I found it important to clarify for employees what "deal-breaker" behavior was at my company. These are the things I insisted would not be tolerated and would lead to immediate or ultimate termination, depending on the nature of the infraction of these hard and fast rules. Here are the behaviors I would not tolerate:
1. Gossip. Rumors can be incredibly disruptive to a company. A lack of information can get rumors started, and frank explanations can usually stop them. However, some employees thrive on the admiration of others when they seem to be "in the know." Define gossip as clearly as you can and tell employees what you expect them to do when they hear it. First and foremost, that you don't repeat it. Along the same lines of gossip, remind employees that all e-mail sent or received on company computers is considered company business and not private correspondence.
2. Violence or threatening or abusive behavior. Termination should be immediate for any employee who engages in any form of violent or abusive behavior. Workplace violence includes threatened or actual abuse and can be verbal or physical. These behaviors only escalate with time and are never excusable. Any employees involved in workplace violence should leave the workplace immediately and be placed on a paid leave of absence for a few days while you investigate the situation and consult with your attorney. Don't assume this couldn't happen in your company-it's estimated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that two million Americans are victims of workplace violence annually.
3. Dishonesty and theft. The term theft can include the theft of time, office supplies, and the use of office equipment for personal projects. Set standards for what is acceptable use of company assets. Security experts say as many as 30 percent of workers steal, resulting in an estimated loss of $50 billion a year from U.S. companies and contributing to as many as one-third of business bankruptcies.
As for dishonesty, I have a zero-tolerance approach. I dismissed members of my accounting staff for what may seem to be petty reasons: one for using $5 of petty cash as personal lunch money, another for telling me he was home sick when he was out of state on a long weekend vacation. If key staff members are not honest with you about small things, how can you be sure they will tell the truth "when it counts?"
4. Substance abuse. Substance abuse is more rampant than most employers know. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that from 6% to 11% of adults are substance abusers. Substance abuse costs U.S. employers an estimated $100 billion a year. Call your attorney to make certain you follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Illegal drugs are expensive and have led financially desperate employees to commit fraud. They have also been implicated in violent behavior in the workplace.
Commit to setting standards in your workplace and you will find a calmer atmosphere, less turnover, and more attention to productivity, growth, and profitability.
About The Author
Jan B. King is the former President & CEO of Merritt Publishing, a top 50 woman-owned and run business in Los Angeles and the author of Business Plans to Game Plans: A Practical System for Turning Strategies into Action (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). She has helped hundreds of businesses with her book and her ebooks, The Do-It-Yourself Business Plan Workbook, and The Do-It-Yourself Game Plan Workbook. See www.janbking.com for more information.
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