Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Employee-Proposed Discipline: How Well Is It Working?

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Employee-Proposed Discipline: How Well Is It Working?

Article excerpt

In 1982, W. Edwards Deming observed that "People can face almost any problem except the problem of people ... Faced with problems with people, management will go into a state of paralysis." (1) One of the most paralyzing tasks that managers face is disciplining employees. One explanation for this reluctance may be that managers lack the skills to administer discipline constructively, or that guidelines for administering discipline may not exist within the organization. (2) Managers may fear that employees will become defensive, even abusive, when confronted with negative feedback. In other words, a disgruntled employee might "go postal" and react violently toward a supervisor or co-workers. Supervisors may also be concerned that they will receive no support from their managers when they do impose disciplinary measures, or they may avoid disciplining out of fear that lawsuits will be lodged against them or their employers. (3) For these reasons, managers may let poor performance or unacceptable behavior continue for too long, thus setting the stage for a small problem to become a big one. Yet managers have no choice but to provide fair, factual and timely disciplinary feedback if they want to accomplish organizational goals.

Traditionally, discipline has been viewed as punitive: managers use their positions of authority to coerce employees into changing conduct or job performance. "Progressive" discipline meant that employees typically were treated with increasingly severe punishments until they altered their behavior, or else they were discharged. In reaction to punitive disciplinary actions, employees may actively or passively resist changing, or eventually quit. (4) In the long run, management runs the chance of potentially losing good employees and undermining morale in an organization while employees risk losing secure, remunerative jobs.

More recently, observers advocate using a nonpunitive approach to discipline that offers employees an incentive to change their behavior rather than punishing them when expectations are not met. (5) These positive approaches are oriented towards correcting employee behavior by offering incentives to take responsibility for their own behavior and even allowing employees to participate in the disciplinary decision-making process. This model offers employees being disciplined an opportunity to correct their behavior and have the adverse action removed from their permanent personnel file. Nonpunitive methods for disciplining employees that have been identified include alternative dispute resolution techniques, working suspensions, expunging disciplinary actions from personnel files, holding discipline in abeyance for a specific period of time, offering last chance agreements, allowing reflective time off, and utilizing employee-proposed discipline. (6)

Using quantitative and qualitative data, this paper examines the use of employee-proposed discipline (EPD) in a municipal government over a five-year period. The researchers hypothesized that: 1) a large number of employees in the Public Works Department of the City Albuquerque would take advantage of the opportunity to propose their own discipline, and 2) a majority of those proposals would be accepted as "reasonable" by management. A secondary hypothesis of this study is that, out of enlightened self-interest, employee-proposed discipline will be less severe than discipline imposed by management. Both management and employee perspectives are explored.

Review of Literature

One of the challenges facing managers and supervisors today is dealing with an increasingly undisciplined workforce. (7) Employee productivity and morale continue to be low, while absenteeism, tardiness and turnover are high. Employees resist change, lack commitment to the operation, and resent almost all efforts to correct behavior. In many organizations, the problem has been compounded by the fact employees are hired who do not subscribe to the organization's culture or work ethic. …

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