Time to Drop Discipline?

In HR, we love to update our terms. After all, we even renamed ourselves “Human Resources” because “Personnel” sounded a bit old fashioned. And the names of things we do is forever changing – we don’t recruit, we acquire talent; we don’t induct new employees, we onboard them; we don’t train them, we develop them; and while we once did appraisals we now do performance reviews.

Now some of these are actually sensible and reflect a different mindset for the modern workplace – others are however just an attempt to sound hip and trendy. But one term persists – and to my mind it is the one that should have been cast into the dustbin of HR history many years ago.

I refer of course to Discipline –  a word that the Oxford Dictionary defines as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience”. Surely no word harks back more to the outdated command and control management style that goes back to FW Taylor and the pre-war years? So why do we – and indeed other professionals in the area such as ACAS – persist with the term?

It may be because the same term is used in the US, since the UK tends to follow American terminology about a decade later. Or it may be that we’re all closet Taylorists, believing that staff will attempt to get away with anything without a good dose of corrective sanctions. Or even because it allows HR people to get involved in something that sounds quasi-judicial and stop line managers from getting it “wrong”.

I’m intrigued to know – why do we still use Discipline? And what term should we replace it with? (A final warning for anyone who suggests “Inappropriate Employee Behaviour Modification Procedure”!)

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