When I first got started in this business, I realized something early on – that if I wanted to achieve the business success I set out for, I was going to need some employees to help.

Just one problem …

I had no idea what I was doing in that area.  For that reason, I’ve got some horror stories I could tell you about my employee relations – everything from death threats to fist fights.

I realize that hiring and management are two of the biggest things that any trainer is facing, and it’s why I devote such an overwhelming amount of time to these subjects in my programs.

But back when I was getting started, just a few years ago, there weren’t awesome sites like Super-Trainer or business programs to help trainers out.   There were tons of general business books on the subject, but most deal with corporate office politics, or a rosy, picture-perfect world of small business that is FAR from reality.  They don’t understand what it’s like in the real world, and especially in our business, one that is notoriously hard to manage and hire for.

Don’t worry – just follow me and you won’t face any of the same problems.  In fact, you’ll find it’s easy, which is what I’d have to call employee relations for me today.  But that being said, you’re bound to run into problems at times.  For that reason, I just put together this short piece for you about how to handle discipline problems.

As an employer, regardless of what business you’re in–you’re going to run into discipline problems. Human nature being what it is, you’ll eventually face employees who refuse to follow the rules, are dishonest, always cop a ‘tude, or consistently ignore company policies. They may diss you or other staff members, refuse to do the job or do it poorly, be rude to clients or even try to poach them away from you to train them on their own.


So, how do you handle difficult employees? You head ‘em off at the pass by making sure, from the very beginning that all employees know exactly what’s expected of them on the job. So, how do you do this?

It’s easy: just put it in writing. Many businesses do this by compiling–and keeping updated–an employee handbook. It’s basically a simple guide that tells employees the rules of the road and the consequences of not following them. A handbook is a great way to make sure that you’re telling the people who work for you everything they need to know to do their jobs and do them well.

Another reason to write a handbook? It’s a great defense against a disgruntled employee’s claim of wrongful termination–that he was fired for breaking rules, which he may claim he knew nothing about. A handbook that clearly states your expectations will blow that defense out of the water and is a great way to keep everyone accountable (the fast and easy way to create an employee handbook that works specifically for your business and specialty is covered in THE STUDIO START-UP PROGRAM).

Let me give you an example: One of the biggest headaches for anyone who works in the service industry is a chronically late or no-show employee. This behavior can really hurt your business. If your marketing guy is late for a meeting with a potential client, you could lose out on a contract. If a trainer is late, you may have to forfeit that hour’s income and piss off–or even lose–the client. The solution? Set an across-the-board tardiness policy and make sure everyone knows what it is.

Here’s an example of how to word it: “All employees who cannot come to work on time must notify management an hour before their start time. Trainers must also notify their clients if they are more than five minutes late for a session and must arrange for a sub if they’re running more than 15 minutes behind.”

The handbook should also warn employees of what disciplinary action they’ll face if they don’t follow the rules. That way, when the hammer comes down, no one can claim they hadn’t been warned.

That said, keep in mind that any disciplinary action you take shouldn’t be intended only to punish uncooperative or lazy subordinates. Your goals are to signal them that you mean business–about your business–and to train and motivate them to develop better behavior and attitudes.

So, you should give them not just one but several chances to improve. But each time they don’t, you make it clear that they’re not meeting your expectations and ramp up the pressure on them a bit. Here’s an example of how to go about that:

Step 1: Talk to the employee about what he’s doing wrong and counsel him on ways he could improve.

Step 2: Warn the employee, verbally or in writing, that he‘s still not stepping up to your satisfaction.

Step 3: Write him up, explaining what he’s doing wrong or inadequately and how he needs to improve.

Step 4: Do a second, more thorough write-up and include a warning that failure to improve within a certain time frame will lead to dismissal.

Step 5: Terminate the uncooperative employee.

(You may also want to explain to staff after the employee has left why you let him go, so that they hear the true details from you, rather than making assumptions based on what the fired employee said or on guess-based rumors.)

A system like this one will give your employees plenty of chances to improve but also clears you of any accusations that you fired someone unfairly or without cause. But, if you do need to discipline an employee, make sure you are professional and respectful in how you go about it. You don’t want anyone you’ve had to punish or dismiss accusing you of harassment or discrimination or succeed in turning other employees against you. If you think the employee could try to make trouble for you, it might be a good idea to talk to an employment attorney (and show him the handbook) to make sure all of your bases are covered, especially if someone threatens to take legal action against you.

Now, we’re going to cover steps to protect yourself and your business during the disciplinary process.

1. Make sure someone else is present to witness any disciplinary discussion/action you take, especially if you’re dealing with someone of the opposite sex.

2. Don’t discipline anyone in front of the entire staff. The idea is to correct and perhaps help an employee to improve; not to humiliate him.

3. Be predictable and fair. Make sure employees know what to expect from you. Communicate clearly and don’t commit favoritism.

4. Document every action you take; this includes making sure employees sign a form indicating they’ve read, understand and agree to follow the employee handbook. Keep this form and all other documentation in the employees’ files.

5. Keep all employee files–which are confidential documents–under lock and key.

As your business grows, you need to make sure, not only that you hire good employees, but that they know how to do their jobs and want to do them well, are loyal to you and are committed to growing your business. An employee handbook will help you show them how to get–and stay–there.