Addressing Problems
Management and Supervision Answers

Problem Solvers

  1. Dealing with Difficult People, (Essential Managers Series), Christina Osborne, 2002
    Learn how to identify and understand difficult people with tips on anticipating problems, obtaining cooperation, and applying solutions.

  2. Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed To Do and What To Do About It, Ferdinand F. Fournies, 1999 
    Learn straightforward methods to avoid or handle people in difficult situations.


How do I?

How do I apply discipline?

Discipline should always be applied consistent with company practice and after consultation with your supervisor and the company's human resources professionals.  


  1. When you assume a new supervisory or managerial position, communicate policies, standards and expectations formally by memo.  You may also have a meeting to review your expectations and/or have staff acknowledge receipt.  

  2. Give each new employee a copy of your expectations.  When policies, standards or your expectations change re-issue your expectations.  Also, periodically re-issue your expectations.  One manager that we work with re-issues the expectations annually.  Why?  This eliminates the excuse, "Nobody ever told me" and insures an annual review.

  3. When your expectations are not met or company policies are violated, address the employee immediately.  A delayed response or no response at all by the supervisor, gives rise to the perception that there are no consequences to actions.  The impact being that problem employees will continue to push the envelope, while the good employees will become discouraged.


Typically, discipline is applied when a company policy or standard of behavior is violated.  Specific actions that require discipline are actions that violate the law such as sexual harassment and theft, actions that jeopardize health and safety such as dumping hazardous waste and bringing weapons into the workplace.  A step below these actions would be behavioral issues such as confrontations with other employees or using profanity in addressing a customer.

A clear violation requires disciplinary action.  What's the purpose of having a policy if the policy won't be enforced?  Supervision is much like being a parent or a teacher.  Think about what happens when children have no consequences for their actions.  The actions continue and typically the children will try to push the envelope a little further.  A supervisor who fails to apply discipline reinforces the employee's behavior and sends the wrong message to the good employees.  It is much easier to start off strict and then ease off, then it is to start off easy and then become stricter.

Considerations in deciding whether to apply discipline include:

  1. Separate the letter of the policy versus the spirit of the policy.  For example, you may have a policy that requires employees to take lunch at a given time.  If an employee is with a customer, do you want to discipline the employee if they finish the call before going to lunch?

  2. Is the policy clearly stated and understood?  The majority of employees want rules and understand their obligation to follow the rules.  However, you would be surprised at how often your understanding and the employee's understanding may be different.  This is particularly true for new employees and/or new supervisors.  Rules and past practice vary from company to company.

How do I apply the correct discipline?

Discipline should always be applied consistent with company practice and after consultation with your supervisor and the company's human resources professionals.  

Typically, your company has a discipline policy that establishes the appropriate discipline for the infraction.  That being said, here are some considerations that are often cited in arriving at the appropriate discipline:

  1. The employee's past performance.  Is this the employee's first infraction or is it one in a series of infractions?  If the infraction is one in a series, is the infraction for the same policy or a different policy?

  2. Is the employee a senior employee or a new employee?  Senior employees have a track record and chances are that the employee wouldn't be senior unless their past performance has met standards.  An infraction by a new employee may be a sign of problems to come.

  3. Are there extenuating circumstances?  A more senior employee who is caring for an ill loved one may be given a lesser discipline if they are coming in a few minutes late.

When do I give a direct order?

A direct order should be given when an employee refuses to perform a specified duty or act.  If the employee does not carry out the direct order, then you as the supervisor have established the basis for disciplining the employee for insubordination.  Note that you do not have a basis for insubordination if you are directing an employee to perform an act that is illegal or unsafe.  For example:

Directing an employee to drive equipment without the necessary license or certification.

Directing an employee to apply chemicals contrary to safe handling procedures.

How do I deal with rumors in the workplace?

Here are a number of the key considerations in dealing with rumors:

  1. What is the rumor?  


FranklinCovey. Experts at getting organized.

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