A necessary evil: When disciplinary action makes cents

BY Wayne Bolton

Disciplinary action is ‘a necessary evil’, so they say. ‘Evil’ – that is true in many respects, but there is indeed a positive side to it. Good leadership requires a sensitive balance between the motivation of your staff, and their discipline – the proverbial carrot and stick. Of course, it is important to have a pleasant working environment, but that environment needs to be a productive environment.

A disciplined environment is paramount

This will not happen unless there is a disciplined environment – everyone needs to know their parameters, what is expected of them, and the importance of compliance with the rules and procedures which are so critical to your business achieving its goals. My involvement in disciplinary matters spans a couple of decades and various industries. Recently however, I have noticed the increased cost of discipline to organisations, especially through dishonest actions of employees.

I believe it could be that individuals (even working individuals) are under significant financial pressure – their credit limits have been exhausted and they are supporting additional family members. Credit is easy to come by but the payback becomes impossible. The net result is that some of my clients have experienced an increase in the activity of syndicates – collaboration between staff members in different departments, and with individuals outside the business, which has resulted in huge losses to the business.

Costly and disruptive disciplinary action follows.

Disciplinary action can be costly and businesses are advised to consider this cost AND the benefits thereof:

  • An award against your business for unfair disciplinary action by the CCMA, Bargaining Council or Labour Court can be very costly. Do it properly the first time. Use well-trained internal Chairpersons or outsource this function to an external expert to minimise the risk of costly mistakes.
  • The time has come for businesses to consider learning from the content of the disciplinary enquiry. An increase in disciplinary action can indicate a flaw in your systems and processes. Use the disciplinary enquiry to test this. The Chairperson should be able to provide feedback after the enquiry on ‘things to improve’.
  • Excessive disciplinary infringements by staff could indicate a need for staff training or some action that needs to be taken to improve the staff morale (wellness focus) or industrial relations climate.


Disciplinary action is often a symptom of another problem. A small shift in approach by management to see disciplinary action as an opportunity will result in a constructive environment of continuous improvement for your business.

Make contact with us to learn more about enforcing organisation discipline.

 February 19, 2015
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