The Dangers of Punishment in the Workplace: Why It's Not Effective and What to Do Instead

It's no secret that workplace punishment is on the decline. A growing number of studies have shown that punishment, in all its various forms, is not an effective way to manage employee behavior. It often has the opposite effect, leading to decreased productivity, lower morale and even higher staff turnover. Of course, you don't want to face these consequences!

But how can you effectively manage a disrespectful employee? What should you do instead of punishing? In this blog post, we'll explore some alternative workplace discipline methods that have proven to be more effective. Keep watching us!

When it comes to managing employee behavior, punishment is often seen as the solution. After all, if an employee breaks a rule, they should be penalized accordingly, right? WRONG! Punishment in the workplace creates undesirable side effects that can far outweigh any benefits.

Punishment is defined as an undesirable consequence associated with a behavior considered bad. In the workplace, this often takes the form of verbal or written warnings, emotions, pay cuts, suspension or even termination.

However, what is considered bad or right? Unfortunately, sometimes this is usually a matter of opinion. What one person sees as a minor violation may be viewed by another as a major problem. This can lead to inconsistency in how punishment is given, which can be frustrating for employees.

Employees who feel they are being punished are less likely to participate in their jobs, which can lead to lower morale and higher staff turnover rates.

Punishment also does not address the root cause of the problematic behavior. For example, if an employee is consistently late for work, a penalty in the form of a pay cut can temporarily reduce the delay. However, it does not solve the underlying problem of why the employee was late in the first place.

  1. Got a problem with alarm clocks?
  2. Do they have trouble getting childcare?
  3. Do they have a mental health problem?

Without addressing the root cause, the problem is likely to persist – or even worsen. Yes, basic motivational techniques often include some form of reward for good behavior or punishment for bad behavior. However, many companies have found that rewards are more effective in reinforcing positive actions and motivating employees to repeat them.

This goes with Skinner's 1938 theory of operant learning, which argues that when positive reinforcement is given after the desired behavior, the same behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future. For this reason, companies develop discipline rather than punishment, concepts that are sometimes confused with the same thing.


Against Criminal Discipline

The main difference between punishment and discipline is that punishment is an outcome that is intended to be negative whereas discipline is an outcome that is intended to be positive.

Punishment is often seen as a "quick fix" solution to problematic behavior, but does not address the root cause of the problem. It also has several negative side effects, such as decreased productivity, lower morale, and higher staff turnover.

On the other hand, discipline is a more holistic approach that focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors and teaching employees how to avoid negative behaviors. It has also been shown to be more effective in the long run, resulting in increased productivity, engagement and retention.

Workplace discipline should be about improving employee behavior, not punishing it.

Therefore, what you desire is to discipline your employees into a good and productive routine. What's the best way though? Let's take a look at some proven methods you can use in your workplace!

How Do You Discipline Your Employees?

Below we've compiled a set of tips for disciplining your employees, this way you can avoid punishment altogether!

Constructive Criticism

Sometimes, employees need help getting back on track. This is where constructive criticism comes into play. Constructive criticism is a way of giving feedback that is intended to be helpful rather than hurtful. It is important to avoid using negative language or making personal attacks. Instead, focus on the behavior itself and what could have been done differently.

Here are some tips for using constructive criticism:


  • Be specific – When criticizing an employee's behavior, it's important to be as specific as possible. This will help them understand what they need to change and how they can improve.
  • Use “I” statements – try using “I” statements instead of “You do this all the time”. For example, "I noticed that you didn't take the time to correct your report. I'd appreciate it next time if you could take a few more minutes to make sure it's error-free.
  • Offer solutions – In addition to stating the problem, try to offer some possible solutions. For example, if because of X this employee is unable to correct the report, alternatively, you can offer them assistance from a colleague.
  • Avoid generalizations – Avoid using broad statements such as "you're always late" or "you never do your job right". Such generalizations are not only wrong, they also make the employee feel just defensive.
  • Be calm and respectful – It is important to remain calm and respectful when criticizing. Getting angry or raising voices will only make the situation worse.
  • Follow up - After criticizing, be sure to follow up with the employee to see if they've made any improvements. If not, you may need to have further discussion.



Public Praise, Private Criticism

When an employee does something well, it's important to let them know. Praising employees in public is a great way to show your appreciation and give them the recognition they deserve. This will not only raise their morale, but it will also motivate them to keep doing their best. Most of the time, employees make mistakes.

When this happens, it's important to avoid criticizing them in front of their peers. This will only embarrass and humiliate them, which will do more harm than good. Instead, set them aside and discuss the matter privately. This way, you can have a calm and constructive conversation without making a scene.


Create Clear Company Policies

Any company needs to have clear policies for disciplining its employees. These policies should outline the expectations and consequences of violating these expectations, as well as a clear process for handling disciplinary situations.

This transparency sets clear boundaries for employees and ensures that disciplinary actions taken are consistent and fair. Clear company policies also provide legal protection for the company and demonstrate that all disciplinary steps are properly communicated and followed.

Regularly education

Continuing education is important for disciplining employees because it not only helps improve their work performance and work ethic, but also strengthens company policies and procedures. Employees who regularly attend training sessions stay up to date with current industry developments and best practices, making them more confident and competent in their roles.

Continuing education serves as a reminder of basic expectations and guidelines in the workplace and helps prevent discipline issues from arising in the first place.

If a problem does arise, continuing education provides a strong foundation for managers to handle the situation effectively and consistently. Investing in continuing education is a valuable investment in both individual employee growth and overall company success.


Continuous Feedback

Giving feedback is not a one-time event. It should be an ongoing process that happens regularly. That way, employees always know where they stand and what they need to work on. Feedback should be given now, shortly after the event.

If you wait too long, the employee may not even remember what they are doing. On the other hand, if you give feedback too often, it will start to feel like nagging. Try to strike a balance and give feedback as needed.


Focusing on the Positive

It's important to focus on the positive when disciplining your employees. This means catching them doing the right things and praising them for it. When you focus on the positive, you are more likely to see improvements in their behavior.

Here are some tips for focusing on the positive:

  • Catch them doing something good: Instead of waiting for them to make mistakes, try to catch them doing something right. This can be anything from completing tasks on time to being polite to customers.
  • Praise their efforts: Even if an employee doesn't quite meet your expectations, praise their efforts. This will show them that you appreciate their hard work and effort. "I know you didn't quite reach your goal this month, but I appreciate the extra effort you put in. Keep up the good work!"
  • Focus on their future: When an employee makes a mistake, don't dwell on it. Instead, focus on their future and what they can do to improve the example, "I know you're disappointed that you didn't complete the project on time. What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again in the future?"
  • This way, you help them learn from their mistakes and prevent them from happening again in the future. The idea is to meet in the middle!


Clear rules and policies ensure everyone is on the same page, even you as the boss!

In general, establishing clear company policies regarding employee discipline can have numerous benefits for the workplace environment and the overall functioning of the organization.


Forget a Punishment System, Use a Reward System Instead

The advantages of a reward system over a punishment system are clear. First, rewards are more likely to lead to desired behavior change. They also do not have the same negative side effects as punishment. Rewards can even boost employee morale and motivation.


Here are some tips for implementing a reward system:

Be clear about the desired behavior – The first step is to be clear about what you are trying to achieve. What custom behaviors would you like to see more of?

Find a list of possible rewards – Once you know what you are trying to achieve, you can start brainstorming possible rewards. These can be anything from a bonus to a day off.

Make sure the rewards are meaningful – The rewards you choose should be meaningful to your employees. They should also be something they want to achieve.

Use Positive Reinforcement

One of the most effective ways to manage employee behavior is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is a type of workplace discipline that rewards desired behavior to encourage employees to repeat that behavior in the future.

For example, if an employee meets or exceeds your expectations, you may choose to give them a bonus, gift card, or even just a verbal pat on the back. On the other hand, if an employee fails to meet your expectations, you can withhold the award.

Give Alert When Necessary

If the above steps didn't work, it's time for a stronger move. Do not hesitate to give a verbal warning! Make sure you are clear about what the problem is and what the consequences will be if the behavior does not change.

For example, "I noticed that you've been coming very late lately. You may face disciplinary action if this continues."

This should be the last resort; however, you should take action when an employee does not meet your expectations. If you don't, they may think their behavior is acceptable and continue to do so.

Take Action When Needed

If the employee doesn't improve after a warning, it's time to take action. This can be anything from a formal written warning to suspension or even termination.

Of course, this should only be done as a last resort and after exhausting all other options. But if an employee continues to exhibit problematic behavior, you must take action.

While disciplinary actions may not be pleasant, it is important to consider the impact on the rest of the team and the company as a whole.

Lack of discipline can create resentment and lower morale in the workplace. It can also lead to inefficiencies and missed deadlines. As an employer, it is your responsibility to address employee issues promptly and fairly in order to create a positive work environment for all involved.

Leadership by Example

An important way to encourage desired employee behavior is to lead by example. For example, if you want your employees to be on time, make sure you are always on time. If you want them to dress a certain way, be sure to follow the dress code yourself.

By leading by example, you set the standard for everyone. Being proactive in managing employee behavior is important and it starts with yourself!


In this age, punishment is no longer seen as the healthiest way to manage behavior, instead we encourage you to use positive reinforcement, this way you will shape your employee's behavior more efficiently.

Not to mention that it will also reduce their stress levels and make them happier, which will lead to a better work environment for everyone.

We hope these tips were helpful! If you have any questions or want to learn more, please feel free to check our other blog posts on the subject!

Examine the working styles of your teammates, increase your company's productivity.