The most important resource your business has is its human resources. If you invest in your human resources, then you can increase the productivity in your office. As productivity rises, more products and services are produced with the same amount of resources. There are lots of ways to manage your human resources, but which approaches will give you the biggest return on investment, meaning what management approaches will cause an increase in productivity? Some businesses use discipline.

Lawrence Stessin, a management professor at Hofstra University from 1958 to 1973, wrote this in his 1960 book Employee Discipline (BNA Inc.):

“On a broader canvas, employee discipline is a process of control. It is a method for the maintenance of authority by management. … A reprimand, a layoff, or a discharge are the prerogatives which management uses as a control to keep (its) objectives in focus.”

They monitor productivity by setting goals and punishing employees who don’t meet them. The problem with this is that it’s not proactive. Using discipline to manage your employees can have a negative effect on your human resources and prevent the growth of productivity.

Read on to discover why you should leave the antiquated system of discipline behind and move to a more positive and proactive system of management.

Discipline is Temporary

Discipline treats problems as they arise. It also doesn’t help the employee understand how to be better in the future. If the employee doesn’t understand what they got wrong, or how to avoid it in the future, the problem will come again and again.

Not only does the continued performance or behavior issue make the employee less productive, but the manager becomes less productive because his or her time is spent disciplining employees instead of using an approach that can lead to a positive performance or behavior change.

Constant pressure on the leader

Because discipline occurs as needed, the supervisor needs to be constantly managing employees verse empowering them to perform their duties. If the manager isn’t constantly vigilant, some people are disciplined while others “get away” with the same behavior. This creates conflict in the office between employees and potentially sets the supervisor up for accusations of giving some employees specialized treatment. Not to mention the additional time a manager would spend talking to HR, the legal department or both.

Does not teach new or appropriate behavior

The biggest problem with discipline is that it doesn’t correct performance or behavior related problems. If you discipline an employee, they know not to do something, but you haven’t shown them what to do instead. This can lead to more inappropriate behavior down the road as the employee tries other approaches, as well as potentially dissatisfied employees if they don’t understand why they got in trouble. This can greatly decrease motivation which reduces the employees’ output.

Instead of discipline as a first step, make sure they understand why the performance or behavior is inappropriate and then model what you would like to see from them in the future. Your employees will feel valued because you took the time to help them be successful. In addition, simply correcting employee behavior is more likely to lead to long term change in employee behavior.

Produces a negative image of the leader

When a manager focuses on discipline, they are often perceived to be micro-managing their employees. It is hard to develop positive relationships with your employees if you rely on discipline because it focuses on the negative.

If you focus on the positive, reinforcing appropriate behavior and guiding your employees so that they meet your expectations, you will develop better relationships which in turn leads to an increase in productivity.

May suppress more behaviors than intended

If employees know discipline is the preferred method over proactive performance coaching, they will be less likely to take positive risks and show initiative. Fear of getting in trouble will prevent them from trying new techniques that could increase efficiency or communication. It may also lead to a rigidity of thought that prevents employees from thinking outside of the box or being flexible to solve problems, further slowing down productivity.

Most important:

It does not maximize the return on investment in the human resource!!!

Discipline focuses on the negative and what occurred in the past. However, a more positive approach can increase office morale, focus on creating positive behaviors in employees, create trust between manager and employees, and ultimately increase productivity. Focused effort for increased productivity is a great return on investment.


Remember: Our Performance Management Series is forward-looking – it focuses on coaching employees in a proactive and positive way. Discipline is backward-looking – it deals with the present by focusing on the past. If you would like to learn more about this approach and our copyrighted leadership and performance coaching, please request a meeting here or message us on LinkedIn.