Let's bring back the practice of "calling someone in on the carpet."
For those of you who are unfamiliar with that phrase of yore, it refers to the days when the carpet was in the boss's office and an employee was summoned in for a stern lecture. People would say, "Jack was called in on the carpet and told if he ever did that again he'd be fired."
And, in most cases, Jack never did it again.
My nostalgia for such times comes from seeing employers who resort to major discipline for behavior that, in the old days, would only cause someone to be called in on the carpet. Employers often engage in overkill; launching investigations and suspending and even firing people in a rather clinical manner. In the Blondie cartoon series, Mr. Dithers might scream at Dagwood Bumstead, but he wouldn't fire him. Nowadays, Dithers would be backed up by a cadre of HR types and lawyers. His every word would be scripted and Bumstead would be examined like a bug on a pin.
Now don't get me wrong. I fully realize that there are times when such formalism is needed. We don't want the carpet sessions to be slaps on the wrist for major offenses. There is, however, a need for some more informal remedies.
How have we arrived at this state? Two factors come to mind: Lawyers and the fear of confrontation.
Managers joke about needing to carry a lawyer around in their pocket. Unfortunately, the line isn't far from the truth. Not only is there the fear of potential litigation in itself, there is also the need to get a second opinion in order to protect your back from an upper management team that may be more than eager to withdraw support due to that same fear of litigation. That fear leads quite naturally to a fear of confrontation because handling a matter informally requires a certain amount of guts. In the heat of the moment, something improper might be said. A step might be missed. A rule might be misinterpreted. Confrontation is unpleasant. In the cartoon, Dagwood would slink back to his desk but he never called an employment attorney.
It may be argued that this new, bloodless approach to addressing problems recognizes the progress that has been made with regard to employee protections. I believe that is true. At the same time, it would help to explore a third way between the extreme of unlimited and abusive supervisory power and the bureaucratic escalation that turns minor matters into major ones.
That third way involves courageous and responsible management that is willing to address matters in a proportionate manner and call people in on the carpet.