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A Partnering Approach to Employee Discipline

Human Resources

At some point in the employment life cycle of each employee, there may be an opportunity for the exchange of communication with a supervisor to address less than optimal behavior or performance, even if it is just a small course correction. How supervisors and managers handle these instances of employee discipline can have a critical impact upon the desired outcome of timely and continued improvement.

The Role of the Manager

Some of the central roles of a manager are to supervise employees to be their best, to ensure their skill sets are well developed to suit their job tasks, and to establish an open line of communication to assist employees in reaching success in their position. This happens through the prompt, frequent, and objective delivery of feedback so employees know where they stand, including if they are falling short of employer expectations.

Although circumstances can vary widely, including the personality of the individual and the infraction at hand, a partnering approach that focuses on the positive attributes of the employee can yield quicker and longer lasting behavioral and performance-related changes.

The Plan in Action

As opposed to executing disciplinary measures as if they were a path to eventual termination, supervisors can exercise the following steps to employ a collaborative, improvement-centered approach to employee discipline.

The first step involves taking the time to prepare quality documentation in advance of an employee meeting. Using a consistent, clear method for documenting employee events, such as a pre-developed verbal or written warning form which cites the date, time, and nature of the incident(s), can help ensure fair, consistent treatment of employees. Well written documentation can also serve as a reference point to keep an employee disciplinary meeting on track and focused on the matter at hand.

In addition, having factual and objective examples of the employee’s infractions and copies of existing employee handbook policies or internal procedures manuals which reference the desired behavior can help minimize the potential for employees to react defensively.

Finally, because the potential exists for some employees to take the process of discussing a performance issue personally, it is also important for a supervisor to consider their intentions prior to the meeting and act accordingly. Acknowledging what the employee does well, being clear about what they need to do to improve, giving the employee an opportunity to voice their thoughts, and serving as an ongoing resource for the employee can help set the tone for – and impact the result of – the disciplinary meeting.

Know Your Resources

Acknowledging that there is a problem at hand with an employee also lends itself to acknowledging that there is a solution. A supervisor must consider both the root cause of the issue, as well as what could potentially help the employee remedy the issue. Examples of possible solutions could include: internal and external training resources, a mentoring relationship with an exemplary performer, or ongoing one-on-one meetings with a supervisor or manager.

Overall, how managers approach employee discipline situations, including the words that are used during a meeting, the documentation that is prepared in advance, and the assistance offered in achieving the new goals set forth, will shape how the employee reacts to the feedback. Employing best practices in this area can lead to numerous positive outcomes, including increased employee morale and job satisfaction, and the creation of a work environment where two-way communication is encouraged and valued.

About the Author

Jillienne Allgauer is a certified senior professional in human resources and has over twelve years of experience in human resources and a Chamber of Commerce member, business development. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Geneseo and currently serves as an HR consultant for Paychex in West Palm Beach, FL.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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