Empower Your Employees by Taking a Fresh Look at Discipline Policies

Punishments for Infractions

By creating positively worded HR policies, your organization can help create a culture of trust.

What's at the heart of a strong workplace? According to Great Place to Work, it's trust. Although punishments for infractions can undermine employee morale, a positive employee experience can improve worker perception of their leaders and make them feel respected by management. When creating HR policies, it's important to remember that employees need to feel that workplace practices are designed and enforced with fairness.

The Harvard Business Review states: "Too many companies' HR policies are overly restrictive." Although policies are a must, you can reword and transform punitive policies into positive guidelines for employee behavior, and build a better workplace that promotes trust and loyalty to your organization.

How Punishment Undermines Trust

In order to give employees notice of what will happen if rules are violated, organizations sometimes take a "punishment" approach and list specific consequences in employee manuals. This approach can undermine trust between management and employees.

Most employees are responsible adults who understand that discipline is sometimes needed. But when punishments for infractions are enforced, they tend to cause resentment and undermine employee morale. If one of your employees accidentally breaks a rule and is punished without their intentions or their side of the story being taken into consideration, it can make them feel that they have been wrongly accused. When discipline isn't executed skillfully, employees often feel embarrassed or singled out. When employee discipline is perceived to be unfair, morale suffers, and low morale can then potentially pervade your entire workplace.

Taking a Positive Approach

If you want to empower your employees and build company loyalty, you may need to review and rework your HR policies to put less emphasis on reactive punishment. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your policies outline specific punishments for infractions?

  • Do they focus on what employees cannot do rather than what you expect them to do?

  • Do your policies need to be rewritten so they are more positive and less negative?

Five Steps for Creating Empowering HR Policies

By providing employees with policies that encourage them to make positive choices rather than punish them for infractions, you can build employee trust and loyalty and improve worker retention.

  1. Replace punishments with positive goals for employees to attain. For example, instead of classifying what being "tardy" or "absent" means, and listing punishments for each, simply state that you expect employees to be punctual. Consider whether your workforce can simply be told to 'dress appropriately.'

  2. Encourage your employees to be part of the policy-development process. When workers help create policy, they're more likely to understand and conform to those policies. And, when employees actively participate in policy development, they can become more committed to your organization and more trusting of your management team.

  3. Promote employee leadership. Reward employees who exhibit exemplary behaviors by recognizing them at group meetings. For instance, acknowledge and reward people with perfect attendance. When workers see positive behaviors rewarded with peer recognition, it encourages others to behave positively, too.

  4. Use common sense. Extreme policies can create an environment of fear and insecurity. Look for unnecessary threats while making it clear what types of behavior will not be tolerated.

  5. Keep it brief. Some forward-thinking organizations have already exchanged their old employee manuals with lengthy lists of punishments for infractions with shorter, friendlier guides that encourage managers to use good judgment and company values when dealing with decisions that affect their employees.

As always, be sure to have your employment lawyers review policy changes to make sure any changes comply with both your new approach and the law.

In today's increasingly competitive market, retaining skilled workers is vital to the success of your business. By engaging employees in the HR policy-making process and creating positively worded HR policies, your organization can help create a culture of trust and loyalty that encourages your employees to stay with your organization for the long term.