Blog: The disciplinary power of slapping someone's legs with a wet fish

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Disciplinary stages: 1 - verbal warning. 2 - written warning. 3 - a slap round the back of the legs with a wet fish. 4 - final written warning. 

Well, not really, but I’m sure I’m not the only one to have fantasised about having an additional, more impactful sanction somewhere along the line! Because let’s face it, written warnings for misconduct or poor capability are just words on a bit of paper that many people don’t really give a stuff about. Even though people often talk about things being ‘On File’ in ominous tones, like ‘on file’ is some mysterious, powerful place somewhere in Middle Earth, it is in fact just a bit of paper gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.  So, bearing in mind that ‘lock ‘em in a room and kick ‘em about a bit’ is not really appropriate, how can we make disciplinary sanctions a bit more meaningful and effective?  I recently conducted a disciplinary where the ‘perp’ was bang to rights, but deliberately indulged in a bit of misbehaviour knowing full well he’d be disciplined, because he wasn’t really concerned about a stern telling-off confirmed in writing. So the company felt there was very little they could do, as he was clearly unfazed by the whole thing. Not so! Although we refer to 'discipline', sanctions should really be intended as a way of eliciting improvement, rather than simply acting as penalties or punishments. Performance management Disciplinary procedures are, after all, a form of performance management! So there can be a variety of appropriate actions short of dismissal than can be utilised alongside, or even instead of, formal warnings, in order to change behaviour or performance in some way. For example: 

  • stricter controls/reduced flexibility around working hours (e.g. for people with poor punctuality)
  • attendance at relevant training events for people with conduct problems (e.g. bullying and harassment awareness, equal opps etc. for people whose behaviour is inappropriate without being seriously or intentionally so)
  • stricter supervision/performance monitoring and review
  • withdrawal of discretionary benefits or priviledges, such as doing overtime or attending corporate events (such as socials or client entertainment)
  • withdrawal of responsibilities (e.g. financial responsibilities, client-facing stuff etc.) until someone has proved they can be trusted to do a good job.

 There are plenty of things that can be done if you are a bit innovative! The key point is that the actions should be relevant and proportionate to the 'offence', whether it is capability or conduct. So getting someone to clean the toilets for a week when they actually work in Marketing wouldn't be appropriate (unless maybe they were responsible for messing the toilets up in the first place.) A written warning may not have much effect if someone isn't remotely concerned about a piece of paper in a filing cabinet, but proactive sanctions that reinforce positive behaviours and deter from repeating negative ones are definitely worth considering.  So check your disciplinary policies, and make sure there is something in there that reserves you the right to use 'appropriate actions short of dismissal' as disciplinary sanctions, and give serious thought to what might actually bring about the result you want. But maybe keep that wet fish in your desk drawer, just in case...:-)

Tara Daynes is founder and director of consultancy, Tara Daynes HR.

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By donr1
05th Jun 2012 23:41

Unaware of the legal requirements around discipline in the UK, but in NZ any variation from the standard 'summary dismissal' for serious misconduct, must be a provision of their employment conditions.  Similarly, any option other  than a warning or in conjunction with a warning must be prescribed in writing.  As to the value of these provisions, from my experience definitely worthwhile.  Regardless of how closely discipline actions are secured, word gets out.  That means the rest of the troops get to know the possible consequences if they transgress, and for the good people, knowledge that their behaviour is valued.  Interestingly this option for discipline processes is not widely implemented here, mainly due to the widespread use of our Labour Department free website template for creating employment agreements which of course  historically looks more to Employee rights.

Cheers.  Don Rhodes.

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