How to discipline employees to improve performance

It comes a time when you need to confront employees on performance issues. This is where a manager needs to understand and apply progressive discipline to attempt to turnaround problem performance situations.

Progressive discipline when applied correctly is what is best for the employee, the manager and the company. Even if you do not have established policies in your company you can follow these steps. They will let the employee know you mean business and will protect you and the company from wrongful dismissal and lawsuits.

You will need to have been given the authority to carry this out by your boss. You should also get familiar with the legal requirements for employee termination in your province, state or country.

Progressive discipline should be the last step in the management process. You should first confront the employee with your concerns about their behavior or performance and discuss it with them. Listen to what they have to say but end with a call to action.

For example if the employee has been late or missed days at work often, meet with them alone. Let them know how their behavior is affecting the work, the team and you. Ask them what they will do about it as it is not acceptable. Get a commitment and write it down. Make sure they see you writing it down. Set a follow-up date in a week o show them that this will not go away. Meet them whether the infraction has been corrected or not. If they have shown up on time every day over that week, recognize them for it. If they have not respected their commitment, let them know that the next time this occurs they will be getting a written warning. Explain the steps that will follow after that as explained below.

Verbal Notice

The first step is to provide the employee with verbal warning of the situation and that it needs to be corrected. Let them know that if the behavior or poor performance occurs again they will receive a written notice. Make sure you have a file for each employee and write the date of the warning and what you said in their file. Make sure to note their response. You might want to ask them to sign the note or you can have a witness present such as your boss or a colleague.

Written Notice

The next step if the situation has not been corrected by the employere is to give written warning. Refer back to the original reasons for the progressive discipline process presently being implemented. Also state the fact that verbal warning was given but the situation has not improved. The written warning should let them know that the next step if corrective action is not taken by the employee is a suspension without pay for one to three days or more. Also state that the last step will be termination if the cause for the progressive discipline reoccurs.


Suspension without pay is the last step in the progressive discipline process before termination. This should be done in writing as well. The length of suspension can vary.


This is the last step so hopefully the progressive discipline has been enough to change the behavior of the employee. In this case you want to terminate employment immediately. A letter of termination must be given that states the reasons for termination and reference to the progressive discipline steps that were taken.

Ideally you won’t have to do this too often. The goal is to hire the right person for the job and train and coach them for success.

Stephen Goldberg


Visit and get ideas and tips on leadership development, teamwork, sales and personal development.

Stephen Goldberg is a creative and flexible business coach and trainer who adapts easily to different types and styles of people. This makes the process of personal growth easier and more enjoyable for his clients. In his sixteen years of experience he has guided a large number ...

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