what consequences can managers enforce, other than firing someone?

A reader writes:

I’ve just begun my first managerial role and I’m wondering about consequences. You frequently mention clearly explaining the consequences “up to and including termination” when an employee is not meeting expectations. What are those consequences prior to being fired? I work in an international nonprofit, and we don’t do things like write-ups, as I experienced when I worked in retail. What kind of tools do I have as a manger to impose consequences?

It depends on the situation.

If it’s a serious performance issue that ultimately must be fixed in order for the person to stay in her role, then that should take you down a track of progressively serious warnings about what changes you need to see. The first conversation in that process is going to be pretty informal, but if a few of those conversations (along with clear feedback) don’t solve things, in most cases you’ll want to move to a more formal performance plan, with a timeline and benchmarks for the person meet, and the understanding that you’ll need to see specific improvements within that time period in order to keep the person in the job. (There are some exceptions to this, like when the person is so new that it doesn’t make sense to go through that whole process, or when it’s clear that the issues are so significant and the chances of the person being able to meet those benchmarks so remote that you’d just be prolonging an inevitable outcome.)

But there are other situations — the ones I think you’re asking about — where the issue isn’t severe enough that you’re likely to ever fire the person over it, but is still something of concern. In those cases, you can explain to the person that if they don’t resolve issue X, it could impact future performance evaluations, future raises, promotion potential, the type of projects they’re assigned to, and/or what types of growth opportunities they’re offered. (That last one will depend on exactly what the issue is; obviously you don’t want to deny someone the opportunity to improve, but in some cases it’s practical to conclude that you’d be better off investing your presumably limited development resources in other people.)

Also, sometimes an effective consequence is just “we’re going to have a serious conversation about this.” Consequences don’t always have to be formal, and sometimes formal consequences can be overkill. In many — in fact, probably most — situations, an appropriate consequence is simply a serious conversation with you, asking about what happened and what the plan is for avoiding it in the future. On a healthy staff, that will often be all the consequence you need to hold someone accountable and get things back on track. Of course, when that doesn’t solve the problem, then you’d escalate in seriousness from there – but this is usually the right place to start.

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. TCO

    Another consequence could be that you will be more closely supervising their work–they will need to send you more frequent status updates, check in before making decisions, or have less flex/telecommute time. It can be helpful to remember that “consequence” doesn’t necessarily equal “punishment.” It can just mean “outcome.” Therefore it’s entirely appropriate to enforce consequences even when you don’t want to be punitive. A lot of consequences, like more hands-on supervision, are natural outcomes and don’t have to be viewed as punishment.

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    1. LQ

      Less flexible schedule came to mind for me as well. Especially for someone who is having trouble getting the work done, responding to things, etc. If someone needs more oversight then oversee them more. It’s not a toy you’re taking away. You’re trying to figure out if this is a good fit and if they can be helped to succeed in the position.

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    2. Bwmn

      I think this is a fantastic comment.

      I work at an organization where most staff is exempt and there’s no clock-in/clock-out system. However, an employee who did ultimately end up being fired – features of the larger issues at play in her performance were arrival/departure time, personal calls, length of lunch, etc. While all of those issues are technically on the books, it’s also known that unless you’re having larger performance concerns – no one is monitored that way.

      This also often matches with issues around people being micromanaged vs.more hands off (how often do you meet, how does work need to be reviewed, etc.).

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    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      I often coached these conversations with outcomes. For example, I had a writer who could not get things completed on time and was not good about backwards planning her work to meet deadlines. To make sure she was meeting her deadlines, at the start of each project (after the kick-off meeting) I asked her to send me a timeline with the firm dates from her project manager and then her internal dates.

      We would then go over these in her weekly one-on-one. I focused on the idea that we were doing this so that (1) client expectations were met, (2) we weren’t holding up colleagues from other departments work, and (3) so that she would have a more balanced workload.

      By focusing on outcomes, I was able to get the level of performance I needed, and she was able to build solid time management skills.

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      1. TootsNYC

        I love this. (As a parent, I try to do this with my kids–point out the benefits. You go to bed earlier because it makes getting up easier, you have more attention and energy for the day, etc.)

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      2. Jaydee

        That’s excellent. It also provides a learning opportunity. If the employee is bad at meeting deadlines because she is bad at backwards planning, to a large extent that’s a learned skill. Going through these steps with her hopefully helps her learn the specific skills and then repeat them in the future with less direct input from you. Ideally at some point this will become automatic. New project is assigned, she emails you a list of the deadlines, you have one-on-ones and she comes prepared to update you on each project, and you only occasionally have to be the one to initiate a conversation to keep her on a deadline.

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      3. TootsNYC

        And by checking whether those smaller, more frequent deadlines were met, you were providing accountability at every stage.

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    4. Elizabeth the Ginger

      This is the approach I use to behavior and misbehavior with my students, who are elementary students. It makes sense for them and it makes sense for adults. It isn’t helpful for kids to give them arbitrary punishments – it doesn’t feel relevant, and while the fear of punishment can control their behavior when they’re under my jurisdiction, it won’t actually instill good habits long-term. So saying “You can’t have dessert at lunch” as punishment for wasting time goofing around in class would just make the kid resent me. Saying, “You have to finish the assignment from yesterday instead of having free choice time, because you weren’t using the time appropriately yesterday” is a natural consequence.

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    5. Vicki

      Ahem. “check in before making decisions, or have less flex/telecommute time” _is_ punishment.
      Heavy punishment.

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      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s punishment if it’s being done randomly. It’s not punishment if it’s directly connected to something that you’re hoping will help the person improve (e.g, if they’re making bad decisions, having them check in first makes sense).

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      2. Bwmn

        As Alison replied, I think it highly depends on how it’s related. If someone is making significant copy writing errors, then yes – reducing flex/telecommute time on that basis alone would be punishment. However, if because of those copy writing errors, it is decided that the employee needs to be in the office to go over their work with a copy editor/supervisor/etc. – then that is an adjustment/consequence put in place to correct the copy writing errors.

        Now depending on why an employee relies on flex/telecommute time – that may ultimately heavily impact that person’s life. But if it’s directly correlated, then it’s not that the intent to is to be punishment but rather fix the error.

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      3. TootsNYC

        I wonder if Vicki’s point is that while it might be simply a natural consequence, it’s unpleasant enough that it’s “as good as” punishment, or at least that it’s got all the negative-reinforcement value that a true punishment would have.

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  2. Mike C.

    Time off without pay is something I see. Something like 1-3-5 days off, starting such that they line up to a few weekends as possible (1/3 days happen Tue-Thurs, 5 starts on any day outside of a Monday). This is usually used in conjunction with the serious talking to or a write up. Write-ups tend to be more for things like safety violations or serious deviations from our compliance system so this might not fit your specific situation.

    Folks are allowed to burn vacation time so that their paycheck remains the same which seems fine to me – if they really need the money then they’re still losing vacation days that they could have used when they wanted. I have to imagine that for some situations there’s also the benefit of a cooling off period but that’s just speculation on my part.

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    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That, to me, falls in the category of punishment rather than outcome/consequence, so I’m not a fan. I don’t think a manager’s job is to be punitive, and this feels punitive to me.

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      1. M

        I feel like this could be even worse than punitive, since it seems the aim is to reduce the employee’s income (unless they have sufficient PTO to cover it). Some people are truly paycheck to paycheck, and this could put them in a very scary financial place. Not a fan at all.

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        1. Mike C.

          That’s an important consideration, but there’s plenty of PTO here, so it’s not much of an issue. Even then, it’s only handed out when someone really did something they shouldn’t have.

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          1. Monique

            I’m not really sure how you’d ever recover enough to have a fully functioning working relationship with someone that was punished like this, though. There would be no trust whatsoever left from either side, at which point it might just make more sense to fire someone, if it’s this serious.

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            1. Mike C.

              As I posted below, I know a lot of older employees who did something stupid years ago, got a few days off and are perfectly happy/productive/good employees years later.

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          2. Murphy

            I guess I just don’t see how this is solving the problem at hand. If you’re just making people sit in the corner because they’ve been bad (which is, let’s be honest, what this is) it’s not teaching them what they need to do correctly (through performance managing them, ensuring they’re in the office during specific hours so you can be available for supervision, etc.).

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        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

          And from management’s standpoint, it’s a WONDERFUL way to save on payroll, too! Or, you get more out of your employees by “punishing” them!

          I once worked in a place where someone thought they could save money — instead of paying overtime, write up people for disciplinary action – then require them to perform “punishment duty”.

          While some unions – police unions, for instance, do just that — we reminded management – a) that’s probably illegal for hourly employees and b) that’s something unions negotiate. Maybe we should unionize…. yeah, that’s it, let’s organize and unionize and you can specify that ….

          End of conversation.

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      2. Liane

        That is the one thing I really dislike about my job’s absence policy—a one day unpaid suspension if you rack up enough occurences. And this an industry where paycheck to paycheck workers is common.
        ( But the policy is otherwise great. It takes 7 occurences to get that point, and occurences drop off at 1 for every month you don’t have any. This the most generous of any job I have worked, or heard about. Most employers seem to be 3 occurences in 3 or 6 months, and only go away after that length of time)

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        1. Ops Analyst

          You mean 3 occurrences as in 3 absences? I find this so odd. If you miss too much work the consequence is being forced to miss more work. As with the original example from Mike C. above which deals with performance issues by limiting the opportunity to perform; it’s so backwards.

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          1. Liane

            Yes, 1 absence = 1 occurence and coming in late/leaving early = 1/2 occurence.
            In case I wasn’t clear–very possible–at Current Job it takes 7 occurences before disciplinary action, other than an informal talk, is taken. At Old Job it was only 3, which is common at many employers.
            But, yes, I agree the suspension is punitive, which is why I dislike that part of the policy.

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      3. Mike C.

        You’re right, it is strictly punitive. It’s interesting to me that you make this distinction between punishment and outcome and certainly has me thinking about this (I’ve rewritten this post a few times actually!).

        In my mind, I think discussions should happen always, but that performance plans and the like seem more appropriate for situations where someone isn’t performing their job well – late work, poor quality, mistakes being made, etc. Great, explicit expectations and a plan for improvement, sounds great.

        But what about situations where it’s more of a binary issue – they ignored safety procedures, they were speeding in the parking lot (maybe a site specific issue, we have parking for 20,000 here), they were acting against our quality/compliance system, started a fight with a coworker (verbal shouting), etc? Punishment seems more reasonable to me because outside of maybe being reminded of proper procedures, what does a conversation or performance plan look like in this case? “You know not to do that, don’t do it again?”

        Maybe I’m just making an artificial distinction here.

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        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          In those situations, you just have a serious conversation with them and then, frankly, fire them if it still keeps happening. Those things are egregious enough — and easily enough avoided — that if they’re continuing after a serious conversation, they probably shouldn’t be on my staff anymore anyway.

          Who wants to work with the person who keeps ignoring safety procedures or getting into screaming matches, whether or not they get suspended for it?

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          1. Monique

            I agree with Alison on this one – if it was bad enough that I wanted to punish someone by taking their pay or holidays away, I think I’d need to be looking at firing them in all honesty. At that point, there’s nothing left to build a working relationship on.

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            1. Mike C.

              I can see a whole lot of reasons why the policy isn’t great, but I disagree with the “nothing left to build a working relationship on”. A ton of long term employees have been dinged here or there for stupid things they did early on but they’re just fine 10, 20, 30 years later.

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              1. LQ

                This sounds very industry dependent to me too. If it is common in your industry for something to happen, you get a cooling off period, come back and pick up and go forward. You know people aren’t punished forever for it. You know people who have had this happen and go on to positions of authority or whatever… It works and you know it is serious. But in an industry where it isn’t common it would feel shocking and insulting. Also seems like if you have a really hard time getting people this might be valuable to have as a tool. But I’m sort of on the wow this seems really strange and I’d be looking for a new job on day 1 of that suspension.

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              2. Artemesia

                It sounds like high school or any highly exploitive environment where workers are lesser human beings and can be treated like children or serfs. Maybe there are settings where it is effective but in any workplace where you want to have colleagues and a positive achievement oriented climate it is going to sour that. Might as well have star charts and be handing out demerits and have a big colorful hall pass to use the restrooms.

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        2. AnotherFed

          I’m also used to those sorts of suspensions happening when you simply can’t have the employee around for a bit. As an example, if someone does something dumb that means they lose a required certification (like their CDL, or weight handling equipment cert, or security clearance) or there is an investigation ongoing, then they cannot be onsite/working until they get it back or someone can arrange a different job for them for a while.

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          1. fposte

            Right, those are more common. But I think that’s a different thing–it’s not to teach anybody to do anything different, though with the unlicensed folks it may have that effect.

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          2. Mallory Janis Ian

            I’ve seen suspensions for those reasons (as in, the person is unable to legally perform their duties).

            The only other time I’ve seen suspensions, outside of manufacturing or retail, where there is often a strong culture of “workers are lesser human beings and can be treated like children or serfs” is when the person has done something so wrong that management is considering whether to fire them.

            A designer at my previous employer got into a big blow-up with a firm principal on a Thursday afternoon, for example, and a meeting was set for the following Tuesday, when the other firm principle would be back in town. The designer was asked to not return to work until that meeting at which his employment fate would be decided.

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        1. LBK

          This is a huge consideration for me and why I see punitive measures like suspension as mostly unhelpful. They expand the impact of the employee’s issue to their coworkers even more than it may already stretch. They also preclude the possibility of spending that time actually working with the employee to improve their performance (although I understand that may not necessary apply to more clear-cut policy violations like Mike cites, since then it’s not a case of “improving” but just not doing that thing again).

          If I mess up and get kicked out of the office for a week, I don’t come back really having learned anything that will improve my chances of not messing up again – I don’t gain anything out of that experience except maybe being kind of annoyed. The only time I’d support a suspension is if there’s an interpersonal conflict and you need to guarantee the people involved aren’t near each other (like if two employees got in a fist fight and you need to keep them apart while you figure out if you’re going to fire them).

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          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

            Well, some managers may feel that by suspending an employee – it scares the hell out of the others – which may be the reason it’s done.

            In baseball – “Roger Clemens, 105 mph, high and inside” is a “purpose pitch”.

            Managers often use “purpose pitches” – to keep a staff in-line, scare people, turn workers against one of their own (“divide and conquer”) — and so forth.

            This also is used as a weapon at performance review time – and even in layoffs. When you have a staff of 30, say, and lay off one or two people – that’s not to save money – it’s to scare everyone off.

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      4. Ad Astra

        I could see it being not-entirely-punitive in a situation where a person/incident called for a more thorough investigation. That doesn’t seem likely to happen in most jobs or offices, though. I guess you see it most often with law enforcement and school teachers. And pro athletes. People with contracts.

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    2. fposte

      And that’s so non-industry to me that it’s hard to wrap my brain around it–it’s outright punitive with nothing about outcomes related to it. I think that’s also a window into how different industries can be (and also how class-related that can be).

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        1. fposte

          It’s interesting, though, to think about it in terms of other industry changes–CRM vs. Captain Is God comes to mind, where moving past the authoritarian approach has been a really key factor in safety increases. Like you say, I don’t think a suspension is the end of the world in an industry where it’s the norm, but I wonder if there’s been useful research at other levels (I would imagine there has been, but I don’t know) to identify likely causes of error and what methods are most effective at deterring and avoiding it.

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      1. Anxa

        And I think there are layers to class issue, too.

        You could be living paycheck to paycheck or have a lowish income and still have PTO. But PTO is a concept I’m mostly familiar with here, because I’ve never had such a thing. I make a decent hourly wage and work in a climate controlled, safe environment, but I consider things like retirement plans and paid vacation or sick days to be pretty elite and something that better paid workers are more likely to have access to.

        This wouldn’t play out nearly the same way in a system where days off aren’t meant to be punitive, but often are in effect.

        Snow days and federal holidays aren’t meant to be punitive, but they have to same effect as having a suspension with no pay would: a pay cut that feels like a fine.

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        1. Stranger than fiction

          Ah, you touched on something there. I still remember in high school getting into a fight in the hall, and thinking it was so unfair that the girl who started it got off-campus suspension for a week while I got on-campus suspension (kind of like all day detention) for three days. So she pretty much got a week vacation from school. But these workers are getting an unpaid vacation instead.

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          1. MillersSpring

            Just a guess: the classmate who got off-campus suspension may have gotten zeroes on all assignments and tests during that period. That’s the extra punishment of getting a “week vacation.” (My dad is a retired principal. :)

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          2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

            I once worked with a guy who was suspended for two weeks.

            He went home – his wife was recently (temporarily) furloughed from work.

            So – he viewed his suspension as a leave of absence, got in the car, and drove to Florida (from New England).

            Two days after his suspension began – they frantically tried to get in touch with him. One of his co-workers had gone into labor and given birth a month or so early – and they needed him to come back immediately but they couldn’t find him. This was before cell phones, etc.

            By the time he got the message (home phone box) he was in Florida — he called the office, “Huh? What gives?” From what I heard, the manager basically delivered a “HOW DARE YOU!” message – his reply = “I am suspended from work, not under house arrest.”

            He was later terminated – but, basically they had to shorten his suspension from two weeks to one week.

            The lesson for management – be careful how you punish an employee. It could come back to burn you.

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      2. Elizabeth the Ginger

        Yeah, I could see suspension as a cool-down, e.g. employee got into a screaming match with a coworker and so gets sent home to get some distance from the situation. Also gives the managers time to figure out the long-term solution – is it firing, or a PIP, or something else? But even then I think I’d leave it paid until the person was actually fired.

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        1. Mallory Janis Ian

          I agree. The designer that I mention upthread, who was suspended until the principals could decide whether to fire him, was ultimately not fired. He was moved off the project that he was working on with the principal that he yelled at, in order to give them separation from each other for awhile.The days he spent at home were not deducted from his salary nor his PTO. It wasn’t a vacation for him either; he spent the whole time worried sick over whether he still had a job.

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        2. JessaB

          I agree that an in the moment “Go home, cool off, come in tomorrow,” is more than reasonable especially if someone is in some kind of argument or screaming/yelling etc. That’s different though than a scheduled suspension.

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    3. TCO

      If I were an employee trying to improve, and I were forced to take unpaid time off as punishment for mistakes… I think that would be the end of any positive relationship I had with that employer. I wouldn’t be motived to become a better, more engaged employee and I’d probably leave as quickly as possible.

      Also, perhaps most employees in your industry are non-exempt, but I assume that exempt employees would have to be paid in full for their day off (whether or not they used PTO) if they worked any other time that week, right?

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      1. Karowen

        I’d imagine it being used more in a situation where the employee hasn’t realized the seriousness of it. If we’ve had multiple talks/write-ups (as applicable) and the employee is still blowing it off, it seems like a better step than moving straight to firing. Sometimes people need a wake-up call that what they see as a minor thing is actually pretty major.

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        1. nerdgal

          I have only heard of this happening once, and it did provide the “wake up call” as Karowen describes it. The person’s supervisor had to go to a lot of trouble to give a day off without pay to an exempt employee, but in this particular narrow set of circumstances it was effective.

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        2. hbc

          Yes, exactly. We’ve talked a lot about how people can essentially have workplace PTSD from toxic environments, but you can also develop bad patterns from less toxic places. If the last couple of places you worked, say, talked about safety but took 4 months to reorder safety glasses, you’re going to blow off the supervisor who’s bugging you about wearing your protective gear.

          I think both sides would rather the employee say, “I had no idea you were serious” with a single unpaid day versus getting tossed out entirely. It shouldn’t be the most used tool in your belt, but it can occasionally be effective.

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    4. Not So NewReader

      My husband was given a week off for something he did not do. He used the time to rest and job hunt. By the time he returned to work, he was able to give notice. (My husband never got in trouble at any job he had, so the false charge was way over the top for him. He had no problem using the time to job hunt. The big boss was totally surprised by this, but my husband’s immediate boss quickly figured out my husband would use the time to job hunt and expected to receive two week’s notice from my husband.)

      Additionally, some people could see time off as a relief or a time out from dealing with the core problems.

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  3. DropTable~DropsMic

    I would add that before you start thinking about punishment, make sure that 1) they are aware of the problem 2) they know if the specific behavior you want from them and 3) they have the resources to change the behavior, if applicable (e.g. the information they need to do the thing properly).

    I’ve had trouble with a boss who either never told me about perceived performance issues or would tell me in a really vague way and avoid giving specifics on how I should improve (even when I asked) and I ended up quitting over that because I felt like I was basically flying in the dark.

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  4. Bibliovore

    This is a great question. I had a situation with an employee and was coached through the entire process by HR. In retrospect the cause seemed to be that she didn’t understand/want/ or feel that she needed a manager. The previous manager had retired and she had been on her own for about 10 months. She simply would not take direction or complete any of my requests or her job duties in a timely or accurate manner.

    For a very long time, the “consequences” of her performance issues were documentation and meeting to discuss expectations. Then a requirement of checking in with staff due to lateness issues. Then documenting her time on projects as they were incomplete and I was hearing a constant whine that she “was SOOOO busy” yet everything from her own timesheet to student work that she supervised was not completed in an accurate and timely manner. She also lied about work that was completed and was not.

    The first attention getting consequence was that after 6 months of this, she received a negative performance evaluation. Instead of taking that seriously, she wrote a vigorous rambling protest. This was not a punishment, there was plenty of warning, written documentation, and coaching. Another consequence was no raise that year as well.

    A formal PIP was put in place after no improvement for 3 months after the review. Progressive discipline. Investigations. Documentation. Oral then Written warnings that if her performance did not improve she could be suspended or terminated. Her performance did not improve. As this was a Union position the process of the PIP was a year until termination including numerous grievances filed against me. By the time we got to the three days suspension, I couldn’t believe that would have any effect on her performance. It did not. I spent a lot of time in the middle of the night with Evil HR Lady and AAM.

    I will say this was the most miserable work experience I had ever encountered with 25 years of management under my belt. On the other hand- when people say that no one can get fired here. Not true.

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    1. Anonymøøse bit my sister

      We are at that point with an employee here. The process has taken FOREVER, but it looks like he’ll finally be gone end of the month. It’s not that he’s a bad employee, he just lacks the skills it really takes to do this job.

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  5. Allison

    A consequence is anything that needs to happen in order to ensure their performance improves, and/or prevent their poor performance from impacting the company’s success.

    – Talking to someone about their performance
    – Taking away their flexibility and/or ability to work from home
    – Taking away their autonomy, insisting that someone needs to review their work or approve their decisions before anything is final
    – Taking them off a key project or account, giving them work that’s less critical
    – Giving them more structure, supervising them more closely, checking in more often, moving their desk somewhere closer to you or another authority figure, or putting them somewhere more visible.

    I’d like to emphasize that a consequence is something that needs to happen. A punishment, however, is a relatively unnecessary action meant to make someone unhappy to prove a point or dissuade them from doing something bad again. A punishment might be something like telling an employee they can’t attend a team outing or company event, or telling them they don’t get to participate in casual Fridays or enjoy perks offered to employees. Like if the office provided free bagels on Mondays and you told an employee “you know what, because of your poor numbers, I’ve decided you don’t get any bagels.”

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    1. Not So NewReader

      The thing about taking away a key project is that sometimes the employee does not mind. It’s one less thing they have to stumble through. I have been the employee doing 5-6 projects simultaneously and my coworker under discipline measures, LAUGHED at me for working so hard. “All I have to do is this one tiny project over here and you have to do five projects!” Sigh.

      There has to be some way of conveying to the person, in a manner they actually understand, that being assigned less work is NOT a good thing.

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  6. afiendishthingy

    As a chronically eager-to-please person, the prospect of a “serious conversation” with my supervisor is a powerful motivator for me to up my game. Some people don’t care so much, and won’t improve just to avoid that conversation. But it’s a good place to start.

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    1. asl

      Same here. I’ve had one or two “serious conversations” with my very kind, supportive supervisor and that fixed the problems right away!

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    2. OfficePrincess

      I’m the same way, which then makes it difficult to figure out how to approach my staff with issues, since most of them aren’t that type at all. I understand that their minds don’t work the same way, but that allowing for that doesn’t mean that they get unlimited discussions/warnings/chances either.

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      1. TCO

        I wonder if some kind of personality assessment would help you have a common language and understanding about how your work styles, motivations, needs, etc. differ. (If you think this is a culture clash and not just laziness on their part.) My office uses Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder, and while they’re not the end-all-be-all they really have helped us pinpoint, discuss, and overcome the ways in which our minds work differently.

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  7. AnotherFed

    An important consequence to remember (and actually discus with the employee) is future work assignments. If someone isn’t reliable enough, or can be a little brusque with clients, or needs more reviews to put out a solid product, they are not likely to be assigned interesting, important, high visibility projects. Most managers would make that decision automatically, because it is just common sense. Lots of times managers don’t have that conversation with the problem employee, or they only do when it’s performance review time, and even there they don’t always link the problems to not getting the projects that would make it easy to provide a raise/promotion.

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  8. AdAgencyChick

    In principle I agree with this, and in practice, I *have* seen punitive consequences work, although perhaps a crucial component is that the one time I’ve seen punishment really be effective in the workplace, it was *not* the employee’s direct manager administering the punishment.

    To explain: It is a chronic issue in my industry that people don’t complete and submit their timesheets on time. Is submitting your timesheet what makes you a rockstar? No, and that’s why managers don’t necessarily include whether someone is punctual about submissions when evaluating someone for advancement in the organization (or firing someone). On the other hand, if we don’t track our hours, the agency doesn’t get paid by its clients, which means the finance people are forever ripping their hair out trying to find ways to make people do their timesheets.

    At my last agency, a punitive system was implemented in which those who were more than X days late submitting a timesheet lost Internet access on their computers until the timesheets were completed.

    I heard plenty of complaints from a couple of direct reports (with whom I had had a talk about the importance of timesheet completion already) about this policy. But it sure did work to make them actually do it. They weren’t mad at me personally, because I wasn’t the one shutting off their access (the IT department had an automatic shutoff system). They were annoyed at finance, but they did their damn timesheets.

    So, although I wouldn’t want to use punitive measures as a rule, I won’t say “they don’t work” as a blanket statement, either.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I actually think that’s kind of brilliant, in this particular context. (I actually have a question coming on Saturday morning about how to get people to fill out their time sheets and may have to link to this comment.)

      Reply
  9. Kate

    I was wondering the same as OP, but in a volunteer context. What are consequences for volunteers, who are giving up their free time and doing the work for free when their performance are less than expected? (Short of letting them go.)
    What if the opportunities to promote them only rarely come by? What would motivate them to meet the expectations? (Say, turning in work on time, completing their tasks in an acceptable quality, etc.)

    I would be grateful for some pointers. (It’s actually all in the past now, I’m just wondering what could I have been doing differently. And it might come up again in the future, there’s always that possibility.) Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Managing volunteers is really different (and in some ways, much harder). In most cases, all you can really do is coach them and give feedback, but if that doesn’t work, you have to decide if you’d rather keep them on with their current performance or let them go.

      Reply
      1. Kate

        Yes, it did feel harder and it didn’t help that that was my first managerial position (mind you, I was a volunteer, too). Learnt a lot, though.
        Many thanks for your reply, Alison!

        Reply
  10. Pointy Haired Boss

    The most obvious to me is also the most old-fashioned; a demotion. If they aren’t able to handle the responsibility at their current position, knock them down to the position below it. Continue doing this until they begin to succeed again.

    People are often uneasy with demotions because they worry that it will reflect badly on the people who signed off on the promotion. I think this is short-sighted, though — often an incompetent assistant manager still makes a stellar employee, as that’s how they were promoted in the first place.

    Reply
  11. HR by Default

    Is it ever ok to reduce hours as a “punishment?”
    Employee averages 30 hrs per week.
    No contract or verbal agreement for hours, at-will state and company.
    1st PIP was successful, as it was too vague (our fault). Now new issues are arising and 2nd PIP will be delivered next week. She has become toxic to other employees so only new option that we can think of is to reduce hours. We prefer that she’s just gone at this point.
    “We” is myself and the owner/CEO of a mid-size company.

    Reply

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