The Language of Correcting Behavior


Corrective actions (or whatever your company calls them) have the potential to save or sink an employee. Corrective actions are a formal way to bring an ongoing obstacle to performance to light and give an employee the opportunity to change course, fix the behavior and save their job. Every manager should approach corrective actions like this – but some managers don’t – some use corrective actions as a weapon and focus on the negative aspects thus potentially plunging the employee into further despair. Administering a corrective action should not be viewed as punishing (however often time it is).

The way these documents are worded are so very important (as you probably already know). Nothing frustrates me more than when a manager wants to discipline an employee at a higher level when they have never commented on the behavior before to the employee. Behavior usually doesn’t develop overnight and managers should be vigilant so that they can nip issues in the bud; hopefully before the need for corrective action develops. Ideally, managers should clearly lay out expectations from the onset and prevent any behavioral issues. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?

Sometimes, this prevention is not enough and employee behavior may need to be addressed. This is not time to attack the employee (my grandfather is partial to the phrase “draw and quarter” the employee). Careful use of words to remove emotion is important to maintain dignity and rapport. Using words like “discipline” when administering the corrective action can elude to corporal punishment and aren’t the best way to get an employee to collaborate and change their ways. Taking the time to clearly define the behaviors that need to change and outlining the expected behavior is the way to go. Unfortunately, this often does not happen.

Corrective actions should be all inclusive of behavior that needs to change. Whether it is attendance, punctuality or performance, behavior that needs changing should be addressed – verbally and in writing. Once a manager sees the need for formal corrective action, they should be including everything that is impacting employee performance. That way, the employee knows what needs to happen and where they need to go. Or when behavior perpetuates in a different (or similar) area the behavior can be addressed to the next level. Hopefully the employee fixed the problem or challenge so that the next step is not needed.

As HR pros, we are charged with training managers to properly address behavior and use language that is legally defensible. Managers are busy running their business and sometimes need help penning the right corrective action. Take the time to help managers construct a document that will help correct the behavior. Hopefully the employee will be retained and the behavior will stop. Then all will be right in the world!

As long as there are employees who are not meeting expectations, there will always be a need for HR.

Don’t forget to CELEBRATE!


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