Businesses rely on professional, reliable communication to remain profitable and competitive on the market. Employees communicate with co-workers, managers, clients, vendors, the media and relevant government agencies, so communication breakdowns can have significant impact. Despite negative impact and professional frustration, it’s crucial to use appropriate language when reprimanding an employee for lack of communication.
Lack of communication is one of the primary reasons listed by employees when transitioning to a new job because of frustration with management, so before issuing a reprimand take the time to research the situations in question to determine whether management or other employees played a part in the communication breakdown. It would be a mistake to reprimand one employee for communication problems directly linked to the actions of other workers.
Language used to reprimand an employee for lack of communication should remain neutral. When initiating the discipline process, maintain a professional tone rather than slipping into anger, frustration, condescension or sarcasm. This helps facilitate an effective discussion while avoiding potential legal tangles if the employee takes a stance that your reprimand crossed acceptable boundaries.
Initial language for reprimanding communication-challenged employees should begin by asking for an explanation from their perspective. Using this inclusive language draws the employee into the process, asking him to be accountable for his actions. A request for explanation might state, “Please outline the circumstances leading to your delay in contacting our valued client for three weeks, despite her repeated phone calls and emails.”
Avoid broad, general statements when reprimanding an employee for communication problems. Instead, use specific examples to describe the communication breakdown from the management’s perspective. For example, you might cite the dates for unreturned phone calls and emails, late reports filed and specific complaints filed by clients, managers or vendors. Relate how each occurrence resulted in negative impacts for the business.
Express disappointment for the employee’s lack of communication, but don’t dwell on accusations or criticism. Move directly into the immediate consequences of the employee’s choices for a more effective reprimand. For example, you may temporarily reduce the employee’s responsibilities and privileges so that she has the resources or motivation to adjust her behavior. When assigning consequences, stick with disciplinary options described in your company handbook to avoid charges of unfairness or excessive discipline.
Move the reprimand into more positive territory by developing an action plan along with the employee to address his communication problems. This might include developing a plan to respond to emails within two business days for non-urgent mail or whatever timeframe seems reasonable for your company culture and industry, for example. The action plan should also outline future disciplinary action that will take place should the lack of communication continue.
- Internal Comms Hub: Lack of Communication Sends Employees out the Door; October 2006
- University of Miami: Disciplinary Letters Examples
- Ohio State University Extension: Directing
- Profiles International: Improving Managerial Communication
- Ready Set Present; The Ten Commandments of Employee Reprimands; Andrew E. Schwartz