If we deal with problem behavior in a timely manner we can in most cases
probably resolve it. All too often, we are busy handling matters that appear
to be more urgent so we ignore what’s really important. With behavioral
issues, these little things soon grow into major ones. The reality of it is that
problem employees, if not dealt with in the early stages, can quickly become
your most urgent matter. How do we do this?
An effective way to do this is to have a plan in place that allows you to
progressively handle employee problems as they arise. This is commonly
referred to as “progressive discipline.” This type of discipline underscores
the importance of clearly communicating the organization’s expectations of
employee behavior in advance. If expectations are not met, problems are
handled promptly in a consistent and effective manner. As a supervisor, it is
incumbent on you to be constant and consistent in your approach to
discipline. A relatively simple and straightforward system can be used to
address all but the most serious of employee infractions and would include
the following steps:
1. Verbal Warning (documented)
3. Written Warning (letter of reprimand)
Of course, there are variations to these steps depending on the organization’s
plan and the circumstances of the specific problem. But generally, the first
step is usually a verbal warning. Keep in mind that you might have already
talked with the employee, probably on an informal basis, about the behavior.
These talks are many times not disciplinary in nature. However, for various
reasons, the problem persists and now it’s become a disciplinary issue.
The verbal warning then is the first official disciplinary step you should take
with the employee. An effective verbal warning session can resolve the
problem very quickly, without need to proceed to more formal steps. Be
completely prepared before sitting down with the employee to discuss the
Approach the discussion with an open mind and use active listening to hear
their side of the issue. Once you have identified the problem, be sure to
outline your expectations of the change(s). Before ending the meeting, make
sure that the employee understands and acknowledges the steps you will take
if the changes are not made.
If verbal discussions are ineffective and the problem continues, you will then
provide formal counseling to help improve the problem behavior. It is
important to document the counseling and to note specific behaviors and
specific actions that you have recommended during these sessions.
The next step is the more formal written corrective phase sometimes referred
to as a letter of reprimand. This part of any disciplinary review must be
handled correctly or you open yourself up for significant legal problems
especially if this process is not handled carefully and consistently. Written
documentation of an employee’s performance must be objective, clear, and
complete and must describe specific behaviors not issues such as attitude.
There can be no misinterpretation of the problem or the corrective action
that needs to be taken.
If the above efforts fail then one might consider suspension. This is a
temporary removal of the employee from the workplace. You might need to
review State and Local laws relative to this step.
As a last resort, you might determine termination is the only possibility left.
Make sure you are prepared for this step. As with all written notifications,
this termination notice should clearly state the actions you require the
employee to take to avoid termination. It should also outline the time
constraints to fulfill those requirements.
It you decide to terminate, remember that termination must always be
handled with the highest levels of attention to proper procedures and they
must be constant and consistent. The entire case must be documented in
writing. There is no guarantee that the employee will pursue legal action but
by carefully following the right process and maintaining excellently written
documentation, the chances significantly improve that the organization will
For those of you that have trouble coming up with descriptive comments for
your evaluations, I’ve provided some taken off of actual evaluations. Don’t
try these for real as they were written and used by professionals:
“Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom…and has
started to dig deeper.”
“His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.”
“This employee is really not much of a ‘has been’, but more of a definite’
“He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.”
“This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.”
“This employee should go far…and the sooner he starts, the better.”
“I would like to go hunting with him sometime.”
“He certainly takes a long time to make his point pointless.”
“Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn’t coming.”
“Has two brains: one is lost and the other is out looking for it.”
“If you gave him a penny for his thoughts, you’d get change.”
“He would argue with a signpost.”
“He brings a lot of joy whenever he leaves the room.”
“He has a knack for making strangers immediately.”
“When his IQ reaches 50 he should sell.”
“IF you see two people talking and one of them looks bored, he’s the other
“It’s hard to believe that he beat 1,000,000 other sperm to the egg.”
“Takes him 2 hours to watch 60 minutes.”
“When he opens his mouth, it seems that it is only to change feet.”
“The wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead.”
“Got a full 6-pack, but lacks the plastic thing that holds it all together.”
Remember, evaluations can be fun… and at times creative.