Alternative to Disciplinary Action

You may be the cause of your employee's "bad" behavior.  Ouch.  It's painful to hear, I know.  It took me a while to realize this.  If I have an employee who is less engaged than I want, I need to evaluate my own actions as much as his.  It's easy to see someone exhibit a "bad" behavior and jump all over the behavior, but the behavior is only a symptom.  This realization led me to an effective alternative to disciplinary action.

For example, say you have an employee who spends too much time on his phone during the workday.  How would you respond?

A common answer might be to give a written or verbal warning that escalates in severity depending on any prior offenses.  So now you’ve administered disciplinary action and told the person to stop the behavior.  What do you think happens next?  The threat of consequences may have curbed the initial behavior.  But have you really fixed the situation?  No.  Policing behavior and demanding that an employee change will, at best, lead to a different behavior.  Perhaps now the person will spend more time at the water cooler or start doodling or take more bathroom breaks.  Any of these new behaviors are still symptoms of the original problem.  The real issue you are battling is not the time spent on the phone, but rather what it represents.  The employee is not as engaged as you would like.

What if instead of disciplinary action, you give him access to a resource that will make his job easier?  What if you sponsor him to attend the certification program he’s been eyeing?  What if you find a side project that showcases his strengths?  What if you recognize his efforts in a personalized way?  Restricting an employee’s undesirable behavior doesn’t cause engagement.  Work to increase engagement instead.