Each month, “The Balance Sheet” provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that’s important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. I disciplined an employee with a three-day suspension and immediately had several employees confront me. They insisted on knowing all the particulars, but I said it was inappropriate to discuss it. They were very angry at me. Did I do the right thing?
A. Yes. The information related to the discipline of an employee is not public information. It’s a private matter between you and the individual. It is natural for others to be curious — to want to play judge and jury — but that does not mean you must indulge them. Revealing the specifics of a disciplinary action to employees can lower their confidence in your leadership. Staffers know that a supervisor must show discretion and respect each person’s privacy. As much as they may clamor to know what happened and why, they surely realize that you would be acting irresponsibly if you shared the details of the suspension. Your best response is “I’m sure you can understand that this is confidential, and I cannot discuss it.” If they persist, resist the urge to modify your response. The minute you start revealing little bits of information, employees will demand to know even more.
Q. It’s been said that BJC EAP can be an alternative to discipline but not a substitute for it. This sounds like the same thing to me. Can you explain?
A. EAPs are programs that help employees improve job performance, in many cases by resolving personal problems that can interfere with job performance. Making BJC EAP an alternative to discipline affords the employee an opportunity to get help instead of being given a disciplinary action warranted for subpar performance or a workplace rule infraction. EAPs lose value when they are treated as substitutes for disciplinary action. This practice uses the EAP as a disciplinary response by the supervisor, who makes a referral to provide a consequence for subpar performance or work rule violations. The latter damages the EAP’s perception by employees as a positive, safe and constructive means to resolving personal problems that may interfere with job performance.
Q. My employee has offered pretty lame excuses for failing to complete three training courses this year. I wrote a disciplinary letter and let him read it, with the idea of placing it in his file if he received another “incomplete.” It worked! Was this better than a referral to BJC EAP?
A. The purpose of a supervisor referral is to help an employee improve performance when you are unable to make those corrections in the normal supervisor discourse. Your approach obviously created a strong sense of urgency, enough for your employee to overcome whatever contributed to his inability or unwillingness to complete training. No one knows what issues originally interfered with his ability to complete training, so we can’t say for certain that your method was “better” than a referral. For now, however, the pattern has stopped. You can assume that you didn’t need BJC EAP this time — at least not yet. BJC EAP is still available as a resource for him (or for you) should the problem continue.