Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Negative Consequences of Disciplinary Action

There are important negative consequences of local authorities in England taking cases, like the recent one of a social worker in London, to the Health and Care Professions Council. 


Apparently the person in question had recently come to the UK from East Africa. It is not hard to see from a quick reading of the evidence that the she was:

·       Inexperienced

·       Unfamiliar with child protection work in Britain

·       Felt herself to be under pressure and overworked

·       Felt intimidated by her managers

·       Felt unwell

Clearly her work fell short of accepted good practice, but there seems to be no suggestion that she acted maliciously or willfully. It appears that she just didn’t do her job very well.   

Is discipline the right response to this sort of case? My argument is that discipline in the workplace is required only where people act dishonestly, corruptly or deliberately dangerously.

When people screw up or just fail to live up to expectations they should be re-trained and supported in their improvement. That is the humane and constructive response so far as the individual is concerned.

More importantly a rush to disciplinary procedures nurtures a blame culture and that contributes to undermining safety in the organisation. Resorting to discipline in the case of an individual has important consequences for how other employees will behave.

We know that when people fear admitting their mistakes that they will cover them up. The consequence is that management remains in ignorance of day-to-day failings at the front line and, as a result, the organisation becomes even more unsafe.