Spelling Out Your Disciplinary Process

Discipline is necessary to maintain the direction and focus of any organization and to establish and maintain standards of quality and service.  The desire is to achieve excellence and success and supervisors should understand that these goals are dependent upon the quality and commitment of employees.

Unfortunately, in every group of employees, there are some who have attitude problems, lack commitment, or are not capable of meeting standards.  When confronted with such a problem employee, it is the responsibility of supervisors to deal quickly and effectively with the situation before it degrades the efforts of the rest of the staff.

The following are suggested guidelines for a club’s disciplinary process:

Supervisor’s Responsibility.  It does no good to have rules, regulations, and policies spelled out, if they are not going to be enforced by all supervisors.  Whenever a supervisor overlooks an infraction, he encourages others to similar violations.  A lax supervisor can be more damaging than no supervisor at all.  Further, supervisors are expected to actively confront any problem employee in their departments with the aim of correcting the problem.  If it cannot be corrected in a reasonable period of time, supervisors are expected to discharge the individual while following established termination policies.

Good Communication.  Good communication is important when working with a problem employee. Some supervisors do not like to confront staff on seemingly small issues.  As a result, many small problems build up until the supervisor finally blows his top and is ready to fire the employee.  However, termination is inappropriate because the supervisor has not previously discussed the problems with the employee, warned him of the consequences of continued problems, or offered any help to correct the problem.  Good communication would prevent this situation.  If the supervisor talks frequently with employees, points out minor problems as they occur, and addresses continuing problems in a proactive and formal way, an employee will never be surprised should he be discharged.

Disciplinary Philosophy.  The club subscribes to the “Hot Stove” approach to discipline.  Employees are told what is expected of them and what the consequences are of ignoring rules, requirements, policy, and procedure.  If they then touch the hot stove, they get burned.  The rationale behind this philosophy is that supervisors want to deal with staff as adults who are responsible for their own actions and they want to avoid inconsistency in applying rules, requirements, policies, and procedures.

Rules, Requirements, Policies, and Procedures.  This philosophy requires that supervisors tell staff what is expected of them.  First, do this by spelling out in detail what the club’s rules, requirements, policies, and procedures are.  The Employee Handbook contains many club-wide rules for employees.  Second, expend some effort through orientations and formal training to make staff fully aware of their responsibilities and the club’s expectations.

Fairness and Consistency.  A club’s disciplinary process must be fair and consistent.  This will follow naturally from rules, requirements, policies, and procedures being applied fairly and consistently to all employees.  Supervisors who are not fair and consistent will create major problems within their departments.  There is no quicker way to destroy departmental morale and trust than to play favorites.  Often the perception of fairness is as important as the reality.  Supervisors should not only be fair, but also give all appearances of being fair.

Constructive and Progressive.  The club’s disciplinary process is designed to be both constructive and progressive.  By this it is meant that all disciplinary actions are aimed at correcting erroneous or inappropriate behavior and successive disciplinary actions will be progressively more severe.  These two aspects are, in reality, part of the same philosophy.  While the club wants to help employees overcome their problems, when the problems continue, it wants to get the employee’s attention with progressively more severe consequences.

Higher Standard for Supervisors.  Because of a supervisor’s position, experience, training, education, and other factors that led to hiring, they are held to a higher standard of conduct and performance than line staff.  In disputes between staff and supervisors, it is expected that supervisors will have solidly documented cases showing thorough investigation of any incident.  While supervisors will always be supported when in the right, line employees will be given the benefit of the doubt when there is insufficient evidence or the absence of a thorough investigation.  The best way for a supervisor to ensure that he is supported in his decisions is to have all his facts together before taking disciplinary action.

Summary.  Given the many potential pitfalls in discharging problematic employees, all managers and supervisors must have a thorough understanding of a club’s disciplinary process.  Spelling out the key elements of that process is an important first step.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

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