Article Date: 7/1/2009

Progressive Discipline
staffing solutions

Progressive Discipline

Here's how a system of incremental discipline can work in your practice.

BY BOB LEVOY, O.D.

Progressive discipline is the process of using increasingly severe measures when an employee fails to correct a problem after a reasonable period of time. The underlying principle of sound progressive discipline is to use the least severe action necessary to correct the undesirable situation. Increase the severity only if the condition isn't corrected.

For example, if a receptionist is brusque with a patient, issue a verbal warning. Generate a written reprimand for a second episode. Infraction number three means probation, and if she's discourteous a fourth time, she'll be out the door. Incremental discipline is especially helpful in large practices because it makes it easier to establish standards — you can't be arbitrary and apply different rules to different groups of employees.

Alec Ziss, practice administrator at Weston Pediatric Physicians in Weston, Mass., thinks small practices also benefit from incremental discipline. "A discussion might not convince an employee that you're serious," he observes, "but being put on probation undoubtedly will."

Progressive guidelines

The following guidelines are intended for incremental discipline to be fair and reasonable:

► Thoroughly investigate the situation, including the employee's explanation or response, prior to administering discipline.

► Document the process and results of your investigation.

► Inform the employee of the exact problem. (Employees are often "in the dark" about performance-related issues.)

► Give the employee specific direction as to how to fix the problem. (Employees are often unaware of management's expectations or the standards of performance by which their work is evaluated.)

► Provide a reasonable period of time to fix the problem. (What's considered reasonable will depend on the nature of the work performed, the length of time the employee has been with the practice, and how you've handled similar situations in the past).

► Let the employee know the consequences of inaction. (Generic, opened-ended warnings, such as "further action will be taken" are subject to wide if not misleading interpretations).

The goal is to modify the unacceptable behavior or improve the performance. The goal isn't to punish but to more strongly alert the employee of the need to correct the problem.

It is acceptable to repeat a step if some time has passed and the situation has only recently reappeared. Or perhaps, the employee misunderstood, or you feel there is value in performing the step again in a clearer fashion. Here, repetition may resolve the situation without escalating it unnecessarily. However, this may lead an employee to believe that consequences won't become more severe. If repeating a step doesn't resolve the issue, move on to a higher step.

Reality check: One additional guideline, says Paul Falcone, author of "The Hiring and Firing Question and Answer Book," is to ask yourself: How would I respond if my best-performing employee committed the same error? "If you would respond the same way with your best performer as you would now with an employee who's having difficulty meeting job expectations, then you know you're responding fairly. On the other hand, if it appears that you may be acting more harshly with your current employee than you would with others, then reconsider your actions before moving forward." OM


BOB LEVOY'S NEWEST BOOK "222 SECRETS OF HIRING, MANAGING AND RETAINING GREAT EMPLOYEES IN HEALTHCARE PRACTICES" WAS PUBLISHED BY JONES & BARTLETT PUBLISHERS. YOU CAN REACH HIM BY E-MAIL AT B.LEVOY@ATT.NET.

Optometric Management, Issue: July 2009