No Unpleasant Surprises! How to Minimize Employee Disciplinary Action and Termination

When it comes to self-storage staff, no one likes unpleasant surprises. Here’s how to minimize employee missteps, and the need for disciplinary action or termination.

Cindy Ashby

January 21, 2018

7 Min Read
No Unpleasant Surprises! How to Minimize Employee Disciplinary Action and Termination

I have a rule I try to live by: No surprises. This doesn’t mean I’m against happy surprises like gifts or parties. I enjoy those. What shouldn’t be a surprise, though, is employee performance at the self-storage facilities I oversee. The groundwork for avoiding unpleasant surprises in this area doesn’t begin at the first point of discipline; rather, it starts much earlier, even prior to hiring.

The time spent preparing to hire your self-storage staff is invaluable. This is when you evaluate what your needs are and create a solid job description that will lay a perfect foundation of expectations on which to build. This is also a good time to review your company culture and the demographics of the market your facility serves. There are many types of managers and storage properties. Your goal is to find the perfect match.

To help weed out applicants and minimize surprises after hiring, look at each candidate’s resume for basic identifiers that could be red flags. Is the person’s e-mail address offensive? How is his spelling, grammar and word usage? Does he speak in “txt-ease”? Conducting an Internet search of the person’s name or checking his social media sites can reveal very telling signs of what type of person you may be dealing with and can help save you from significant headaches in the long run.

Having an employee handbook that outlines policies related to dress code, hours of operation, Internet use, animals in the office, handling cash and so on helps set expectations right from the start. If you don’t already have a policies and procedures manual, industry-related guidelines and handbooks are readily available online. These are well worth the investment to help prevent shocks. Share your expectations clearly and make sure employees understand them by signing an acknowledgement to that effect.

When Something Goes Wrong

Once you’ve laid the foundation, done your homework and hired the best candidate for the position, you’re ready to entrust your new manager with your multi-million-dollar business. Things go well at first. Occupancy is up; customers are happy; the facility is clean … And then, BAM! You stop by the facility on your way home from a meeting and it’s closed. It’s 2 p.m., and the sign on the door says the manager will return at 1 p.m. What? Why? Do you panic? Call the local hospitals? What course of action do you take?

Or, let’s say the manager fails to get the bank-deposit slips to you on time, or you discover garbage strewn about the property. What action is appropriate? In other words, what do you do when situations occur that aren’t in line with established policies and expectations?

First, look at the situation without emotion. Next, determine if the incident violates a rule that was clearly communicated and understood. If so, disciplinary action may be warranted.

3 Types of Discipline

There are some employee actions that are so egregious that immediate termination is appropriate. These include:

  • Theft of company property or funds

  • Coming to work under the influence of alcohol or another substance

  • Violent actions toward co-workers or customers

In these instances, you must immediately remove the employee from the property. In other cases, taking a measured approach can help correct the misstep and re-establish the foundation you set prior to employment. Here are three basic types of disciplinary procedures:

1. Verbal warning. When you become aware of a problem, speak immediately with the employee. Specify the actions you want to see corrected and how you’d like to see that done. This is more of an “advise and council” tactic than a formal reprimand. Nevertheless, it’s important to log the event.

2. Written warning. If another incident occurs or there’s no improvement within a reasonable timeframe (30 to 90 days and no more than two or three verbal discussions), you’ll need to document, in writing, the reasons you believe the manager or staff member isn’t conducting himself in accordance with your policies and expectations. Refer to the prior event and any related conversations, and create an action plan to improve performance. This can be a 30-day action plan or a personal-improvement plan (PIP).

Be specific about expectations and steps that will lead to success. For example, if a manager is chronically late to work, you can stipulate that he must arrive no later than 8:30 a.m. to ensure the facility is ready to open at 9 a.m. Whatever the corrective action is, include this statement: “Any further instances could result in further disciplinary actions up to and including termination.”

3. Final written warning. If you’ve issued a written action plan or PIP and the manager or staff member continues to make the same mistakes or fails to take corrective action, it’s time to be very candid with him. Don’t be afraid to ask the employee if he really wants to make this work. There’s no set timeframe on this. The written warning means one more disciplinary event will terminate his employment. He’ll either resolve ongoing issues or be let go. It’s natural to want the employee to turn things around, but if all else fails, the only remaining course of action is termination.


Employment separations are difficult no matter how prepared everyone involved may be. There are times when it simply must be done. You do yourself and your business a great disservice by putting off the inevitable. If you’ve followed the guidelines above and termination is the necessary course of action, then it won’t be a surprise to either of you.

When you’re ready to terminate employment, you need to pick the time. Letting someone go is preferable first thing in the morning during the middle of the week. You don’t want to send someone home to stew on it all weekend. Even though the firing may not come as a surprise, many in today’s culture want to point blame at others.

Make sure you understand your state labor laws. Some will require you to pay unused vacation time. Some states require you to pay the employee at the time of termination, while others allow you to wait until the next regularly scheduled pay date.

Prior to meeting with the employee, draft a termination document that outlines the work issues along with attempts at coaching and all oral and written warnings. Include specific dates. Make the document as short as possible and conclude it with language to the effect, “We have worked with you for some time to resolve this issue. To this date, you have been unwilling to correct the issue. For this reason, the decision has been made to terminate your employment immediately. There is no appeal. Our decision is final.”

Sign and date the document before the meeting and read it aloud to the employee when he’s present. After you read the document, it’s natural to want to say something. The truth is, the less said the better. If you’re compelled to comment, make it very generic. For example, “I wish things had worked out differently. Do you have any questions?”

Next, have the employee sign the document, and then stand up to indicate the meeting is over. Allow him to collect his personal belongings, and show him to the door. Have the locks changed and move on. Don’t share specifics with coworkers or customers. It’s safest to say something like, “He’s moved on, and I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

If the employee occupied a manager’s residence on the property, you’ll need to refer to your housing agreement for the move-out timeframe originally set in the event of separation. Allowing someone more time than what’s outlined is up to you and should depend on the reason for the termination. Put in place the following precautions:

  • Make sure there’s no access to the manager’s office from the apartment or vice versa.

  • Make sure the agreement indicates that any activity resulting in the disruption of normal daily business will require the former employee to vacate immediately.

  • Complete a walk-through of the residence on the day of termination as well as the day he vacates.

Now it’s time to move forward and find someone who wants to work toward success!

Cindy Ashby is vice president of operation for Prime Storage Group, where she’s responsible for overseeing the firm’s 8-million-square-foot self-storage portfolio. She has more than 20 years of industry experience, including asset-management roles at Storage USA, two real estate investment trusts and three property-management companies. She’s written operational guidelines and developed training programs for numerous storage companies. For more information, call 518.792.1586; e-mail, [email protected]; visit

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