people; discipline

Farm management: Human resources – discipline is key

For a business to run smoothly and without unnecessary conflict, it is important to maintain discipline day by day.

While busy carrying out any of his tasks – planning, organising, implementing or controlling – a manager must also pay attention to certain other management activities, such as leadership, communicating, coordinating, delegating, decision-making, motivating, and maintaining discipline.


Discipline is the practice of obeying rules and working according to a code of conduct (behaviour). In order for a business to be successful, it is essential for a manager to maintain levels of discipline on a daily basis.

This can be accomplished formally or informally, but it is advisable to try to maintain discipline in an informal manner. Should the informal method fail, however, it would be necessary to revert to formal procedures as required by the labour relations legislation in your country.

Some managers tend to avoid disciplining their subordinates for fear of becoming unpopular and losing support. For the benefit of the business, however, the manager should strive to be consistent when maintaining discipline on day-to-day matters, and to be seen to be firm but fair.

Also read: How to handle your people


The first cornerstone for maintaining discipline should be policies, rules and regulations, for which there are 2 sources:

  • The formal rules and regulations as prescribed by the relevant labour laws and embedded in the service contract, for example, hours of work and leave.
  • The standard policies, rules and regulations of the employer that guide the day-to-day activities of the workplace.

It is a necessity to implement general rules and regulations defining, for instance, the handling, damage to and storage of equipment and tools, the procedure for applying for leave or borrowing money, and so forth. Having these in place avoids unnecessary potential conflict.

The second cornerstone for maintaining discipline refers to the instructions passed on by superiors. Compliance with valid and fair instructions, that are communicated properly, is certainly a necessity:

  • Everyday situations could be such issues as employees arriving late for work.
  • Work not being done to standard (for instance, not cleaning pig sties properly).
  • Returning to work late after lunch.
  • Stopping work before the scheduled time and work not being completed within the set times.

Remember that, if noncompliance is not addressed immediately, the manager is in effect tacitly approving of the behaviour; and if it is overlooked, even once, it is too late. If the manager does not immediately handle the situation informally the first time an employee arrives late for work, how will he or she handle it in future? It may even make it difficult to institute formal disciplinary procedures.

Also read: Communication and training


If you say “yes” you must stick to it; the same goes for saying “no”.

  • Never threaten an employee if it is impossible to execute the threat; and never make promises that cannot be kept.
  • Rules need to be fair, applied equally to everyone, consistently – do not use double standards.
  • Set the example. If you arrive late for work, how can you discipline others who do the same? If you arrive at work smelling of alcohol, how can you stop others doing the same? If you’re not scrupulously honest yourself, how can you administer discipline to dishonest members on your team?
  • Be tough on standards but soft on people; do not shout, swear or insult people.


  • It creates an atmosphere of security.
  • Everybody knows they will be treated fairly and with respect and dignity.
  • It will boost morale and productivity.
  • It creates an air of tolerance, loyalty and co-operation.

After all is said and done, practise has shown that there are always one or two employees with whom it will be necessary to eventually take the formal route, because they relentlessly refuse to adhere to rules or their performance remains unsatisfactory.

Maintaining discipline is an important part of the manager’s duties and positively reinforces the significance that the manager attaches to the maintenance of standards and behaviour.

Also read: Good productivity reduces costs

  • This article was written by Marius Greyling and first appeared in Farming SA.

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