What Is Reprimanding and Does It Actually Work?

There is a considerable divide in the HR world with regards to reprimanding.

Some professionals view it as a necessary evil that, when done right, can bolster a productive workplace where employee shortcomings are addressed in the best way possible. On the other hand, some view it as a way to sow fear in the workforce – a rather detrimental approach in the long-run.

But before jumping on either side, it’s important to explore the ins and outs of what it means to reprimand an employee.

Reprimanding – the Definition

Reprimanding is pretty straightforward, really. It simply means officially serving an employee with a warning about conduct that goes against laid down company policies. The serving here usually takes two main forms, that is verbal and written.

Verbal reprimanding precedes the written ones and also ranks a bit lower in terms of urgency. Verbal reprimands are most of the time meant to point out to the employee that whatever he/she is doing needs some consideration. The warning here is a chance for them to improve or change altogether.

Written reprimands on the other hand are sterner and don’t just point out laxity on the employee’s part. They are precursors to more serious disciplinary measures in the future if the employee in question is adamant to change.

But issuing reprimands should not always be a given every time an employee messes up. That might turn out to be more harmful than it will be helpful in the workplace. Before a reprimand, it’s important that other avenues of problem-solving within the organization are explored.

Before Reprimanding

According to the Balance Careers, reprimanding is not usually the immediate go-to method of addressing wayward employee behavior. Come to think of it – this actually makes a whole lot of sense.

Because let’s face it – employees don’t always show up at work to violate some rules. That’s for a larger part. So jumping in with a series of official warnings can cultivate a general atmosphere of resentment and fear that will only serve to lower productivity in the long run instead of boosting it.

No one wants that.

So it’s a good idea that reprimanding only be reserved as a later option. A more go-to option should be a couple of feedback sessions that help the employee improve on his/her performance or provide a better understanding of company policies. This is so much healthier as it offers a learning opportunity.

This especially true to new employees who might just be getting the hang of how things operate in the organization.

Regardless of whether you’re giving some feedback or jumping over to reprimanding, there is one important aspect to always tag along – documentation.

The Importance of Documentation in Reprimanding

The importance of documentation extends way beyond reprimanding. In fact, you should have a paper trail from the point you start giving improvement feedback to the employee.

There are several upsides to this.

For one, you can refer to the records when needed. For instance, when the employee doesn’t seem to remember the feedback sessions or the mishap. Secondly, the documentation can form a basis for further action as needed. This way, it won’t look like you’re out on a witch hunt when the situation has progressed to more punitive disciplinary measures.

And finally, the paper trail will serve as a strong defense for the company in the unfortunate event that you have to fire the employee and he/she sues for wrongful dismissal. Lawsuits are such a drain but can be a bit bearable if you’re coming on well-prepared.

Of course, all these upsides are only possible if the employee is also aware of the documentation. So that means they have to append their signatures every time you part ways after a feedback session or a reprimand.

And now to our biggest question…

Does Reprimanding Work?

As with everything, the devil is in the details. Reprimanding can have contrasting results depending on how you implement it in your organization. So to answer the question – yes and no.

Managers who excel at reprimanding their subordinates understand how to do it correctly. And it’s not that complicated. You can also get it right if you throw in the following important aspects.

Ingredients of Effective Reprimanding


Any bad behavior needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Turning a blind eye hoping for a change might only make matters worse as it could potentially establish wayward behavior as the norm.

So you have to let employees know that they’re in the wrong as soon as they veer off.

On the other hand, you should also be careful not to act on wrong information as this will be more harmful than helpful. Getting all the details before taking the next step is crucial in the whole process.

Also, if the issue at hand is emotive, allowing a few hours or even days for everyone to cool off is essential.


Reprimanding an employee in front of others or customers is a sure way to fail at the whole process right from the start.

Public criticism doesn’t always sit well with a lot of people since it’s usually a dent on their self-esteem. In a workplace setting, that’s something you don’t want. That’s why you should keep reprimands private and confidential to the concerned party.


Gathering all the necessary info is important as it ensures the next step you take is from an informed point of view. Sometimes the problem could be way out of the employee’s control which means it would be completely out of line to issue a reprimand.

Essentially, you should run a background check on the whole situation before calling the employee in.

Seeks to Address the Problem Not Put Down the Employee

This where most managers and leaders are likely to fail. It’s only natural since it can be a tightrope to walk. But still, it’s not so complicated.

For starters, eliminating the “you” can go a long way in taking the focus off from the employee and concentrating on addressing the problem at hand.

This is so important as the employee wouldn’t have to unconsciously go into the defensive which happens often when the whole discussion is centered around pointing fingers.

That said, there are a few things you’ll want to avoid if you want a productive approach to reprimanding.

Some Pitfalls to Avoid in Reprimanding

Watering Down the Warning

As much as you wouldn’t want to dwell so much on pointing fingers, it’s also important to be explicit that such conduct will not be tolerated in future. One way to ensure this is steering clear of compliments so that the focus is solely on the problem at hand.

Being Selective With Reprimands

You should hold all employees on the same standards as far as disciplinary action is concerned. And that includes reprimanding. The last thing employees want to see is some of them being treated a little more gently than the rest.

That’s a sure way to create division at the workplace. Even more serious is, in case of a dismissal, the affected employee can bring the favoritism in a lawsuit. You’d be hard-pressed to wiggle out of that one.

Wrapping up

Reprimanding can be a bit of a problem seeing as not it’s always a comfortable thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be an icy affair. Done right, a reprimand has the potential to turn around a dismally performing employee.

But amidst all that, remember to have all the details nailed down in case of a lawsuit in case you have to let go of the employee in question.

Posted by Oscar Musundi

SaaS writer for hire.

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