Treat employees like adults

Does your organization have any of these problems?

·        Managers resist taking any disciplinary action with an employee until it becomes impossible to ignore.

·        Managers are hesitant to use a disciplinary system with professionals because it seems appropriate only for "blue collar types." Thus, substandard management behavior isn't confronted.

·        The supervisor and employee involved in a disciplinary situation are caught in an adversarial battle.

If we really do believe that others should be treated as we'd like to be treated-as responsible adults- why are companies still taking the schoolmaster role?

Indeed, people in an organization are adults. Adults, who manage to buy their own home, pay their own bills, raise their own children and lead responsible lives outside of work. However, when they come to work, they find themselves in a system that seems to say, "If you break a rule or fail to meet expectations, it's management's job to punish you." Warnings and reprimands are followed by suspensions and probations, in the hopes that the offender will get back on track.

A written warning won't build a better relationship between boss and employee and an employee returning from a suspension is rarely coming back fully committed to the organization. The traditional disciplinary system isn't building a better workplace.

Some companies are shifting their beliefs about discipline to a more updated philosophy and they're getting results. They are learning the difference between discipline and punishment. They are refining their systems so they are commitment based.

"Successful organizations no longer look upon "discipline" as something that a manager does to a poor performer when he or she misbehaves. Instead, these companies now approach discipline as something that must be created." Eric Harvey wrote in his article "Discipline vs. Punishment," for the Management Review Magazine (March 1987). The shift is from "doing discipline" to "being disciplined."

In my opinion, these new approaches put the responsibility for improving performance right where it belongs: each employee. They have the choice to accept personal responsibility for improving and individual decision-making about their own job.

The key is that the goal is commitment-not punishment.

The way it works is deceptively simple. For example, if there is a problem with an employee, the manager points out the discrepancy between what is expected and what the employee is doing. The manager explains why it's important for the standard to be met. The emphasis is on gaining the commitment of the employee to make the change. It is made clear that it is the employee’s responsibility-not the manager's. There is no pointing of fingers, warning of future consequences or other threats or punishment.

If the problem continues, the discussions get more serious. The employee is reminded that they have the responsibility to make a change.

If no change is forthcoming, the employee is given a day off with pay. This "decision day" is to be used by the employee to decide whether he or she wants to make the required change, or quit. Management removes the hostility by paying for the day and demonstrates that it supports the person's need to take responsibility for his or her own choice. If the person stays but problems continue, the person faces termination.

This is not a new-fangled way to coddle employees. On the contrary, it puts the responsibility for being a worthwhile contributor on the shoulders of the person who has the choice. It tells employees you respect them as adults and expect them to make a commitment to their jobs and their organization.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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