Sound business principles for timing of employee coaching is simple: The sooner, the better. If your performance or work behavior falls below the company's standards, you should expect correction or discipline immediately so that your job performance can improve sooner. But this doesn't always happen, which can be problematic in nearly all employment matters. The longer your boss goes without providing you with coaching, counseling or constructive feedback, the more difficult it can become to restore your performance levels or improve your motivation.
If you know that your performance has slipped or if you've inadvertently violated a workplace policy, there's nothing to prevent you from stepping up to ask for corrective counseling yourself. Maybe it sounds like you're "turning yourself in," but putting it in a positive frame means that you acknowledge your mistakes and that you care about the quality of your work or how your colleagues and boss view your commitment to your job. For example, as soon as you recognize that you're struggling, you could say to your boss, "My time management skills may need improvement because I've missed a few deadlines. Can you help me give me some guidance on how to prioritize my workload so that my job performance doesn't continue to suffer?"
Depending on the setting, the type of performance issue or behavior, your employer should say something to you immediately, in private. Supervisors should never reprimand or criticize employees publicly because it's bad enough to receive criticism about your job -- having your co-workers witness it just adds to the humiliation. If you're in a staff meeting, for example, and you use a disrespectful tone to respond to your supervisor or a co-worker, your supervisor might not pause during the meeting to discipline you. But she should say something to you immediately after the meeting, which is in this case, the most opportune time.
When a supervisor waits until your annual performance appraisal to discipline you for something that happened 10 months ago -- near the beginning of the evaluation period -- it reflects poorly on both her judgment and her leadership skills. Regardless of whether she was reluctant to raise the issue when it happened or even if it slipped her mind, leaders are counted on to counsel employees as soon as they recognize problems or deficiencies. The sooner your supervisor addresses performance issues, the sooner you can improve so that you can restore your employment record or keep your job. It would be terribly unfair to bring up a year-old issue and use that as the basis to terminate you.
Employee discipline and coaching policies are a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee. There are no laws that govern how employers should discipline employees and, therefore, no time limits when the coaching or discipline should occur. In many cases, the human resources department develops a performance management system and trains supervisors how to counsel employees informally and how to conduct formal performance appraisals. HR best practices suggest that addressing performance deficiencies right away is the best way to resolve them, and it's also the best way to preserve the employer-employee relationship.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.