Corrective Action That Works: Every Situation Has A Context

HR Blogs (2)-2“Every coin has two sides.” Just like a coin, every adverse employee act has various corrective action options. Even though a set of black and white guidelines denoting specific actions for every situation would be nice, it is not that easy. Employee behaviors and performance are rarely identical, which requires managers to understand the broader reasons for corrective action. In the end, corrective action exists CORRECT behaviors and/or performance contrary to the organization’s purposes, plans, and outcomes. Managers must understand the context of a team-member’s situation to know how to best utilize corrective action. 

For instance, how would you handle an employee, who comes into your office screaming, cursing, and throwing his hardhat on the ground? Would it matter if this were the person’s first day of work? Would it make a difference if the team-member had been with the company for 35 years? What if this was the first time in 35 years that the person ever exhibited such behavior? These differences come into play when determining the right type of corrective action. An objective policy such as, “When an employee comes into an office screaming and cursing, the employee will be terminated.” Such a policy may make sense for some employees, but it makes little sense for other ones. 

Organizational leaders must consider the following items when determining the type of corrective action needing to be used:

  • Severity of the offense
  • Employee’s past performance record
  • Employee’s length of service
  • Past practice in dealing with similar infractions

Think back to the previous example. If this were the first complaint heard in 35 years from an employee, the proper response would be to ask questions and listen. There may be issues at home or with a loved one weighing on the person’s mind. Being there for the person will create much goodwill as oppose to “writing the person up.” On the other hand, that new employee may need to be let go due to creating a hostile work environment. 

Determining the appropriate type of corrective action becomes easier when understanding key facts about the offense, person, and practice. Sometimes, the person simply needs a coaching session reminding him/her of acceptable behavior and/or the performance goals being missed. Other times, the person may need immediate termination. 

Corrective action should always strive to create a safe, productive, and enjoyable workplace. This requires careful thought, intentional actions, and ongoing communications. When an employee sees this, s/he has a better chance of becoming a strong team-member. When a team sees this, it gains trust in the leader and experiences a healthier workplace

All leaders should strive for consistent corrective action practices, but it is an error to apply the exact practice to the same offense without first thinking through the offense, person, and practice. When done well, corrective action becomes a performance management tool helping teams get bigger, better, faster, and stronger. 

One other thing about that coin…I do not recommend flipping it to determine which corrective action to use! If only it were that easy! 

If you missed the first post exploring Corrective Action that Works, check it out! We will continue this series in the coming weeks.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not legal advice, but merely informed opinion or general information meant for no particular purpose. Issues addressed in this blog often implicate federal, state, and local labor and employment laws. This blog is not intended as a substitute for legal advice. Readers should consult labor and employment counsel to determine whether their particular policies, procedures, decisions, or courses of action comply with such laws. 

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