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Parents: Have you Thought of Progressive Discipline?

progressive discipline

Progressive Discipline Definition

According to the definition of progressive discipline is a ” procedure in which increasingly stiffer penalties are imposed for repeated acts of indiscipline. Progressive discipline starts with an oral warning, then a written warning followed by a suspension, and finally, dismissal.” To define progressive discipline teachers and other professionals who work with children must come up with a game plan that increases the severity of a punishment with each wrongdoing in order to effectively teach children the consequences of negative words and actions.

What Is Progressive Discipline?

Progressive discipline is often used to manage the behavior of school bullies. Though it is used on other students as well it is designed primarily for students who routinely bully their classmates. This  type of discipline is only effective when schools commit themselves to stopping the behavior that is so common among bullies. It is best accomplished through endeavors such as programs to prevent bad behavior and interventions to stop bullies from acting out. Support must be given to those who bully but consequences must be given to. It is as important for the support to be maintained as well as the consequences. Inconsistencies in either one of these will make any progressive discipline program a failure. Strategies must be designed and implemented that teach students how to behave positively and rewards must be designed and implemented when the chosen strategies are successful in stopping bullying.

Typical Progressive Discipline Goals

Most schools across the United States have created their own plan to deliver this type of discipline to their students. In general the goals of using this discipline type are to correct any student behavior that is unacceptable or inappropriate, to change the unacceptable or inappropriate behavior, to give students a chance to show that they have improved their behavior and grown from doing so and to have them become aware that they are responsible for their actions inside and outside of school.

Progressive Discipline Steps

There are many steps that schools and even employers must take in order to implement progressive discipline among their students or employees. The steps that must be performed during this process are:

  • counseling
  • oral reprimands
  • written reprimands
  • suspension (students/employees)
  • termination (employees)

The fact is that though students often get in trouble for bad behavior in school adults often get in trouble for bad behavior at work. The progressive discipline form delivered to school children and to adult employees are somewhat alike and somewhat different. While schools and companies both have a progressive discipline policy the progressive discipline process must take differences into account. Generally school children are given more leeway when it comes to correcting their behavior than employees of a company are given. This is because children’s minds are still  being developed and they are still learning right from wrong and appropriate from inappropriate.

Employer Goals

When it comes to the progressive discipline implemented by companies the goals are different than the goals schools have for their students. A company’s goals includes having their employees’ behavior meet the expectations and standards of the company, helping encourage employee success in the workplace and creating a paper trail the company can use to terminate an employee who refuses to do these things.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Progressive discipline in the workplace has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include providing company managers with a structure that allows for everyone to be treated equally, gaining more efficient and productive employees and cutting back on turnover, which is good for company morale.

Using a system of progressive discipline in the workplace, when done properly, makes the job of a manager that much easier. In general it is easy for managers to follow this discipline type because it eliminates the problem of guesswork as there are clear cut steps that must be followed with each employee whose actions on the job are questionable.

The disadvantages of using this type of discipline in the work place include the time it takes a company’s management team to put together a formal discipline policy and successfully implement it, the time and resources needed to train each company’s managers on their policy and following through with it when employees engage in undesirable workplace behavior. The consistency and simplicity of the steps taken when a progressive discipline approach is used to manage a company makes the job of those in management less stressful.

Problems With Progressive Discipline

Many managers make the mistake of focusing more on their company’s productivity than its discipline of employees  What they often fail to realize is that even though productivity is important in any company one that enforces progressive discipline will likely be more productive than one that doesn’t. When discipline is ignored in favor of productivity companies end up with employees who aren’t treated equally, and this can cause serious problems. It can also result in managers resenting their employees and causing a great deal of tension in the work place.

Using this type of discipline in the work place, if not done correctly and consistently, can lead to legal troubles for a company. One of the issues lies in the fact that having this type of policy in place has the potential to change the fact that employment in this country is at will, meaning any company can fire any employee anytime for any reason. The best way that companies can avoid this problem is to create a policy that does not place limits on the circumstances an employee must meet in order to be fired. A company’s policy should always include the company’s right to use whatever lever of discipline they feel is warranted, even if that means letting someone go from their job. It should state that though progressive discipline is an option the company has in managing its employees it is not the only option they have.

Being consistent in the enforcement of a progressive discipline policy is the best way for companies to avoid their employees being able to claim discrimination after being fired. Anytime that a company uses this policy to reprimand an employee the reprimand and discipline issued must be documented with the filing of paperwork. The notes from an enforcement of the discipline policy need to be kept in the employee’s personnel file.

Obtaining The Results Of Progressive Discipline  

Certain steps must be taken in order to obtain the desired results from the use of progressive discipline. These steps include:

  • Obtaining relevant and necessary information
  • Assessing the severity of an employee’s actions
  • Choose a response
  • Prepare for an employer/employee face to face meeting
  • Conducting an employer/employee face to face meeting
  • Documenting the meeting
  • Following up

In a case where it is not immediately clear what the issue is (a feud between two employees for an example) it may be necessary to obtain additional information and details on the situation before proceeding. Once this has been accomplished, or if it does not apply to the situation at hand, the next step is to determine how severe an employee’s problem is by determining how much it is hurting the company. This is something that managers should always do before speaking to an employee. Based on these determinations managers then need to choose how they will respond to the problem and the level of discipline that is needed to deal with it properly.

When it comes time to meet with an employee and administer progressive discipline managers must be able to provide at least one example of an employee’s behavior that justifies their punishment. The ideal goal is for managers and employees to work together in order to solve the situation successfully. This should be followed by documenting the situation and the meeting between manager and employee, as well as a follow up session to determine if the progressive discipline achieved the intended results.


Progressive discipline is a universal idea that is used in both the classroom and the boardroom. Whether they realize it or not, virtually every school and every company practices this type of discipline policy. However, this type of discipline is administered differently by individual companies and schools. One thing that schools and companies must keep in mind is that trying to hide their use of progressive discipline can cause behavioral problems and legal problems as well. The subject is one that much be approached in a practical manner and must be implemented in the fairest way.

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