Friendly Discipline

Shawnee Love   •  
August 8, 2013

You have a good employee, you like him, he works hard most of the time, but he does something that drives you crazy.  Perhaps takes extra long breaks or you bust him on facebook time and time again. Maybe he forgets to submit his reports, leaves his dirty dishes in the sink, or he might eat coworkers lunches and laugh off requests he replace or reimburse.  The issue is relatively minor in the scheme of things, but it just isn’t okay.  So what can you do about it?

Traditional discipline steps don’t seem all that useful- they feel a bit like overkill once you get past verbal warning, but what are the alternatives?

Here are the strategies you can use when an employee is misbehaving but not bad:

  1. Start with an expectation setting conversation. Ensure your employee knows you are unhappy about the behavior, the reasons it bothers you, and what you want him to do in the future.  Ask him why he continues when he knows you are unhappy with the behavior and have him give suggestions about how to put an end to it.  Hold him accountable for fixing it.
  2. If the behavior continues, then it is time to find the right currency to motivate the behavior you want.  In the past, here are some that have worked for me:
    • Removal of a privilege: E.g., Have the person use the stairs (not the elevator), ban him from the team softball game, no more free parking in the company parkade, missing out on Friday morning Donuts, etc.
    • Reassignment: Take him off his regular work for a day and have him file or shovel or do some other task that will give him lots of time to think- hopefully about improving so he doesn’t have to do it again.
    • Rewards: Each time he doesn’t do the bad behavior, give him a token of appreciation.  It doesn’t have to be much, even a thanks or a quick nod and smile shows you noticed and appreciated it.  On the other hand, it could be a nice reward like each week he is on his best behavior, he will get a six pack of beer or the entire team will get a pizza lunch- that way everyone will be cheering for him.
    • Public humiliation: When all else fails, a little public humiliation can go a long way.  Ideas include making the person wear the geeky bowtie or suspenders you have been saving for Halloween or a dunce cap each time he does that irritating behaviour.  Or perhaps you could fence off his cubicle with yellow tape and tell everyone he’s in quarantine till he gets over his irritating habit.  (Make sure everyone knows it is him stealing the food or leaving dirty dishes as well). Another fun one is require him to be the butler for everyone else in the office for a day. Again, it is a small cost to you but a fun way to curb bad behaviors without starting on the paper trail to termination.

We’d love to hear your ideas for ways to curb bad behaviors in good employees.  Please comment below.