Progressive Discipline

Managers can build a progressive discipline policy to help improve behaviour and reduce errors in the workplace. Implementing and practicing progressive discipline in your company enables management to assist employees grow professionally.  

What is progressive discipline? 

Progressive discipline is a practice in which management takes steps to help employees improve their work performance. After making a mistake, employees have time to correct their professional conduct or face appropriate consequences. With each successive infraction, management's disciplinary response escalates.  

The level of a progressive discipline procedure is determined with three key factors: 

  • Type of issue: The circumstances of the error can influence the order of disciplinary measures. If a minor mishap occurs, the discipline may progress slowly, while major incidents can trigger escalation more quickly.
  • Industry: Every workplace has a different viewpoint of the severity of an error, affecting how management administers consequences. For example, incorrectly typing words may be more serious for a social media manager than a cashier, while safety protocols may be more stringent on a construction site than in an office setting.
  • Supervisor:Management style and personality can differ for supervisors disciplining team members. Establishing a company-wide progressive discipline plan eliminates personal biases and ensures consistency across the company.

Why is a progressive discipline plan necessary? 

Establishes better workplace expectations  

Progressive discipline plans can help supervisors promote their standards for work performance. Employees and leadership share clear expectations for occupational tasks and productivity. Progressive discipline enables managers to clarify their instructions to prevent mistakes and offer course-correcting options for improvement. 

Improves communication between management and staff

Progressive discipline encourages clear and effective communication in a professional environment. Sharing the same language removes subjectivity from the discipline process. When a manager provides constructive criticism, there's an opportunity for the employee to explain the challenges they've faced, which allows both parties to devise a helpful solution.  

Motivates employees to be more productive 

Feedback from a supervisor, even when it involves disciplinary action, can serve as a catalyst for growth and improvement. Employees may use this opportunity to enhance their performance, foster stronger connections with their leaders, and maintain their positions with renewed determination. Ultimately, this progressive approach can lead to increased efficiency in the workplace.  

How does it work? 

The steps of progressive discipline include: 

  1. Verbal warning - Management flags a problematic situation and schedules a private meeting to review. Supervisors may use the occasion to reinforce the job requirements and the conduct they would like to see from the employee. Additionally, verbal warnings can help identify gaps in training or systems and catch future potential issues earlier.
  2. Written warning - A written warning documents the escalation in progressive discipline, including the date and a description of the situation. Written warnings enable managers to track consequences to determine the next step in coaching the employee.
  3. Performance improvement plan - The Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) outlines ongoing employee performance issues, steps to improve, and a timeline before they face more serious corrective actions. A PIP specifies the consequences the employee may face and includes suggestions to improve, and the ideal results of the correction. Once management administers a PIP, they may need to hold periodic meetings to assess their progress.
  4. Suspension - Suspension prohibits employees from fulfilling their roles for a specified period. The length of the suspension depends on the severity of the infraction. Employees may receive pay during the suspension or remain unpaid until they are allowed back at work. The suspension and compensation plan length depends on the employer's policies. For instance, managers may choose to extend a suspension when they deem it necessary or end a suspension early if goals are met.
  5. Termination - Termination occurs when the manager ends the individual's employment with the company. A representative from the human resources department attends a meeting with management and employee present to ensure the conversation adheres to legal standards. Next, the manager informs employees that the organization no longer needs their services.

Termination often has an immediate effect, which means individuals may need to return work materials, such as computers, phones, and identification badges, and leave the premises following the meeting. Managers may use termination as the last step of a progressive discipline policy.  

Supporting your employees and allowing them the opportunity to learn and grow from their mistakes is essential. Progressive discipline allows for the workplace to foster continuous learning and the chance to rectify certain actions to become a better and more effective member of the team and organization. 


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