Reprimanding employees for weak job performance will typically have one of two possible outcomes: your employee will either rebel (i.e. not do what you are asking of them) or they’ll comply out of fear.
When someone complies out of fear, they’ll likely take the corrective action that you’re requesting. But even if they do, using reprimands to attain compliance will not sustainably improve job performance.
Reprimanding disconnects people from their own sense of authority, or their sense of agency over their life.
If part of your leadership role involves being responsible for giving feedback about job performance, it’s important that you truly understand why reprimanding will only create more problems for you in the long-run.
I’d like you to think back to a time when you were a child and you were being reprimanded. Perhaps it was for sneaking an extra cookie from the cookie jar. Or maybe it was because you’d hit your brother or sister.
I think it’s pretty fair to say that having been reprimanded is a fairly universal experience. Which means that you know what it feels like to be reprimanded.
Think back to a specific situation in which you remember being reprimanded as a child. How did you feel in that moment?
Did you feel inspired and encouraged to improve? Or did you feel guilt or shame for not having met the other person’s standards?
The Cambridge English dictionary defines reprimand as “to express to someone your strong official disapproval of them”.
Inherent in this disapproval is a message, whether spoken or unspoken, about how the employee “should” have acted.
If the employee is exposed to reprimands often enough in the workplace, or if they were regularly as a child, they can easily fall into a pattern of simply accepting that you know how they should be doing every aspect of their job better than they do.
This is particularly the case when the person reprimanding is in a position of authority, such as when it comes from someone in a leadership position at work.
The person being reprimanded ultimately ends up letting the leader’s judgment substitute for their own. They become cut off from their ability to trust their own decisions.
Using reprimands as a means to get your employees to try harder or do better is bound to leave your team members with feelings similar to the feelings that you experienced when you were reprimanded as a child. Rather than feeling encouraged to improve their job performance, it is likely that employees will feel disrespected, ashamed, angry or resentful. Even though they may not show it.
Just because someone’s job performance is lacking, it does not mean that the person is not aware of this. They may simply need support to problem solve the challenges. Or they could need help becoming more aware of their areas of weakness through a supportive discussion. My keynote/workshop Empowering Employees: Giving Feedback that Works explores ways to provide feedback regarding employee performance that will sustainably improve job performance, while leaving employees feeling supported and respected.
How reprimanding negatively impacts job performance
If you’re still not sold on the idea of reconsidering whether or not reprimanding is truly getting you the results that you want with your employees, I’d encourage you to think a little further about what kind of employees you want to cultivate.
When feedback is shared through reprimands, people are left feeling that they need to constantly look to others to figure out whether or not they are doing things right.
This creates a climate of fear, where people are constantly walking on eggshells. People become afraid to make a wrong move, for fear of the next reprimand.
Instead of teaching people to problem-solve, and seek help when needed, reprimanding is a punitive approach, which leaves employees afraid to brainstorm solutions to problems on their own. People who are disconnected from their own sense of authority will constantly looking to their leader for approval.
They want to be sure whether or not they are doing things exactly according to your standards. They will check in with you on every single detail of a project, even details that they have the skills to do independently. Just to be sure.
And then you’ll wonder why they can’t make decisions on their own.
Since reprimanding sends a message that you know better than they do, giving feedback in this manner will ultimately make employees become increasingly dependent on you.
Although it may feed your ego, your role as a leader isn’t to tell people whether or not they’re doing things right – it’s to provide constructive feedback that will enable them to increasingly and exponentially figure out how to do what needs to be done for the success of your organization.
Addressing employee performance issues in a manner that respects your employees’ sense of authority over their own life does not mean giving free rein to your employees. It simply means creating collaborative discussion practices that respect the employee as an individual who is capable of making good decisions for their life and for your company.
If you are in a leadership position and find yourself using reprimanding as a way to entice your team to improve their job performance, know that the first step towards growing into a more supportive leadership style is to acknowledge that this as area you would like to work on. You can also check out these additional tips to help you navigate difficult conversations in a more collaborative manner.
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