identify the punishment with the act he committed. Accordingly, the subordinate attempts to avoid the violation in future. This is called the “law of effect”. The greater the delay the more one forgets and the more one feels that punishment is not deserved.

3.Fair Action

Promptness of disciplinary action at the cost of its fairness is not proper. An action in order to be fair must possess the following characteristics:

  • All violations-big and small-should be duly punished. A violation should not be overlooked or condoned merely because it is small otherwise this will give an impression that announced rules are meaningless.
  • All individuals-big and small-should receive equal punishment for equal indiscipline. If a rule is applied to one individual but not to another, the management is bound to be accused of favoritism.
  • Discipline should be uniformly enforced at all times. If management soft-pedals on taking a disciplinary action when there is shortage of labor and toughens its policy when labor is plentiful it is acting arbitrarily. Similarly, if the management overlooks a wrong on one occasion and punishes it on another occasion it is acting inconsistently. Inconsistent behavior of management leads to uncertainty in the minds of subordinates. They simply do not know where they stand.
  • The alleged violation should be fully inquired into. Making a mistake by hastily administering a penalty which on the basis of facts collected later on is found to be uncalled for will mean a permanent destruction of the morale of the punished worker and general loss of face for the supervisor.
  • The employee should always be given an opportunity to explain his action. The common law principle that an offender is innocent until he is proved guilty beyond doubt should be followed. The burden of proving the violation always lies on the management.

4. Well Defined Procedure

The procedure to be followed to reach to a penalty decision should be carefully laid down. It should include the following steps:

  • The supervisor must assure himself that some violation of the rules has taken place.
  • He should state precisely and objectively the nature of the alleged violation.
  • He should then proceed to gather full facts about the case and maintain proper records. Facts will have to be gathered concerning the nature of the event, the participants and the surrounding circumstances. Extenuating circumstances such as ill-health, family troubles, etc., should be found out. A critical analysis should be made of the person’s background such as his past service record, length of service, local practice, etc. Fact gathering is often a process of fact-sifting. Opinions should not be mistaken for facts. The methods used for gathering the fact must not smack of spying and statements should not be prejudged.
  • After all the facts have been gathered, thought should be given to the various types of disciplinary action which can be taken in the case in question. It is advisable to prepare three separate lists of actions. The first list should include all types of disciplinary action to make certain that no possibility is overlooked. The second list should classify penalties according to rank in order to acquaint the executive with those actions which lie within his command and those for which he should refer the case to his superiors. The third list should include only those penalties, which the offense in question specifically calls for.
  • The appropriateness of a disciplinary action should be decided in terms of its effectiveness in correcting the employee. This is very important because the purpose of a disciplinary action is to mend an employee and not to punish him, to help him and not to harm him.
  • The accused employee should have the right to appeal to higher authorities.

5. Constructive Handling of Disciplinary Action

Disciplinary action should be handled in a constructive manner. It should be carried out by the immediate line supervisor. This employee should be told not only the reasons for the action taken against him but also how he can avoid such penalties in future. Disciplinary action should be taken in private. By exposing an employee to public ridicule the supervisor attacks his dignity and social standing. This may produce an opposite effect on the employee. He may react violently or may become obstinate to preserve his ego.

It is most unwise for a supervisor to take a general disciplinary action against a group of subordinates. Disciplinary action is a matter for the individual. It is the individual who should be held responsible for any wrong. A management which takes disciplinary action against a group is likely to set off a wave of unrest associated with falling morale and even the possibility of wildcat strike.

After the disciplinary action has been taken the supervisor must assume a normal attitude towards the employee. He should revert to his role of a helping hand-as if nothing has happened. This is possible only when the supervisor uses an impersonal approach in administering a penalty. He should not engage in personal ridicule, insult or even criticism. He should avoid getting into an argument. In short, he must play the role of a judge enforcing the law with impartiality.

Credit: Industrial Relations Management Notes-MGU

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