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Approaches to Discipline

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The disciplinary system can be viewed as an application of behavior modification to a problem or unproductive employee. The best discipline is clearly self-discipline, and most people can be counted on to do their jobs effectively when they understand what is required at work. But for some people, the prospect of external discipline helps their self-discipline. The two most common approaches to discipline are positive discipline and progressive discipline. The positive discipline approach builds on the philosophy that violations are actions that usually can be corrected constructively without penalty. When using this approach, managers focus on fact finding and guidance to encourage desirable behaviors, rather than penalties to discourage undesirable behaviors. Progressive discipline incorporates steps that become progressively more severe and are designed to change the employee’s inappropriate behavior. Most progressive discipline procedures use verbal and written reprimands and suspension before resorting to dismissal. Not all steps in progressive discipline are followed in every case. Certain serious offenses are exempted from the progressive procedure and may result in immediate termination. Although it appears to be similar to positive discipline, progressive discipline is more administrative and process-oriented. Following the progressive sequence ensures that both the nature and the seriousness of the problem are clearly communicated to the employee. However, if a firm has a written progressive disciplinary policy, it should be followed when immediate termination is not appropriate; otherwise, an employee’s dismissal could be considered outside the normal disciplinary procedures.
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