Why penalties backfire on you

Why penalties backfire on you

A friend asked for advice from me today. She’s a salesperson in a retail setting. In the course of showing customers the products, she came across 9 items which had factory defects. She set these items aside and reported them to the inventory department. A few days later, she became the subject of an incident report. It appears that under the report, she was now being held responsible for the items.

Surprisingly, a week after that, a Notice of Written Reprimand comes down saying that she was guilty of Violating the Company Policy on Inefficiency or Negligence causing damage to the company, and her sentence was supposed to be suspension. However, due to her previous good record, it was being commuted down to a written warning.

This was shocking to my friend considering that she was a consistent good performer who received awards from the company for the last 5 years. She was being held responsible for factory defects. Which she reported as soon as she knew about them.

There’s something important here that I wanted to illustrate. I’m sure that the officer who issued the memorandum and the findings had the best intentions at heart. That person probably wanted to ensure that the lines in the sand were clear as to what was acceptable, and that efficiency was being taught.

But instead of upholding the disciplinary standards of the entire team, the effect was entirely the opposite. In one memorandum, a  Company Awardee for good performance was demoralized and is not feeling resentful towards the company. Not good.

Here’s where I think the situation can be improved

  1. Being clear on why the penalty was imposed – Supposing that the salesperson was indeed negligent, the policy issued should have been clear. It should not have stopped with saying “You are negligent. Period.” In order to have the proper disciplinary effect, you should state why there was a finding in the first place so that the employee can be guided for future cases.

In this case, the ruling felt arbitrary and unfair. Do you think the employee would be encouraged to go beyond the call of duty after this if they get slapped with arbitrary penalties which they have no idea what was the basis of?

  1. Make your expectations clear – If you expect your employees to do something for you, be clear. Do not have expectations which you don’t let them know about, then punish them if they don’t do them.

An employer-employee is a relationship. And just like other kinds of relationships, you should express what your expectations are. Otherwise, if you don’t make that clear, then you don’t have the right to punish them for it.

Of course, there are things which fall under the ambit of common sense just like closing the refrigerator door after you get something from it. But for technical or detail oriented requirements, setting your expectations in the form of policies or procedures is a must.

What’s the lesson from this experience?

  1. When handing down punishments, help the employee understand why it is being imposed and at the same time, guide them how to avoid it in the future by emphasizing the right way.
  2. Make your expectations clear. Otherwise, you have no right to punish people for not complying with them.

Let’s bring it to your situation. Are there procedures that you can still clarify? Have the penalties you handed down been clear? What can you improve?

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