You CAN Bring the Sexy Back: ‘Branding’ Employee Discipline

dominatrix-mistress-with-her-whipIt seems you can’t click open your web browser without reading something about “Employer Branding.” Or “Talent Branding.” Good stuff to be sure; I think it’s important and critical.

What fascinates me is how we tend to explore this concept primarily from a talent attraction or recruiting standpoint. Oh sure, during the strategy phase of “employer branding” there is cursory attention paid to overall organizational culture and the end-loop/integration to the employee life cycle. “If we recruit these people,” says Mary the HR leader, “we need to think about retaining them.” Well…yeah.

So great care is given to ensuring that the brand carries on throughout the onboarding, performance management and succession planning processes. The Learning & Development team aligns their instructional design and training delivery to the brand. Marketing and recruiting teams work hand in hand and it’s a wonderful and glorious thing.

But you know what’s often neglected in this strategy planning? That which HR is often best known for: employee relations. ER, as defined by our friends at HRCI, is the interaction between employees and an organization (for example, communications, conflict resolution, compliance with legal regulations, career development, and performance measurement).”

For the non-HR types, this catch all category includes:

  • “Joe reports to work 30 minutes late 3 times per week”
  • “Maeve is an insufferable know-it-all who pisses off every single human being in the office”
  • “Bob told a dirty joke in the lunch room”
  • “the VP of Sales has been patting the derrieres of all the female account executives”

So, because this kind of crap goes on in every workplace your local HR Department creates an Employee Handbook/Policy Manual. This is where you find information about how you get paid, EEO statements, and your rights under the FMLA.

And nestled in amongst all those nuggets is the section that let’s you know what will happen if YOU are the one telling dirty jokes in the lunch room. But there’s often no attempt to think about brand here; this section of the handbook/policy manual/rule book is often given an authoritative sounding title like Code of Conduct or Company Rules.

Included in this section you will learn that when your manager does need to have a discussion, you may be facing:

  • A Corrective Action Notification
  • The Disciplinary Procedure
  • A Counseling Report
  • The Progressive Discipline Process
  • A Verbal Warning, Written Warning, FINAL Warning


And you’re given this on your first day of employment.

So even in the midst of all the #culture and #transparency and #WeAreFamily hoopla that connects your candidate/applicant experience to your NEW/NOW employment experience, you are slapped right up side-the-head with something that was left out of the employer brand strategy conversations.

HR professionals as tyrannical police agents? Moms? Headmistresses?


I’m not saying we downplay important information by bathing it in sunshine and serving it up with lollipops and cotton candy. I am saying that HR teams, when working on an employer branding strategy need to connect all the dots. Language is important and the branding of your employee relations (discipline!) approach is just as critical as the branding of your career site.

So…what’s your brand?


credit: image


  1. Cari Beckman says:

    I have often had concerns about the branding process and HR’s integration into that process. Robin I’m wondering if you’ve seen anyone who has integrated the “discipline” process into that discussion or have ideas?

    • Robin Schooling says:

      Cari –

      I’ve found that it work best when ALL of HR is treated in a holistic manner (obviously). So, as an example, in order to align the ‘discipline’ process with my culture & brand, I might format this section in the handbook as “The Things we WANT You To Do” (i.e. be respectful of co-workers, be open to new ideas, participate and collaborate, etc). and then have “The Things we DON’T Want You to Do” (fight, harass, lie, cheat, steal, etc.) . You can include language to keep your attorney happy (“if you do these things we reserve the right to do x,y,z) etc – BUT – it’s all in the presentation. The words. The spirit and intent IMO.

  2. Robin, let’s put together a presentation on this very subject…I have done a few already and have some great ideas.

    Cari, I have some ideas…feel free to reach out to me at @leadingsolution or via LinkedIn

  3. ncicmmullady says:

    This is a topic so near to my heart…how we message and shape the “handbook” and how we quickly and clinically explain the “box” that employees are now in and what will happen if they step outside of it.

    Would love to see how we can better brand this!

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