by   |  | July 12, 2013


So one of your organization’s managers has had the difficult conversations with a problem employee. She’s given it her best shot to turn the situation around, but nothing has worked.  Now the challenge has ratcheted up to a new degree of conversational difficulty: the discipline phase.

When these conversations are handled correctly, they can lead to that improvement you’re seeking.

Herewith, some practical tips to give managers on how to deal with employee discipline talks effectively:


After continual warnings and promises, the problem pops up again. Should you allow for a cool-down period before delivering the discipline? How long should you wait to deal with it?

Not long. Take actions as soon as possible after the infraction. You want the events to be fresh in the employee’s mind and in yours.

Of course, you may need a little time to make sure you’ve gathered all the facts, but make your move as soon as you’re ready.

Getting into it

Some supervisors are tempted to start the meeting with a little small talk – “How’re the kids?” “Did you see the end of last night’s game?” Don’t do it. The employee has to know right off that this is serious stuff that needs to be covered immediately.

You may encounter the employee who tries to turn the meeting into a social event by breaking in with some chit-chat, maybe even business-related talk, like the day’s production figures.

You can cut off that approach with: “Before we discuss that, there’s something else we need to cover right away.”

Making the right impression

You’ve had talks with this employee before, and because of that, the employee may think this is another one of those “little talks.”

Make it clear that the purpose of this meeting is to officially discipline the employee for a failure in performance or behavior. (In some organizations, the policy is to accompany the talk with a document that details the failure and the punishment. That may depend on how severe the punishment is.)

Emphasize that the meeting is “official” and part of the disciplinary process – to erase any false impressions the employee may have that this isn’t really all that serious.

The toughest conversation of all

When the time comes that an employee has really reached the end of the line, you may be called upon to hold a manager’s toughest conversation: the termination.

The general guide here is that the better prepared you are, the more likely that the conversation will proceed to its logical conclusion without going off the rails.

So this conversation is one you’ll want to “script” as much as any other – know exactly what you’re going to say and exactly what words you’re going to use. Termination is one of those times when precision makes a difference.

Overall goals for the termination talk:

  • Place a time limit on each segment of the conversation. It’s not as if you’re going to keep checking your watch to see if you’re on schedule, but you want to have a feel for how long each part of the talk should take. That prevents rambling.
  • Maintain a serious, even tone. You can’t control the tone of the employee’s reaction; you can control your own. So if you encounter an employee who shouts or otherwise gets emotional, you have to maintain your even keel.
  • Have a clear idea of how you want to end the conversation. Too many termination talks go on for too long because the manager doesn’t know how to finish. It can be as simple as standing up and saying, “Joe, I do want to wish you the best and hope that things work out for you.” And then move on to the next stage – handing in company property, signing final paperwork, etc.

However managers decide to do it, they should have a plan in mind and stick to it as closely as possible.