7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Disciplining Employees

Management is a tough job! From motivating employees to handling customer complaints – there’s never a dull moment when it comes to running a company.

Management is a tough job! From motivating employees to handling customer complaints – there’s never a dull moment when it comes to running a company. You love to see your employees succeed, but when they make mistakes, what’s your course of action?

ProService Hawaii’s HR experts have years of experience helping businesses navigate the murky waters of employee discipline. Below, we share some points on how to handle disciplining an employee by highlighting the most common pitfalls to avoid.

1.  Skimming over Handbook Training

The best way to avoid having to exercise disciplinary action is emphasizing the value of policy and handbook training during the on-boarding process. There will likely be a learning curve with new hires, but providing thorough training on professional conduct expected will help curb the occurrence of future issues, not to mention thorough training will help keep your business out of trouble.

2.  Emphasizing Discipline over Improvement

When meeting with your employee, communicate a genuine intention of support before addressing misbehavior. When an employee understands your meeting’s objective is to improve their performance rather than reprimand behavior, he or she is more likely to receive your advice more graciously.

3.  Getting Emotional

Many companies are now run by the millennial generation; a generation that tends to favor a laissez faire (hands-off) management style which leads to developing more personable relationships with co-workers. This generally creates a more satisfying working environment, however, friendships between management and coworkers can become a problem when it comes to enforcing discipline.
Our advice to managers? Don’t let emotions decide your course of corrective action. Anger, disappointment, or fear of losing a friend (or your job) can all hinder an appropriate reaction.Take a step back, let hot emotions cool down, then address the issue professionally.

4.  Assuming an Employee Knows their Behavior is a Problem

Before confronting an employee about their behavior, give the benefit of the doubt and be sure to ask if they’re aware of the issue. Asking about the details of the occurrence may help you and your employee clarify what might have gone wrong. Practicing empathy in this situation and explaining why a certain behavior is a problem will not only contribute to immediate resolution, but may also increase the level of trust between you and your employee.

5.  Making it Personal

When an employee makes a mistake, it’s easy to criticize the employee rather than correcting the mistake an employee made. However, it’s important to address your employee’s behavior, and their behavior alone. Before confronting the issues at hand, take some time to highlight the areas of the employee handbook, company policy, or employee description where your employee fell out of alignment. By focusing your attention on communicating expected conduct, disciplinary action may then be received as professional development guidance rather than personal criticism.

6.  Taking the Issue Public

If an issue is brought to your attention or occurs publicly, it’s always best to address your employee behind closed doors. When someone experiences the embarrassing experience of being reprimand in front of their peers, positive consequences rarely occur. Choosing discretion over public confrontation is always the better option.

7.  Not Documenting the Incidents & Disciplinary Meetings

The most important element to appropriate action is documenting the corrective conversation with the employee. Many company/employee relationships are structured with an “at-will” agreement; meaning an employee is free to leave their company at any time for any reason, and a company can let someone go at any time, for any reason (except an illegal one). However, most managers have adopted the “three strikes, you’re out!” philosophy and many large corporations still require a documentation of offenses that lead up to the firing, as to ensure the reasons were legal.

To document the incident properly, issue a formal write-up and have the employee sign it after your meeting has concluded. We cannot emphasize enough: document every conversation during a dispute. This simple step could protect you and your company in more ways than we have words to mention.

Best Practice for Managers

Clarify expectations in the beginning

Mandatory training on your employee handbook, with an emphasis on expected conduct, will be your biggest asset to avoiding disciplinary action in the future. Of course you can’t avoid every mishap, but clarifying policies and expectations from the very beginning will be the best practice for creating a positive work experience for both you and your new employee. Hire slowly and be sure to invest solid training time into your new employee when on-boarding.

Communicate your plan of action when Disciplining Employees

Once your employee understands the issue, communicate a corrective plan of action. If the incident involves other parties, keep everyone in the loop. Or, if this is the employee’s “last strike”- be sure they understand that.
Clear communication during the corrective process will help to avoid misunderstandings, protecting the reputation of all parties involved. When in doubt, do your best to communicate “next steps” so nothing is left to assumption.

Work with a Human Resource professional

During a time of enforcing disciplinary action, having an HR professional to help navigate the nuances of correction will be incredibly helpful. Donna Jones, Senior HR Trainer of ProService Hawaii states;

One of the most common calls we receive is from employers who don’t know how to tell someone they have to let them go.

Not knowing how to handle employee discipline or discharge is a very common issue. But you’re not alone and there are local professionals to help you along.

In summary, the best tools for preventing and handling discipline will be clearly communicating expected behavior from your employee, a leader’s mentality (or a focus on helping your employee), and a Human Resource professional to provide council when you’re unsure of what action to take. Managing a team can feel like a lonely job sometimes, but ProService Hawaii is here for you.

The Value of Investing in Your Employees

Investing in your employees is critical to your success. At ProService Hawaii, we’ve found that employers who invest in the growth and development of their

In today’s modern workplace, investing in your employees is critical to your success. At ProService Hawaii, we’ve found that employers who invest in the growth and development of their employees are more likely to attract the most talented candidates and intelligently scale their companies.

While many managers are asking “how do I get my employees to be more productive?” – a better question is “how can I invest in my employees so they’re motivated to stay and equipped to be more productive?”

Laying the Foundation

Business leaders in Hawaii, such as Denis Brown, President of Big Brothers Big Sisters, know the foundation of an innovative, safe, and respectful work environment is made by encouraging a culture of empowerment.

When people know they are being heard, it makes them feel empowered.

An open line of communication between you and your team is the foundation an impactful development program. Daily team meetings or weekly tag-ups are great ways to learn how your employees are doing and where they want to improve. What’s most important is consistent communication that ensures your employees know they’re voice matters and your support is available to them.

Employee Development Programs

Employee development programs (EDP), such as stretch assignments (or special project assignments), mentoring programs, and leadership training, are a just a few examples of EDPs your team may value.

There are many types of programs you can implement, just make sure what you’re offering is not only something your employees will benefit from but something they’ll be interested in utilizing.

The Value of an Employee Development Program

Investing in your employees through Employee Development Programs can create tremendous value for your company and the way you’re perceived in the market. When you offer these programs, they have the potential to:

  • Act as a company benefit: When prospecting candidates for hire, offering an EDP may be incredibly attractive to a more ambitious, ideal candidate. In fact “79% of employers believe offering benefits to employees is a critical component of attracting talent” (Burson Marsteller). These kinds of programs may also help retain those quality candidates once they’ve come aboard, as benefits are a major contributor to why employees stay with their employer.
  • Build loyalty between you and your employee: When you invest in someone’s professional development, it shows that you’re dedicated to them and invested in their success. 70% of employees report that benefits customized to meet their needs would increase their loyalty to their employers (MetLife)
  • Create promotable people: Leadership programs serve as opportunities to build an employee’s confidence in the areas they’re excelling in and refine what needs improvement. Promoting from within through a development program is also a great long-term strategy for scaling your company and much less expensive than recruiting new hires.
  • Help employees feel engaged at work: A Gallup study showing that only 13% of employees are engaged at work – meaning only 1 out of 8 employees are making positive contributions to their companies. For an employee to feel engaged, they often need to feel motivated by goal setting and crossing milestones. EDPs offer a milestone to cross while likely helping them achieve their other goals more effectively.

Creative Ways to Invest in Your Employees

Host Team Building Activities

Team building doesn't have to mean obstacle courses and trust falls. There are many ways to foster trust and quality relationships.

You could host team building games, office retreats, or a fun outing (bowling, karaoke, etc). Gallup found that close friendships at work boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are 7x more likely to be fully engaged. The objective of team building is to set the stage for your employees to develop stronger relationships which ultimately contributes to a more satisfying work environment.  While this may not seem like a direct investment in your employees' skills, fostering a collaborative, friendly environment will increase productivity and overall employee satisfaction.

Create a Healthy Work Environment

Creating a healthy environment for your team is beneficial in two ways: First, you can design a more enjoyable environment, and second, you’re supporting a healthy lifestyle which will lower company health-cost and sick days.

Some examples of workplace wellness programs are:

  • Yoga classes
  • Healthy lunch services
  • On-site fitness center
  • Meditation rooms
  • Team sports leagues or healthy living competitions

Investing in your employees' health will result in a happier and healthier company where employees feel rewarded for their work.

Tuition Reimbursement 

Supporting an employee in their educational advancement is a great way to invest in your employees and create opportunities to promote from within. Denis Brown, President of Big Brothers Big Sisters offers tuition reimbursement to his employees and states; “I would definitely recommend tuition reimbursement to other small organizations. Sure, there’s a risk, but the reward is a better employee. Even if you only get the better employee for another two or three years, it might be worth the investment. Plus, many employees will appreciate the gesture enough that they’ll want to stay.”

The Monetary Value of Investing in Your Employees

Companies lose a tremendous amount of money each year to turnover. While it’s difficult to calculate the true cost of replacing a salaried employee, factors such as training time, cost of on-boarding, and customer service issues caused by new employee reveal that the cost is rather massive. Some studies predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. That means for a manager making $40,000 a year, that's $20,000 to $30,000 in recruiting and training expensesConversely, investing in your current staff with development programs and other benefits, you will create an engaged company culture where your employees feel they have a purpose when they show up to work.

If you’re ready to begin developing benefits and EDPs but aren’t sure where to start, our trainers at ProService Hawaii are here to guide you through the process. Give us a call!

5 HR Rules Every New Business Must Know

Starting a small business in Hawaii is difficult, keeping it compliant even more so. Here are the basics of HR compliance every small business should know.

Congratulations! You’ve taken the leap into small business ownership, started growing, and now you’re ready to scale your team. At ProService, we understand that coordinating the administrative details of your business is no easy task, especially when it comes to Human Resources. To get you started, we’ve outlined the five “musts” of HR that every small business in Hawaii needs to know.

The Small Business Bare Minimum

Having your legal documents in order is essential to staying compliant with the law. While there are coverages every small business must have, certain industries require additional insurance. The mandatory coverages you’ll need to provide are:

  • Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act (PHCA):  A law which requires employers to offer coverage to employees working at least 20 hours per week.
  • Workers Compensation: Required by law for all companies with one or more employees, Workers Compensation (WC) insurance provides medical coverage and income replacement for workers who become injured or ill on the job.
  • State-Mandated Short-Term Disability Insurance (TDI or SDI):  This law requires employers to pay employees who are temporarily unable to work part of their wages while they are out. Licensing and permit requirements are constantly changing and updates to these laws aren’t easy to find. Having a trusted adviser by your side throughout the process will be critical on matters of legal protection.

Hire Right, Fire Right

In matters of hiring and firing, it’s best to adopt an attitude of “professional correctness”; keep EVERYTHING professionally relevant. The Equal Employee Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Hawaii Fair Employment Practice Law protect employees from discrimination. So any question that discriminates or appears to discriminate based on race, religion, sex or national origin can create serious trouble. While you’ll want to find a candidate who is a good culture fit as well, many hiring managers find that there are potential issues asking “culture based” questions. When writing ‘culture fit' questions, double check to make sure they are job-related. 

How do you define ‘job related'?  As ProService Hawaii’s Senior HR Trainer, Donna Jones advises, “Even questions such as, ‘tell me about yourself?’ can potentially be considered irrelevant or too personal. Instead, ask; ‘tell me about yourself at work?’ or, if you wanted to learn more about a candidate’s core values, you could ask, ‘tell me about a time you saw an employee do something dishonest. What was your reaction?’ or ‘tell me about a time you disagreed with your supervisor. How did you handle it?’ The key here is to keep your questions professionally relevant.”

During the firing process, having your policy guide (handbook) handy will allow you to clearly document misbehavior and address it on a completely professional level. Confronting an employee’s misconduct as a violation of policy – rather than something personal – is critical. However, having an HR adviser to guide you through this process may help you mitigate potentially capricious situations

According to Donna Jones, “One of the most common questions asked is ‘how do I tell this employee I’m letting them go?’” It’s imperative to understand that your actions in this situation carry the weight of a person’s living and you company’s reputation. When in doubt, contact an HR professional to guide you in the right direction.

Compliance is Key

To maintain compliant, your company needs a clear understanding of your state’s laws and a plan to address issues when you realize you are out of alignment with the law.  “Maintaining compliant simply means your company’s actions are in alignment with what the law states and intends.” -Donna Jones, Senior HR Trainer, ProService Hawaii.  Some laws, such as the Fair Labor Standard Laws (which regulate minimum wage requirements) are easier to implement in the workplace through simply revising wages. However, there are other laws that have less clear application when it comes to understanding what the law “intends.”

For example, under OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) it’s a business’ lawful responsibility to maintain a safe working environment. However, with so many variables, determine what the law defines as “safe” can often propose a challenge.

Take for instance an employee leaving a ladder out in the middle of a hallway. One manager may consider this a non-safety-issue while another sees an OSHA violation. What the law “intends” is that a company would do whatever it takes to keep the environment ‘safe’ but day-to-day operations present many “gray areas” without clear solutions.

As our Senior HR Trainer, Donna Jones states; “You don’t know what you don't know. Our clients should feel comfortable calling us. We’re here to support them.”

Curate Company Culture

One of the most overlooked details of building a team is the creation of an employee handbook – yet nothing influences a company’s culture more than the standards established and enforced therein.

It’s true that many HR services will have a general handbook for you to download and pass out. But taking the extra step to define exactly what “on time” is and a clear procedure for “how to call out sick” will not only be helpful to your employees but will shape the culture of your company.

Power Up Your Payroll

One of the biggest financial issues companies run into is misclassifying their employees. As state-level data shows,10% to 20% of employers misclassify at least one employee. Knowing how to classify employees correctly and pay them properly can save you a great deal of administrative cost and potential fines.

Take Walmart for example; they had to absorb tremendous financial penalties ($4.83 million) after incorrectly classifying management-level employees while failing to pay overtime compensation correctly. This may have been an honest mistake but it could happen to anyone – just don’t let it happen to you.

As you can see, HR compliance is a complex web of details and check-lists. Any single point unchecked can mean serious consequences. In the words of Donna Jones, ProService’s Senior HR Trainer; “When you encounter a situation you’ve never been in, a trusted resource is invaluable.”

When establishing your HR policies and procedures, a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can protect you from litigation, keep your employees happy, and empower you to focus on running your small business.