Disciplinary Action

One of a manager’s biggest responsibilities is to dish out disciplinary actions when necessary. It’s a task that I never really thought much about before I became a manager. I’ve only ever received one written warning in my career, and it was pretty cut and dry, my cash drawer was short $50. It was my assigned drawer, when I wasn’t on duty it was kept in a safe deposit box, and the only time it got opened by anyone but me was when the general cashier and my manager did their monthly audit. The shortage wasn’t discovered by them, it was reported by me. I was pretty good about keeping my drawer locked when I wasn’t at the desk and regardless since the cash was assigned exclusively to me, anything that went wrong with it was my responsibility. I had made a mistake during my day and the hotel lost $50 cash. Automatic write-up according to the handbook. Pretty cut and dry. I took it. I learned from it, and I never had any further issues.

There are a wide variety of disciplinary actions a manager can take, verbal warnings (the ones that still get documented), written warnings, suspensions and eventually even termination. I don’t dish any of those actions out lightly, I recognize that everyone makes mistakes and when possible I try to use those mistakes as opportunities for improvement and instruction. I don’t subscribe to the practice yelling at my staff or chewing them out. I’ll admit in the heat of the moment, I’ve snapped once or twice, and generally that earns an apology from me once I’ve cooled down.

I’ve had to issue a lot of warning notices in my year and a half since I became a department head. It’s never the first tool in my bag, but just because I don’t enjoy handing them out doesn’t mean I’ll shy away from the process. The manager I replaced was well liked by the department, but also shied away from the process and she let a number of small issues fester and grow into much larger ones. I had to clean house to some extent when I got here, because I wasn’t willing to sweep problems under the rug. I hate each write-up or disciplinary action I deliver. I won’t say they’ve gotten easier. Each one is different depending on the circumstances calling for it and the employee that I’m dealing with. Most of them are routine, cut and dry type scenarios which really are indisputable, but every employee handles them differently. And even the ones that seem like they should be routine sometimes result in flaring tempers, arguments, tears and sulking afterwards. For my part I try not to dwell on them overly much after they’ve been issued. I deliver the write-up, always with a witnessing manager, submit it to HR to be filed and then I move on with my day. I don’t hold it against the employee any further unless it continues to be an issue or a pattern develops. It pretty much drops out of my mind as soon as I drop it off with HR.

I know it isn’t always the same for the receiver of the write-up. They have far more tied up in the whole process, not the least of which is their pride and ego over their own perception of their job performance. There’s also the fact that disciplinary notices are usually cumulative in someway, which means when you start collecting them it can lead to more severe consequences like suspension, missing raises or bonuses, and maybe even termination, all of which greatly impacts a person’s sense of security in the world. Who hasn’t been afraid of getting fired at some point? At least on the level of “What if I actually lost my job suddenly? What would I do?” I’ve called for staff members to be terminated before, and when it came down, no matter how justified it was, I felt horrible about it. It’s always my last option.

And let me say as a manager, how you receive disciplinary action really determines how much impact that notice will have on your career ultimately. While I try not to hold something like a write-up against an employee after it is delivered. How they handle it after walking out of my office matters greatly. Do they run off and tell everyone else in their department what happened? Do they pout and sulk all day? Do they let the issue calling for the warning continue to come up? I once had an employee that flat-out refused to sign their write-up or acknowledge it was happening. It was a pretty cut and dry tardiness issue where the facts weren’t in dispute. He did think that he was somewhat irreplaceable. That didn’t go so well for him.

I much prefer to see and employee try to learn from the issue that’s necessitating the action. Do they bounce back stronger? Do they own up to their mistake? I’d rather they not run off and tell everyone about their write-up, but if they do tell co-workers, are they doing it to be the victim and paint us managers as the villains? Or do they use it as motivation to help their colleagues avoid similar pitfalls? All of these ultimately speak loudly to how much I’m going to remember that write-up down the line and how much impact it will ultimately have.

Anyways, I had to hand out a couple write ups today to different employees. Both for the same issue. Both cut and dry situations. Both had wildly different reactions. And it put this topic on my mind. I doubt I said anything new or profound here, but I wanted to say it all the same.

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  1. #1 by HoaiPhai on September 18, 2011 - 8:12 AM

    It’s a tough task but at least you seem to have a bead on how to do it humanely and fairly. It’s also good that you have policies in place. I’ve worked at places where there was no stated policy or protocol and when I felt someone under me needed to be set straight, my higher up would arbitrarily veto the decipline.

    • #2 by hotelnerd on September 18, 2011 - 8:29 AM

      Our process is very well laid out, especially for such a small non-corporate property. It’s important to the GM and HR Manager because all too often disciplinary action leads to termination down the line, not always, but when it does we always have a very well documented paper trail. Ultimately that saves us money because we have fewer successful unemployment claims.

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