Never Use Email to Discipline Someone

Posted: Updated:

People make mistakes. Individuals on your team are going to screw things up in every variety imaginable, from forgetting to turn off the coffee machine to failing to order more copy paper, and from telling the client something which is absolutely untrue. The reason mistakes happen is simple: it's because we're human. The more important question is: what happens next?

We'd of course like to see the employee who made the error apologize and try to set things right. But as managers, supervisors, and owners, we also often feel the need to step up and do something. We want to discipline people. We often want to punish them. We may feel the urge to yell at them, and change their behavior.

There's a separate conversation to be had about disciplinary actions at work. Most of our coworkers are adults, not children, and our relationship is one of colleagues, not of parents. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t frustrated, angered, or disappointed by people’s actions on the job. We still need to act.

In the modern workforce, it’s not always possible—nor is it considered it appropriate—to put people in the corner after they were disrespectful to a customer. HR pros everywhere have urged us not to yell and scream. Instead, it seems, we tend to discipline over email. That’s a form of being direct but it happens at a distance and is mostly private. That makes it easier to get away with, and enables people to be more aggressive than they would be in person.

But email is a terrible way to communicate with anyone about sensitive topics. In person you have body language. You lose that on a phone call, but someone can still hear your tone of voice. At least over text or instant message you can clarify yourself or be asked questions. But email tends to be written and fired off. And email lives forever.

Furthermore, if you’re disciplining someone over email, you’re not the only person whose emotions are running hot. You might create resentment rather than understanding. You might cause them to stew. And as easy as it is to send email, it’s equally easy to forward it to someone else. Your disciplinary note may get passed along to others, creating even more problems.

In general, it's good advice to never send email when you’re angry. But it’s also powerful to use the benefits of email as part of the employee coaching process. You can use email to set up the conversation. That creates a record that the issue happened and your desire to meet. You can use email to document the decisions that were made in the meeting. And you can use email for follow up accountability.

But emails themselves should be mostly emotion-free, except for positive encouragement and appreciation. And isn’t that what you’re going to want to offer once someone has learned from their mistake and changed their behavior?

Don't use email to discipline people. If you need to talk about mistakes and changes to behavior, have the conversation in person. You’ll be glad you did, you’ll build rapport, and you’re likely to learn more about what’s really going on.

  • Perspectives

    • Are You Connecting With Your Customers?

      Picture a high-end jewelry store. Fine jewelry isn't purchased on any regular schedule, so the business doesn't always know when a customer wants to make a new purchase. Let's assume this company offers an incredible in-store experience. They send occasional emails and mailers about sales or special events. But customer outreach at an individual level is left to the sales folks.

    More

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Hiring Sign Out at Westfield's IMMI

      It all began in 1961, with four employees and two sewing machines in downtown Indianapolis. Today, Westfield-based safety products company IMMI does business around the globe and boasts a work force of more than 1,400.  And that number is about to get larger. "As we grow, we need talent, we need people to accomplish what we're trying to do," said Chief Executive Officer Larry Gray, during an interview on Inside INdiana Business Television.

    • Expansions Planned in Fort Wayne

      Several companies in Fort Wayne are looking to the Fort Wayne City Council for approval of tax abatement requests related to proposed expansions. Among them is a $7.5 million investment by Silverado Cook Properties LLC to nearly double the size of its 240,000 square-foot facility which houses nearly 500 Harris Corp. (NYSE: HRS) jobs.

    • West Fork Whiskey Heading Downtown

      Indianapolis-based West Fork Whiskey Co. has announced plans to move operations from the city's northwest side to downtown. Co-owner Blake Jones says the company is expected to open a new distillery and tasting room in September. 

    • DoubleTree GM Leaving Evansville

      The general manager of the recently-opened DoubleTree by Hilton convention hotel in Evansville has resigned. The Evansville Courier & Press reports Tracy Wiley, who came to Evansville in February 2016, is leaving the hotel for another position outside of the area.

    • MainSource Announces $1B Merger

      Greensburg-based MainSource Financial Group Inc. (Nasdaq: MSFG) is merging with Ohio-based First Financial Bancorp (Nasdaq: FFBC) in a $1 billion deal. The companies say the merger will create a $13 billion institution. The combined operation will move forward under the First Financial name and be headquartered in Cincinnati. The banks call the merger "an ideal strategic, financial and operational fit" that will create a...