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The role of leadership in disciplinary procedures

 

Businesses today are competing to retain much needed skills and talent and are doing so by modernising the HR function and providing new ways of working in a bid to engender trust and engagement from the workforce. In a recent PwC survey of global CEO’s, 86% said that they’re modernising their working environment, with 77% implementing flexible ways of working to recognise how today’s top talent wants to work. This means taking a fresh look at how employees are managed, including rewarding success, encouraging employee feedback, and even a new look at disciplinary procedures.

Amazon recently received a backlash after introducing their ‘pivot scheme’, in which employees have to defend their actions in a TV reality style court over teleconference while their colleagues look on. One employee who went through the process said she was unable to connect with the panellists due to the teleconference set up, and not allowed to listen in to her Manager’s presentation or arguments, rendering the process unfair. It is also extremely unlikely that an employee who is put through this very visible humiliation is going to stay on at the company even if they win. So, has Amazon gone too far? In a bid to appear innovative, are businesses trying to change processes which actually work very well in their current form, and is discipline one area that should remain behind closed doors and which doesn’t need a shake up?

Traditional disciplinary procedures come into play when an employee is in breach of the company’s documented rules and procedures of conduct. The rules should follow the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, and usually involve progressive steps designed to prevent the issue from escalating and to ensure evidence of following the correct procedures should the issue get as far as an employment tribunal. If an employee is not following acceptable code of practice, then the role of the Manager should first be called into question before any formal action is considered. An employee must understand the standards expected of them and should be well aware - through regular personal development reviews and 1-2-1s with their Manager, that they may be falling short. Disciplinary action then, should be a last resort and should not come as a surprise to those parties involved.

A Manager’s role, or that of HR, in this shift to greater employee rights, is to develop the skills needed for open conversation and to make mediation a part of everyday working life. If that is built into your company culture, along with strong values and a collective belief in what you are doing, there are likely to be less instances where a formal disciplinary procedure needs to be invoked. Well before a disagreement is escalated, it’s key that an employee has sat down with their manager and formally discussed what needs improvement (eg timekeeping, attendance, conduct, work standards), been given the opportunity to explain, been given an action plan to bring about the required improvement and received a written note, signed by both manager and employee, of the agreed action to be taken.

Conclusion

Managers and HR professionals should seek to avoid disciplinary action wherever possible. It can be extremely detrimental to a company’s brand, to employee morale and turnover, and to an individual’s career. Instead businesses should focus on detecting problems early with a view to mediation and resolution, and on training managers to effectively communicate with their teams so that there is a perpetual feedback and improvement loop, reducing the likelihood of formal disciplinary issues. If there is a need for a formal process, keeping it confidential benefits both the company and the employee in the long run.