Progressive discipline is a standard disciplinary format that has been used in many workplaces in all industries for years. It is important for most workplaces with employees to make sure that there is a disciplinary formula in place that is understood in order to discourage employees from undesirable behavior. Progressive discipline can help to accomplish that goal, but there are some disadvantages to the system that should be considered along with the advantages.

How Does Progressive Discipline Work?

Progressive discipline systems usually have anywhere from three to five steps. After an employee displays some minor undesirable behavior, like being a few minutes late, a verbal warning is given. If the behavior is more severe or if multiple infractions have occurred, the next step in progressive discipline is to give a written warning. If behavior continues after the written warning or if issues are more serious, employees may be suspended, put on probation, or terminated.

Provides Clear Expectations

One advantage of progressive discipline is that it provides all employees with a clear outline of what to expect if rules are not followed or if performance is not up to standard. This can create a culture of consistency and fairness, as long as it is executed properly. Morale may be increased when employees know that they will not be fired for a small issue and that the poor performance or behavior of others will be addressed.

Provides Coaching and Learning Opportunities

Progressive discipline provides a way for employers to address employee behaviors and performance issues in a way that will command their attention. Employers or managers can speak to employees about what actions can be taken to resolve the issues and can receive feedback from the employees about what can be done to make it easier to avoid the issues that are occurring.

Creates a Documentation Trail

Progressive discipline automatically creates a documentation trail that can be very helpful if the coaching and disciplinary action do not help to correct the behavioral or performance issues and the employee has to be terminated as a result. Having a documentation trail can protect a company against legal action if an employee tries to sue for wrongful termination.

May Appear Unfair at Times

Every incident and every employee is different, so sometimes what may seem like the same behavior or performance may actually warrant very different consequences. When an employee has been chastised for behavior and then sees another employee not be chastised for the same behavior, it can breed resentment and appear that the system is unfair. It is important to retain consistency as much as possible with any discipline system.

Can Be Impractical

For some companies, progressive discipline is just too time consuming or all around impractical. If there are only a few employees in a company, it may make more sense to simply fire an employee that cannot perform to standard or that shows disciplinary problems, rather than going through a progression and expending resources. For other companies, a more understanding and less formal approach may work better.

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