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Catch bad behavior before staff morale slips

March 6, 2012

Liza van Wyk

OVERLOOKING the little but simmering ill disciplines, tolerating even abrasive language or behaviour may lead to even bigger trouble.

As we debate Julius Malema’s rise and fall, I keep thinking about the “broken windows” theory popularised by Harvard professors James Wilson and George Kelling. They found that if a broken window in a building was left unrepaired, all the windows would be broken and the area would deteriorate. To prevent vandalism, and more serious crimes, fix the window.

This theory or philosophy applies to all facets of life. The Malema saga teaches us that when we ignore the little niceties - tolerating coarse language or behaviour at home, in public, at work and within our organisations, whether governmental or non-governmental - we invite larger fractures in discipline and rule of law.

This applies in companies, big or small. Correcting employees, at any level, is among the most difficult tasks of management, but you must do it, or else.

The intent is not to cause an employee pain, but to change their behaviour. Think of workplace discipline not as dishing out punishment, but as a form of coaching that will help shape an employee.

Discipline in the workplace aims to correct behavioural deficiencies and ensure adherence to company rules. It is important to educate staff about the rules.

A positive approach may solve the problem without having to discipline, butmanagement should quickly address a difficult employee with a bad attitude, since such negativism is contagious and can affect the morale of the entire office staff.

More often than not, problems that are ignored only get worse, as happened with Malema and the ANC.

Fortunately, many companies have progressive disciplinary approaches, the effective means of applying incremental levels of discipline to those who violate the rules of the workplace. In many cases, level one may be a verbal caution for a minor offence; level two may be a stern written warning for more serious or repeat violations. Level three would be reserved for very serious matters or repeated rule violations that may result in a suspension. Level four would be a hearing followed by possible dismissal.

A well-designed employee discipline programme can help mitigate problems. The programme should include an effective hiring process accompanied by standardised job descriptions and applications to ensure only qualified candidates are considered. The programme should also enjoy the support of the company leadership. Executives should always secure the advice and ongoing counsel of an attorney specialising in local labour law.

An employee manual spelling out policies on proper and improper attire, offensive behaviours, internet and e-mail usage, and tardiness and absences is a crucial guideline in all cases. The manual should also outline the counselling, disciplinary and grievance processes. Once the manual is finalised, all employees should be required to provide written agreement to the terms outlined in the manual.

It is important that supervisors and managers should understand all the behavioural policies and disciplinary procedures. Companies should establish grievance procedures as employees may not always agree with a supervisor’s version of events, and must be provided with a forum for disputing disciplinary action.

Catch bad behavior before staff morale slips - Business Report