Employees are the heart and soul of every organisation, especially for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). As a result, the implementation, as well as enforcement of clear workplace policies and practices is critical to the success of these companies.
With South African Labour Law as strict as it is, we are still finding a significant number of SMMEs that do not have any formal policies and procedures, which increases the risk of these companies not complying with labour laws.
This is often as a result of SMMEs not having the necessary manpower or finances to have fully-fledged human resources (HR) departments. It can therefore be a common occurrence to find SMME owners at the helm of HR divisions.
An owner-run HR department will also not necessarily be overly familiar with labour laws. The company will often do something that is “good for business” but not advisable in terms of the law. This could lead to poor decisions being made and could be detrimental to the future of the company.
Poor communication of policies and procedures is another area of concern for many SMMEs, resulting in employees often being unaware of HR policies and making them likely to infringe on these policies. New employees may also find it difficult to adapt to the business and employees could end up losing what could have been a valuable asset to a growing business.
A culture of discipline is essential
Discipline with regards to the enforcement of policies must be considered as a day-to-day management function, rather than a once-off or ad hoc event. This approach will ensure an issue is resolved before it spirals out of control.
For example, if an employee takes an extended lunch break, and the employer allows it to happen, it will send a message to other employees that this is perfectly acceptable. Employers will soon find other employees adopting a similar approach, possibly resulting in a large-scale disciplinary process. If the employer took the time and initiated a disciplinary discussion with the one employee, it would have communicated to other staff that this type of behaviour is not tolerated, avoiding a potentially bigger issue.
This is not just an issue in SMMEs. CDH often finds large corporates also struggling to maintain discipline on a day-to-day basis. In some cases, corporates tend to wait until an employee has made a significant mistake or serious act of negligence before intervening.
Record-keeping is your ally
Keeping a record of all disciplinary matters is an essential part of creating a culture of discipline in the workplace. It is critical that all verbal and written warnings are recorded and kept in the employee’s file.
Under South African Labour Law, an employee must always be allowed to state his/her case in all disciplinary matters, irrespective of the seriousness of the infringement.
Before the employer issues a verbal or written warning, the employer must notify the employee of his/her infringement. The employees must then be given the opportunity to state their case and if the employer is not satisfied with their explanation, the employer may then legally issue the warning.
For more serious matters, which verbal or written warnings will not solve, you must follow more formal steps, such as disciplinary hearings. However, if you maintain a culture of discipline on a daily basis, you will rarely have issues escalating to such a degree.
Correcting an overall workplace culture is far more difficult than rectifying a small incident. When an employer has to correct an entire culture that is deeply entrenched in their business, the process can be more expensive and take much longer.