Motivation a goal of progressive discipline

Clear, consistent, timely process yields best results

When a new employee is hired, to ensure he can do a good job and even excel, an organization should clearly communicate standards and expectations.

However, these can be forgotten so organizations should provide reminders, such as posting standards and expectations, writing about standards in newsletters or on paycheque stubs, providing training sessions and reminding employees during meetings.

Employees also need to know what will happen if expectations are not met, so the progressive discipline policy must be clearly communicated.

Progressive discipline needs to be timely. Every effort must be made to speak with an employee immediately after a breach has occurred. If he has forgotten the incident, he may feel picked-on or bullied, rather than motivated to do it right the next time.

To maintain the employee’s dignity and self-esteem, conversations must be held in private so the employee can express himself freely.

It should not be seen as punishment. The goal is to motivate the employee to do a better job next time, not to demoralize, so the conversation should not be confrontational.

To prepare for the conversation, managers should:

• give the employee some notice

• investigate the situation and ensure they have all the facts

• have applicable standards and expectations ready (job descriptions, employee handbooks, policies)

• review the employee file to ensure they understand which stage of the progressive discipline process is applicable

• have the progressive discipline form or documentation ready to complete

• be prepared for possible outcomes — will the employee be angry, hostile, quiet, tearful?

It is imperative managers only talk about the facts, refrain from being subjective and focus only on the employee’s behaviour. Managers should also:

• ask the worker for feedback

• complete the documentation and obtain his signature

• set a date to follow up on the progress

• show confidence in his ability to learn and change.

Followup is a crucial part of the process. It is very motivational when the manager acknowledges efforts and improvements. Managers should also ensure retraining happens if required.

Documentation is essential. If a terminated employee files an unjust dismissal claim, it could become part of the case and be seen as a legal document. Verbal conversations are easily forgotten and managers leave. Signed training checklists, employee handbooks, policies, standards and job descriptions can all become legal documents in these situations.

Sabine Bell is the owner and general manager of Whistler’s Personnel Solutions in Whistler, B.C. For more information, visit

Essential discipline steps

5 steps to progressive discipline

Employment standards legislation states discipline must be progressive and organizations must give employees an opportunity to improve. The following five essential progressive steps are a solid model to manage the discipline process:

Coaching: A private coaching conversation takes place after the first breach of a standard or expectation. It is meant to reiterate the standard and ensure the employee understands it. The coaching must be documented but not necessarily signed.

Verbal warning: The verbal warning takes place after a second breach. If a different standard or expectation has been breached, a coaching conversation should take place instead. The verbal warning must be properly documented, dated and signed.

Written warning: The written warning takes place when there is a breach after the verbal warning. This must also be documented, dated and signed.

Suspension: A suspension of one to three days should only be applied once a coaching, verbal warning and written warning have been completed. The conversation must be documented, dated and signed. Upon return to work, it is a good idea to have the employee show he understands the breaches that have occurred and, if another such breach occurs, termination is possible.

Termination: Termination of employment is the last resort. The organization must show it has done everything possible to support the employee.

The frequency of each step of the progressive discipline process varies. Many organizations use the “one-two-three” rule: one coaching, two verbal and three written warnings. This shows the organization’s commitment to supporting the employee.

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