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The first thing that most people associate with the concept of discipline is the act of punishment. This is so because in its narrowest sense discipline is used to refer to the act of imposing penalties for “wrong” behaviour. It is important to be aware of this conceptual bias at the very outset. The negative impression that gets evoked while speaking of discipline is only but a part and not the whole understanding of discipline. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary gives the meaning of the word “discipline” in relation to an Organisation as “Behaviour in accordance with Rules; Prompt and willing obedience to the orders of Superiors.” The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary gives the meaning “Trained condition, order maintained amongst persons under control or command; Train to obedience and control.” In short it can be said to be conduct confirming to acceptable norms.
Discipline means orderliness, obedience and maintenance of proper subordination among employees and a check or restraint on the liberty of the Individual. It implies a state of order in an Organisation and proper appreciation of the superior-subordinate relationship. It is at once a training that corrects, moulds and reinforces the Individual and Collective behaviour. It is also an attitude of mind, and a product of culture and environment. Hence merely at the organizational plane discipline cannot be fully addressed. The socio-cultural milieu is as important as the intra-organisational environment to tackle discipline.
Emile Durkheim, the renowned French philosopher of the 19th century, spoke about two distinct types of solidarity that he noticed among people in any given society. The first, he called ‘mechanical solidarity’ by which he meant when people think and act alike. The second, he called ‘organic solidarity’ by which he meant when people think and act in tandem as if they are different body parts of the same organism. Durkheim believed that when the human beings display mechanical solidarity, discipline is less pronounced than when they display organic solidarity. Basically, this analysis drives home the importance of a common objective before people, to enable them to work in tandem as opposed to a competing objective for which people may fight. Corresponding to these forms of solidarity, Durkheim suggested two distinct forms of justice to handle deviant behaviour. These are ‘repressive justice’ and ‘restitutive justice’. Repressive justice focuses more on the punishment for the wrong doer and is more applicable in organizations exuding mechanical solidarity. Restitutive justice on the other hand focuses more on the corrective aspects of discipline which emphasizes on how to bring back the deviant member (body part) of the organization to contribute in tandem towards the common objective.
In an Organisation, discipline is a condition in the enterprise in which the constituent members of the enterprise conduct themselves within the standards of acceptable behaviour, and implies acceptance of the various norms set by the Organisation in its Rules and practices by all the participating individuals and groups. It really means an attitude on the part of the members of group to conform to a set pattern of behaviour, which usually confirms to the codified Rules of the Organisation.
‘Discipline’ in its positive aspect is understood as an environment in which the individual members of the Organisation practice a standard of conduct with thrust on values and morality, codified for achieving the aims and objective of an Organisation, voluntarily. An attitude for self-discipline is created and maintained. This is achieved by clear, just and fair Rules and making the individual members conscious of the same and by observing the Rules in a demonstratively uniform manner in practice. If the employment relationship is otherwise good most of the employees in an Organisation do exercise a considerable degree of self-control.
Sir Edmund Burke had observed, “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power of a will and appetite be placed somewhere and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.” What he stated in relation to the society is equally true with regard to a group of persons in any Organisation with a definite objective. When there is want of self-discipline in the behaviour pattern of an individual member of the Organisation, that affects the Organisation, a necessity arises to discipline the erring member with a view to bring him back to the mainstream and this is what is often termed as negative aspect of discipline. Negative discipline in the present context is understood as “Management of indiscipline” which is a tool in the hands of the employer to inculcate discipline.
In any given group of individuals in an Organisation there may be some who for various reasons deviate from the expected standard of behaviour, which necessitates a constructive programme of discipline to deal with these violations. A constructive programme of discipline should be developed around the following essential elements:
While dealing with corrective aspect of discipline i.e., disciplinary action in an Organisation, it would be profitable to have in view the positive approach propounded by Douglas McGregor in his “Hot Stove Rule” in which he drew an analogy between touching a hot stove with that of disciplinary action. A burning stove when it is hot is by itself a warning to all not to touch it. Rules of the Organisation, its wide publicity and enforcement should be such as to give a clear forewarning to all those who are governed by it not to violate the same. The hand that touches the hot stove gets burnt immediately and there is no time gap between touching the stove and feeling the burning pain.
Disciplinary action, similarly, should follow the misconduct with such close proximity that the person proceeded against gets a clear message that the action initiated against him is for the stated misconduct only and nothing else.
When there is inordinate delay in initiation of disciplinary action for misconduct, sometimes it is pointed (creates an impression) that the action initiated is for some other undisclosed motive. The burning that results from touching a hot stove is always consistent and proportionate. If a person touches a hot stove with only one finger that finger alone will be burnt and the extent of burn would depend upon the duration for which the hot stove was touched and how hot the stove was. In disciplinary action, similarly, the final punishment imposed should be proportionate to the misconduct. Lastly, anyone who touches a hot stove would get burnt. In other words, the hot stove does not distinguish as to who touches it and the reaction is impersonal. Law is not and should not be a respecter of persons. Anyone who is equally placed in the matter of infraction of Rules should be treated equally in a disciplinary action.
Disciplinary action for curbing indiscipline is always directed against the act of indiscipline and not against the person. The object should normally be to obtain compliance of the employees with the established Rules of conduct. It should aim to correct improper conduct and not be of a punitive nature.
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