Successful Managers Are Not Afraid to Discipline Employees


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…plus 6 ways to make sure you don’t have to!

Today’s post is on a topic that many don’t want to talk about, let alone do; disciplining an employee. The problem is that most managers are afraid to discipline employees. We must get over this.

afraid to discipline employees

The fact is, every company has a set of rules, regulations, policies, procedures, guidelines, etc. that it expects its employees to work under. Most are somewhat standard across any industry, but some get very specific. Example:

When I worked for Hilton Hotels, all hourly employees were given a 7-minute leeway when punching-in the timeclock. If you were scheduled to start work at 7:00 am you could punch in up to 7:07 am without being considered “late” or facing any negative consequences. On the 8th minute, you’re considered late and a manager is expected to fill out some form of disciplinary paperwork to “coach the employee” and track this lateness. Further instances of lateness would lead to progressive disciplinary steps up to and including termination.

Does it Matter?

I’ve heard so many managers say, “It’s only 1 minute, does it matter?” Maybe, maybe not. Well, what about being late 8 minutes or 10? Does it matter then? “But, Steve, it’s only a minute or so more, why “write them up?”

Well, it’s not only a minute or so more, but it’s also 8-10 minutes late. Remember, their scheduled start time was 7:00 am and the employee came in at 7:08 am. They have long-since been late and it’s my responsibility to document their actions.

Here’s the key:

When a manager is “writing an employee up” they don’t do so for punishment, they do it because it’s a requirement of management. We must document the actions of an employee when s/he fails to meet the standards laid out by company policy. Just because an hourly employee fails to follow the rules doesn’t mean the manager can do the same.

How Do We Manage?

Managers are expected to “manage” their team and have team members conform to whatever rules the company sets. It is not up to me as a manager to determine which policies I follow or ask my team to follow.

If so, can I disregard other policies? What about uniforms? Can I allow an employee to wear whatever uniform they please? Or how about cash handling procedures? Is this important and must I expect my employees to follow this rule too? What about getting a customer signature on a credit card receipt? Can I decide if this is necessary? Of course not. I/we must do it, we all can understand that.

A funny thing is, I’ve seen more managers get in trouble themselves because they didn’t discipline an employee for lateness or for wearing the wrong uniform than I have for an employee who continually gives out the wrong change or fails to service the customer as expected.

The latter is blamed on the employee, the former on the manager.

But the employee is at fault for coming in late, right? Why should the manager get in trouble for that? Good question, but with an easy answer…

Even though the employee is wrong for each of these situations, the manager has performance expectations too. He cannot decide to not adhere to company policy without fear of reprisal. Because of this, he must not be afraid to discipline employees.

Think of it this way: when a baseball or football team fails to perform as expected, do they fire all the players? No, they fire the coach (manager) because he hasn’t lived up to expectations. His team is not performing as intended. It’s not any different for a manager at most businesses.

Management Baggage

The bottom line is this; many want to reach the ranks of management but don’t realize it comes with baggage. Some of this baggage is disciplining an employee for something that may seem minor (in the eyes of the employee) or terminating an employee for an abundance of “minor” offenses, but all against company policy.

Try sitting across from an employee who has a family to support and tell them they’re being terminated “for cause” (meaning misconduct). It’s not an easy thing to do and something we cannot take on lightly.

Through the years I have never looked at my management responsibilities as an option. I also have a family to support, value my job and do all I can to build the kinds of teams where this type of discipline is unnecessary.


So how do we create a work environment where each employee feels compelled to do all that’s asked of them?

We do this by creating a safe, secure, and positive atmosphere where each employee feels part of a team; a team that needs each other to succeed. We must also set clear and easily understood, and achievable, expectations of each employee as soon as they’re hired and monitor their performance along the way.

Members of sports teams feel bad when they fail to “make the shot” and members of a debate team are disheartened when their argument fails to prove a point. They set their own high expectations and have a strong sense of responsibility to others.

I believe in the free sharing of information with my team. They should never have to guess how to do something and should always know why we do this or that. Ambiguity has no place in the business world.

We must determine the best way to do a specific task (either by trial and error or industry/regulatory standards) and document all the steps needed to complete the task.

Here Are Some Ideas to Try:

  • Show samples of the finished product and the steps needed to get there.
  • Make a “how-to” video showing production methods or installation instructions.
  • Provide 24-hr employee phone or online support so, in the absence of management, an employee has a “go-to” person to answer questions.

Make it “Easy” For Your Employees to Succeed
  1. Set high expectations but be fair and reasonable how you manage.
  2. Hold frequent one-on-one meetings with your employees and see if they face any obstacles at work or if there are any challenges at home that hinder their work performance.
  3. Find the best way(s) to support their efforts to be a good employee and minimize poor performance.
  4. Give frequent praise
  5. Give them the tools to succeed
  6. Allow for some “downtime” and stress relief

Work is work, but it can still be enjoyable…especially when you don’t have to worry about coming in 1 minute late!

Image courtesy of

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve DiGioia
Steve uses his 20+ years of experience in the hospitality industry to help companies and their employees improve service, increase morale and provide the experience their customers' desire. Author of "Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift...Even If You're a Bad Waiter" and named an "ICMI Top 50 Customer Service Thought Leader" and a "Top Customer Service Influencer" by CCW Digital, Steve continues his original customer service, leadership and management-based writings on his popular blog.


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