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The 5 Steps to Reprimanding an Employee

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Regardless of how great your employees are, if you work with them long enough, there may come a time when you need to reprimand them if they’ve behaved inappropriately. If you follow these five easy steps to successfully reprimanding an employee, the end result will be a positive outcome for both of you. Please bear in mind that you can only manage manageable people. If you’ve hired the right people, they’ll likely know when they’ve behaved undesirably and will eventually take responsibility for their actions.

No 1: Empathy. It’s important to remember that our employees are human beings, and human beings make mistakes and occasionally behave inappropriately. Some examples of this in our line of work may be a tech coming in late, an advisor being short with a customer, or an employee being rude to a coworker. When this does happen, you need to speak with the employee as soon as possible. 

In order for us to successfully reprimand the employee, the first thing we need to do is ensure we are in the right state of mind. If we’re upset, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to effectively communicate with the employee, who may also be upset with what has occurred and with the fact that they are being reprimanded. Although there are many ways to manage our emotions, a helpful trick I use is to immediately remind myself how fortunate I am to have the employee working with me in the first place. This will typically calm me down and ensure that I am level-headed when I speak to the employee. 

When we meet with the employee, it should always be in a private environment. Because our employees are typically aware if they’ve crossed the line or behaved inappropriately, it’s important for us to remember to be compassionate and give them a chance to explain the situation. In cases where the employee is emotionally charged, you may want to begin by asking them if they are okay, and then offering them something to drink. Above all else, they need to know we care about them as a person and that we are understanding. It is for this reason that empathy is number one on our list. 

No. 2: Listen to the Employee. As our second step, we need to ask the employee what happened, and then allow them to explain as much as they would like. If we’ve hired the right person, simply talking about what occurred will allow them to vent any frustration that led to crossing the line. Over the years, I’ve found that more often than not, when you have the right employees, they will begin to take responsibility for their actions and acknowledge that they made a mistake within a matter of minutes.

No. 3:  Interview the Employee. After they have vented and begin to settle down, we need to learn more about what happened and why. We can do this by asking a number of questions. Not only can this help us better understand what caused their misbehavior, but through this process we will discover what could have been done differently, and what will prevent it from happening again. 

No. 4:  Take Appropriate Action. Once we have learned the details of what happened and why, four things must take place. 

  • First, we need to remedy any misunderstanding, damage or wrongdoing (I.e. providing apologies, righting any wrong, repairing anything that was damaged, issuing a refund, etc.). In most cases, we should take into consideration what the employee feels should be done to address the issue, and why. 
  • Secondly, we need to take the appropriate action to ensure the same issues that led to the inappropriate behavior don’t happen again. Here again, we need to consider asking the employee for their recommendations on the preventative actions. 
  • As our third action item, we need to tell the employee, in very clear terms, that we recognize that they know what they did was wrong, and we respect them enough to know it won’t happen again. 

Lastly, we need to properly document the reprimand.  

No. 5:  Encourage the Employee. This is the fifth and most important part of the entire process. As with any reprimand, we always need to separate the behavior from the person. This means that it’s their behavior that is at fault, and not them as a person. We can do this by simply wrapping up the reprimand with a review of the next step action items, and then closing out the meeting by sharing just how much we enjoy working with them.  We need to let them know that we admire them as a person, and that we look forward to working with them for years to come.   

In closing, if you hire the right people and make frequent deposits into their emotional bank accounts by praising them for their positive behaviors, it will allow you to make the emotional withdrawals that may accompany reprimands. If you make those deposits regularly, and if you follow this procedure when an employee has crossed the line, then this is my guarantee: When they leave your office, they will admire you for how you handled the reprimand and how you praised them as a person. They may be upset with the way they behaved, but they will feel good about themselves because you let them know just how much you appreciate them being a member of your team. Lastly, if you are looking for an easy way to remember this procedure, just think of “Elite”, as the five letters that make up our company name happen to be the first letter in each of the five steps. 


Since 1990, Bob Cooper has been the president of Elite (www.EliteWorldwide.com), a company that strives to help shop owners reach their goals and live happier lives, while elevating the industry at the same time. The company offers the industry’s #1 peer group of 90 successful shop owners, training and coaching from top shop owners, service advisor training, along with online and in-class sales, marketing and shop management courses. You can contact Elite at contact@eliteworldwide.com, or by calling 800-204-3548.

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