We’ve talked before about not reprimanding employees in front of other employees. Embarrassing staff members in that way damages morale and can put people on the defensive, making it less likely that they will fix their bad behaviors. In the last couple of months, however, twice I’ve witnessed another problematic reprimanding technique—problematic because I witnessed it as a customer.
Scolding employees in front of customers might be the only thing worse than scolding them in front of their co-workers. It’s just as humiliating for the employee, but it has the added issue of being awkward for the customers too.
In one instance I was picking up some documents at a hospital with my mother. There were two employees behind a shared window. One was helping my mother, and when I walked up, the second one stuck her head around to ask what she could do for me. She was friendly and obviously trying to be helpful. After I explained that I was just waiting for my mother, the other woman, her superior, turned and told her “Never do that again.” She lectured the employee for two minutes about patient confidentiality. Everything she said seemed valid to me, but I was still appalled by the whole interaction. The woman in charge could easily have waited until we left to discuss the issue with the other employee. Instead, she embarrassed her and made my mother and me feel unnecessarily awkward.
The second instance was in a grocery store check-out lane. I wasn’t present for whatever issue caused the scolding, but as I walked up I heard a manager say tersely “What didn’t you understand? I don’t want to hear anything come out of your mouth that’s not job related.” Her tone of voice and condescension sounded like she was talking to child rather than an adult employee. Again, I felt incredibly awkward, as though I had stumbled onto something that I wasn’t meant to hear. Both experiences were uncomfortable for me, and although I wouldn’t boycott either organization, they did lower my estimation of both organizations.
Reprimanding an employee in front of customers is appropriate only in these three rare scenarios:
- When it’s a safety issue. If the employee is endangering himself or herself, other employees or customers, don’t wait to correct the behavior.
- When it’s a legal issue. If the employee is doing something that could land your organization into legal trouble, step in immediately to fix the problem. In the first example I shared about the hospital workers, it might have been appropriate for the woman in charge to interrupt and say something like: “Actually, Sonia, let’s not do that. We don’t want to risk accidentally sharing either patient’s private information. I’ll just be another moment, and then you can help her.” Any further reprimands or lectures could be reserved for later, when no patients were present.
- When the employee’s behavior is egregious. Hopefully this never happens to you, but if an employee flies off the handle and starts yelling, throwing things or generally making a scene, you must react immediately. Calmly tell the employee to stop, collect his or her belongings and leave. You can’t have a person like that representing your organization.
In all other cases, you can correct the behavior away from an audience. Simply say “May I talk to you for a second?” and move out of earshot of customers.
What tips do you have for correcting employees?
[Image Source: a2gemma]