Punitive scoring brings out the worst in everyone.

March 28, 2023

Carl Livesay

Attendance and tardiness are a constant challenge. This is especially true when working with unskilled labor. Each occurrence is accompanied by an excuse or an explanation.

Explanations are offered by reliable, trustworthy team members who rarely experience difficulty getting to work. Excuses are more frequent and provided by unreliable team members and should be considered differently than team members who offer explanations.

When a team member is late or absent, sick and safe leave (SSL) is most often used. Acceptable SSL use is legislated by the government in most states.

When SSL is exhausted or not available, leadership should consider trusting their most reliable team members and compensate the team member for the brief time they miss. This courtesy sends a clear message of trust and empathy, resonating with the team member. It is also financially prudent and less costly than replacing the team member.

Dealing with Excuses

In contrast, excuses range from the very simple to exotic. Absenteeism is most abundant Friday and Monday, around holidays and when tax refunds arrive. Tardiness happens randomly.

Excuses should be met with corrective action in an effort to improve reliability. Traditional corrective action varies by region, company and industry. Point systems, demerits, reductions in hourly rate, written warnings, reprimands and other punitive scoring methods have no positive impact. Rather they have significant negative impact on morale, creating bitterness towards the company and its leadership.

Personnel scoring erodes trust, fosters adversarial relationships, and creates conflict. These measures are the enemy of teamwork throughout the enterprise. You cannot punish a team member and expect a good result. The team member feels diminished and devalued. Ongoing performance is indicative of how the team perceives their workplace.

The most detrimental action is keeping score through points systems. Scoring diminishes the value of corrective action while the points accumulate to an actionable level. Team members quickly learn to manage their points and penalties (score), abusing the system.

Scoring is impersonal, faceless and demoralizing. It is a punitive approach, bringing out the worst in everyone—and directly conflicting with one of the primary goals of leadership: to bring out the best in others.

Addressing the Issue

In contrast, a more personal corrective action has immediate impact and is delivered quickly. Having tried almost every documented disciplinary corrective action over the past 40 years, I have learned that immediately addressing the issue has the most positive effect for the team member and the company. When the team member arrives late, the supervisor greets them, asks why they are late, then reminds them that as a member of the team their coworkers are counting on them every day. They are also reminded that all team members are expected to be clocked in and at their workstation when the shift starts so work assignments can be assigned for the day. Note that team members value their own time the most, especially those who are disgruntled.

As an alternative to punitive measures, invite the team member to wait in the break room, off the clock, while leadership works to find productive ways the team member can add value to the business that day. This will take about 45 minutes the first time and longer with each recurrence.

During the waiting time, the team member has an opportunity to reflect on the impact of their tardiness to themselves and the company. The team member may choose to leave for the day as opposed to waiting while an alternative work assignment is found. Upon their return the following day, on-time, greet the team member and welcome them back as if nothing occurred.

It is important that the company can rely on the team member to fulfill their commitment to work. It is equally important that the team member be able to rely on the company for the promised amount of work. This symbiotic partnership encourages each to rely on the other.

It is very important to focus on the value of teamwork to the organization. Team members who do not value belonging to a team lack the ability to care about the team. It may become clear that the team member is not suited for the team, and replacement is the only long-term option. Team members with a poor attitude will over time, infect an organization in many places.

Consider the Impact

Nurture your team, cultivate growth and camaraderie. Recognize and embrace random acts of kindness among the team. Team members recognize the difference in an organization. When considering corrective action, leadership must consider the downstream impact to the team. Remember that trust between leadership and team members is not easy to build, but it is very easy for leadership to destroy when leadership is inconsistent or punitive.

Most of all, focus on the desired outcome of the experience. In order to have a terrific team member, you must treat the person like they are your best team member. People will rise or fall to meet their leader’s expectation. Expect them to succeed and show them a path of success.