Staff discipline

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The benefits of a planned approach to discipline can be outstanding - a happier workforce with lower staff turnover, better customer relations and...

The benefits of a planned approach to discipline can be outstanding - a happier workforce with lower staff turnover, better customer relations and increased performance. Nick Strapp offers advice.

Your barman turns up late for the third night in a row. Do you:

  • overlook it
  • tell him off in the bar
  • tell him off in private
  • take the matter further?

Sorry, that was a trick question. In fact the answer could be any of the above.

How you react to a staff discipline matter depends on the issue, the overall situation and the behaviour.

In this case, what needs to be done is to analyse why the barman was late and what you want to achieve. Other than checking out unusual circumstances, such as a "leaves on the line"-type excuse, this means looking at:

  • Does he have a clear understanding of his workhours and responsibilities?
  • Is he under pressure at work or at home?
  • How do other team members behave?
  • Do you come in late?

If the lateness is out of character you may choose to ignore it. Alternatively you may feel that it needs to be addressed with a low-key chat, in private, to indicate that it is noticed and to check out why it is occurring. That may be all that is needed. If you are concerned that the issue is more important, then a more planned approach would bring huge benefits.


Two factors are significant at this point:

Firstly, instinctive human behaviour can destroy your efforts. Our natural approach to "discipline" can create a heightened emotional state - such as anger and irritation. From the start, the barman may instinctively pick up on that emotion and meet it head-on. Emotional behaviour breeds more emotional behaviour. If you use accusational or judgmental triggers, the situation can be inflamed further. An approach along the lines of "why are you late? This is unacceptable", will almost certainly generate an emotional response which is aggressive or defensive.

Such exchanges rarely have good outcomes. The solution is to keep it rational. This allows maintenance of mutual dignity and professionalism. It also ensures that we have the best possible state to examine the causes and solutions.

The second factor to bear in mind is that we all make mistakes.

Preparation for the meeting should begin with asking yourself the key question: "What is my constructive purpose in speaking to this person?" The important word is constructive. The aim is not to "tell off", or to "tell them a few home truths". Possible examples are to improve performance, to improve their development or to build trust and reliance within the team.

Stating the constructive purpose is a powerful non-confrontational and rational beginning. The next stage is to state what we know to be the case, the problem. In this instance being late three times in a row.

This is followed by stating what impact it has had on us. Such impact is personal and cannot be refuted. To maintain the rational level, use non-confrontational words: disappointed, surprised or let down. At that stage ask for their comments, and be ready to listen, question and listen again.

This may reveal misunderstandings or confused aims, personal difficulties outside work or a plain admission of failing. With an acknowledgement of the problem, and hopefully an understanding of the cause, the manager can then encourage the barman to suggest his own solution, including a timescale to monitor success.

At the subsequent review point, if the barman has not lived up to the agreed solution then it is clear to both. A formal disciplinary process can be started. However, if the behaviour has changed for the good, the meeting becomes a perfect scenario for positive feedback and praise.

Discipline should actually equate to positively caring for your team. It is a process of coaching and support - a constructive tool for the licensee to build knowledge, skills and relationships. The benefits can be outstanding - happier staff, lower staff turnover, better customer relations and increased performance.

The aim is to have a group of individuals working as a team to an agreed set of rules and conduct, and involving them in the standards and rules will go a long way to achieve "buy-in" - where your employees understand what the goals of the business are, and are committed to its success.

Buy-in is what many of today's managers "do not have time to do", as they are putting their energy into being efficient at getting the job done. They do not invest in one of their most important assets - their people. It is one reason why staff turnover in the hospitality industry is so high. Buy-in is all about encouraging employees to have a common way forward, and see that they have an important role in that.

By contrast, most managers end up using a "telling" style of communication, even if the telling is overtly polite. This can work in some circumstances, most notably in the army, but in a commercial environment this will, at best, only give the business the minimum that is asked for, no more.

What is needed is for the employee to feel he has an important role, with ownership of the issues and outcome. That barman may actually achieve far better results than the level you instruct. The results are better productivity, better customer relations, increased job satisfaction and reduced staff turnover.

So discipline through buy-in is the solution, but how do you get there? This has three ingredients, all of which need attention: the task, the team and the individual. The weakness in most service businesses is to focus on the task. But to achieve that task there must be committed and trained individuals who know how to work as a team.

Disciplinary and grievance procedures

Problems with staff discipline can be a trap many publicans fall into, simply because of the nature of small businesses.

In a pub, you are likely to be working as part of a small team, and may not feel that communication is an issue,

However, it may only be when a problem arises that you realise that life would be much easier if there was a procedure in place to deal with. You are also on much firmer ground if it is clear to your employees from the outset what standards are expected of them

The first thing you need to be aware of is your legal responsibility. Full and part time employees must receive a written statement of their main employment terms within the first two months of their employment, which should include details of your disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Businesses with less than 20 employees are not required to give employees written disciplinary rules, but they must give the name of a person to whom the employee should go with any grievance.

The Arbitration and Conciliation Advisory Service (ACAS) believes that "while employers are not required by statute to have a grievance procedure, it is good employment practice to provide workers with a reasonable and prompt opportunity to obtain redress of any grievance."

ACAS recently published a code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures which offers employers advice on drawing up and operating staff discipline procedures.

Both employers and employees are legally entitled to seek advice from a professional ACAS conciliator in order to resolve a dispute. Where an employee makes a complaint to a employment tribunal, an ACAS conciliator will initially attempt to get both sides to reach a settlement of the complaint. If conciliation is not possible or fails, the employment tribunal will hear the case.

Further Information

Nick Strapp is a director of trainingcompany Maybo, which specialises in providing training to reduce conflict in the workplace. For more information contact Maybo on 01580 881291

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