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On the Management Side: Dealing with Rule Breakers

When an employee breaks the rules, what should his or her boss do about it?It’s an important question because the answer can affect the employee’s future behavior, his department’s morale—even a company’s relationship with a union, if one is involved.Every manager, therefore, should review his disciplinary methods periodically to make sure they are producing the most constructive results.


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When an employee breaks the rules, what should his or her boss do about it?

It’s an important question because the answer can affect the employee’s future behavior, his department’s morale—even a company’s relationship with a union, if one is involved.

Every manager, therefore, should review his disciplinary methods periodically to make sure they are producing the most constructive results. These guidelines should help.

1. Know the rules and make sure your people know them. You can’t maintain discipline unless you know what is permissible and what isn’t. Be sure of your rules and see that they are conveyed to all employees.

2. Don’t ignore violations. A manager needn’t issue a formal reprimand every time a rule is broken. What he does will depend on the nature and the circumstances of the violation and the employee’s past record. The important point is that he must do something. Overlooking the offense and saying nothing is equivalent to condoning the violation; in time, that could make that particular rule unenforceable.

3. Get all the facts. As soon as you believe there has been a violation, try to establish exactly what happened. Talk to other managers, interview employee witnesses, refer to records and examine any physical evidence.

When disciplinary action is challenged, the burden is upon management to show that there was just cause.

Your first step should be to give the employee an opportunity to explain his actions. Don’t assume that if the employee has an explanation, he will volunteer it—take the initiative and ask for one. Otherwise the employee may later say, “Nobody asked me.”

Just as important as getting the facts is recording them. If a disciplinary action is challenged, the immediate manager is the main source of information for senior management. He may be called upon months after the incident to recall it in detail. If he relies on his memory, his case will be weak.

4. Choose the most appropriate disciplinary action. Somehow the manager must draw the fine line between punishment that is too severe to be just and punishment that is too mild to be corrective. Always keep in mind what you hope to achieve: a change in the employee’s behavior, not punishment for its own sake or revenge. Each case must be judged individually, in terms of five main questions:

  1. How serious was the offense?
  2. What were the circumstances?
  3. What has the employee’s past conduct record and how long has he or she been employed?
  4. When was the last time he or she violated a rule?
  5. What is the practice in similar cases?

5. Administer the discipline properly. Telling an employee he is being penalized for breaking a rule isn’t pleasant, but this is the critical time for the manager to remember that the purpose of the discipline is corrective, not punitive. If he doesn’t, he may end up with a sour employee, rather than a chastened one. He should avoid sarcasm, threats and temper tantrums. Never hand an employee a penalty without explaining it. Devote some time to telling him what he did wrong, why he is being given this penalty and what will be expected of him in the future. He may still be resentful, but not to the extent he would be if there were no explanations.

What is Proper Motivation?
The answer to that varies from individual to individual, of course, but here are some essential ingredients to keep in mind.

Equal workloads. People are gener-ally competitive. They continu-ally compare themselves with others. Whether this is good or bad is a moot point; it’s a fact. But this constant comparing of oneself with others is not always based on the desire to excel. Sometimes it is based on a desire for perfect equality. This is especially true when it comes to work volumes. Employees usually won’t mind working hard if they are convinced that all their peers are working equally hard.

A common management error, however, is to judge by volume alone. Thus, it may appear fair to ask Adams and Baker to prepare one report each within a week. But if Adams’s report requires several days of intensive research and Baker’s report requires only a few telephone calls, their workloads are patently unequal. Either their deadlines should differ or Baker should be asked to help Adams.

Realistic work schedules. People like well defined work goals so that they may chart their own progress. You can provide this satisfaction through realistic work schedules. Unless exceptional conditions dictate otherwise, give an employee enough time to finish an assignment without interruption and avoid switching him in midstream from one job to another. If you must switch him, be sure to explain why.

Suitable equipment. Nothing demoralizes an employee more surely than to be assigned to a job and then be given inadequate—or the wrong—equipment for it.

Well defined assignments. Some workers require more detailed guidelines than others, but all have the basic need to know what is expected of them. It’s not a question of what should be done by 11 a.m., but rather the extent of the assignment, the priorities involved, what materials and equipment should be used, and what other procedures should be followed. Knowing the specifics of an assignment gives an employee confidence because it enables him to know immediately whether his work is on target or off.

Let George Do It
Most managers agree that you can get more done if you learn to delegate. But precisely how do you go about this crucial activity? What are the specific things you should do, and avoid, in order to delegate effectively? Some of the finer points of delegation—herewith.

Search for unused abilities. If you think an employee with respond well to a challenge, give him something that will tax his abilities. If he doesn’t rise to the challenge the first time, try again.

Delegate to a number of employees. When the job to be delegated is too big, divide it into its component parts and delegate the work to several people.

Don’t delegate to the first person who comes to mind. By so doing, you tend to burden your best employees and neglect the growth of your other people.

When necessary, delegate outside the company. Let suppliers, salespeople and other outside business contacts take as much a load as possible off you and your staff. They can often supply you with basic research, facts and figures.

Delegate to ambitious employees. Ambitious young people often feel their talents are not being fully used. Give them an opportunity to expand their jobs and prepare themselves. However, to avoid the possibility of their antagonizing other employees, hand them the lone wolf assignments where they won’t have to work closely with anyone else.

Don’t delegate on a sink-or-swim basis. Don’t delegate on a sink-or-swim basis. Offer your advice and suggest-ions and offer to help out at any time if the going gets tough. Play the “togetherness” theme. Demonstrate confidence in the person to whom you have delegated.

Follow through. Set deadlines for completed work and make sure they are met. Keep informed (or make sure the employee keeps you informed) of all progress—or lack of it. 

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