One of my law school professors is credited with saying, "It's not enough to do the right thing. One must do the right thing in the right way." What great advice in life and in the workplace. I was reminded of this adage after an event I watched where a person with very strong feelings criticized another over issues that were in part minor and in part not the other person's fault. I was pleased to see the recipient of the bad behavior respond appropriately, addressing the issues as opposed becoming angry with the attacker.
However, many employees don't respond in such a fashion. Some will take the harsh criticism as a personal attack and lash out. Others might sit meekly and take the abusive behavior then lash out behind the scenes, perhaps on Facebook or in emails or in the break room. Sometimes an employee responses with poor service, and a "who cares" attitude. Occasionally, the response is a complaint of harassment or the feigning of an injury.
Before acting, even if you have reason to be upset, think about this modern day proverb. Ask yourself, "Am I doing the right thing?" And then ask the second question, "Am I acting in the right way?" If you can answer yes to these questions then employees will more likely respond in the right way as well, recognizing that the criticism or discipline was imposed to correct the behavior and improve performance. If the employee still does not respond correctly, then you might have a "problem" employee.
You know what I say about problem employees -- they never get better. At that point it is best to let the employee go, before a complaint can be lodged or an injury feigned -- actions that make termination of employment more difficult. But until that time, treat your employees with respect and dignity by doing the right thing in the right way.